'We want to celebrate our liberation': Guelph honours its Black history on Emancipation Day

August 1, 2021 is now an important moment in Canadian History.

It’s the first official Emancipation Day, marking the end of slavery across the British Empire.

For the Guelph Black Heritage Society it’s a welcome sign the conversation is moving in the right direction.

The pan-African flag was raised outside the organization’s building Sunday, where it will fly all month long.

“Emancipation Day acknowledges the strength and resilience of Black people in Canada,” says Alexis Charles, the Director of Programming at GBHS.

At Sunday’s event she wore bright feathers, recognized across the African diaspora as a symbol of freedom and liberation.

“Oftentimes in Canada we feel that we’re quite removed from the narrative of African enslavement, so we want to bring light to the fact that this was, unfortunately, a reality here in Canada. We want to celebrate Emancipation Day, we want to celebrate our liberation.”

Members of the Guelph Black Heritage Society say movements like Black Lives Matter have created positive change.

“I can feel the shift,” says Denise Francis, the organization’s president and treasurer. “I grew up in Guelph and we never had these conversations before.”

She is encouraged by the new dialogue that focuses on the BIPOC community, recognizing the systemic inequalities they’ve faced.

“I think acknowledgement is the first stop in making any sort of change. The fact that we’re acknowledging what happened in the past, we’re educating ourselves, we’re learning. That can lead us toward change.”

Part of that effort to create change includes guaranteeing a future for the GBHS.

They’ve launched a new capitol campaign to maintain their current headquarters.

“This building, it speaks to me,” says Francis. “I think of the ancestors, the Black settler community that lived in this area. I can see them here, and we are working towards making sure that this building will be here another 150 years. For the next generation.”