Marjorie-Ann Knight said she noticed Emancipation Day celebrations taking part in other nearby communities but never in Cambridge and wanted to see that change.
Knight co-founded Rhythm and Blues Cambridge in 2018 with the aim to educate and celebrate Black history. The group’s mission is to provide a safe and engaging space to empower, inform and inspire the Black community in Cambridge.
On Tuesday, the group hosted its inaugural Emancipation Day celebrations Tuesday at Civic Square outside Cambridge’s City Hall.
“We are here. We have built our homes here; our children go to school here. We need to build a community here,” Knight said.
“We have a large community of Caribbean and African folk here, and you wouldn’t know because when you’re going to celebrate, everybody moves to Toronto,” Knight said.
“And I just said, ‘enough is enough of that.'”
The day featured a Pan-African flag raising ceremony, a children’s area in collaboration with Idea Exchange, food trucks and more.
There were performances from Toronto’s Caribana Arts group, the Fiyah Brigade Rhythm Section, and Waterloo-based eKhaya.
Local historian Peggy Plet hosted a history corner. She’s been researching Black presence in Cambridge, Knight said.
“People don’t even know we had a Black church in Cambridge and this was back in the 1800s,” Knight said.
“We found barbers, we found people doing all kinds of commerce there and Peggy is ready to talk to anybody about that.”
Emancipation Day marks the day in 1834 that the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 actually came into effect across the British Empire. In March of 2021, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to designate Aug. 1 as the official day for celebration.
Canada’s Emancipation Day is not only a celebration for the freedom of Black slaves, but Indigenous slaves, too.
Between the mid-seventeen hundreds and Emancipation Day, it was recorded there were 4,185 enslaved people. Of that number, 2,683 were enslaved Indigenous Peoples, according to the Government of Canada website.