National News

Kuumba Festival marks Black History Month

February 5, 2011. Posted February 7, 2011

Warren Salmon was at the Kuumba Festival celebrating the Black History Month at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto with his son Shakari (8). His ancestors came to Canada from Jamaica in 1912. He told Mosaic Edition he was at the exhibit to show his son some Black Canadians who have made significant contributions to the country.leaders

The Kuumba Festival was not just about music and dancing. There were vendors selling handcrafted jewelries, colourful African prints, carvings , drums , and beauty products for the black skin amongst others.

Ras Iville who started selling corn soup at the festival since 1995 called on those interested in educating themselves on Canada’s black history to visit the Kuumba Festival. He said Kuumba marked the beginning of summer for him. “There is a lot going on at the Harbourfront and people should come and see it,” he said.

Mrs. E Licorish was at the front to show case her “hunky and conservative” jewelries. She recommended the “hunky jewelries” for the fashion conscious Black ladies adding that the conservative jewelries look small on them.

The archival displays of the Black history month mounted at the centre also attracted attendees. Sophia Burthen Pooley, born slave in Fishkill , NY daughter of slaves Oliver and Dinah Burthen was taken with sister to Niagara where they were sold to Mohawk Chieftain, Joseph Brant. Brant brought the girls back , according the exhibit, to his home on the Mohawk Reserve, Upper Canada.

The Archives of Ontario Exhibits also featured Henry Lewis who escaped from his owner in Newark( Niagara on-the–Lake) Upper Canada by fleeing to Schenectady, New York. He later wrote to his ex owner William Jarvis to request he be allowed to buy his own freedom.

In his letter of 1798, he wrote “My desire to support myself as a free man and enjoy all the benefits which may result from my being free in a country whear a Blackman is defended by the laws as much as a whiteman.”

The National Historic Event of Canada Exhibit noted the difficulty of the Black pioneers in being accepted as members of the community. Black Pioneer Immigration to Alberta and Saskatchewan displayed the backlash faced by the Negroes. “As Canada’s West opened to settlement in 1880’s a trickle of enterprising Blacks came north and were readily accepted into the pioneers country. However, when larger groups began to arrive in the early 1900’s seeking to escape legal and social discrimination, they encountered a backlash, official and unofficial, and the doorway to black immigration closed.”

“Keep the Negroes across the line,” was the headline of a newspaper publication. ‘The Winnipeg Board of Trade takes decided action. Not Good , Settlers or Agreeable Neighbors either.”

“The Winnipeg Board of Trade this evening passed a summarily worded resolution which will be forwarded to Ottawa, condemning the admission of Negroes into Canada as settlers.”

Canada has indeed come far in settling Blacks in the country. The modern day exhibit displays the achievements of Blacks including the last Governor General of Canada Michaelle Jean and the first Black female to be elected to the House of Commons, former Member of Parliament Jean Augustine.

Martin Samuels, Artistic Associate of Harbourfront Centre told Mosaic Edition the Kuumba Festival was not only to celebrate the Black History Month but was to educate the public on the journey of the Black community since the days of slavery. He said that the response to Kuumba Festival had been very diverse.

“We are getting a diverse cross section of people which is what we want. It is not just about Blacks knowing about Black history month, it is the world knowing about the Black history month.”

Click to see the photo gallery of the Kuumba Festival

Story and photo by Edward Akinwunmi

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