Former multiculturalism minister calls for support for Black History Museum

By Lincoln DePradine

Jean Augustine

Former  Canadian Minister of  Multiculturalism and the Status of Women,  Jean Augustine, has  called for support for efforts to establish a Black History Museum in Toronto.

“It is important that we get behind this,’’ Augustine said  last week  at the annual general meeting of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS).

The proposed museum is a project of the OBHS, which says it has identified a “critical need for such a cultural and heritage space’’ in the city.

“I think that we need to get out there, as members, and find those allies and have those allies come on board with us,’’ said Augustine.

Grenada-born Augustine, a retired school principal and longtime OBHS member, said having a Black History Museum “will be sense of pride for all of us and a place where our children – and, in my case, my grandchildren – would have an opportunity to learn our history; where educators would come to learn as well as to teach’’.

The OBHS has outlined a five-phase approach to establishing the museum that, on completion, will including such things as interactive exhibits; a performance and theatre hall; a library and research room; a gift shop; classrooms; and rooms for archiving material and office use.

The organization has done a “soft launch’’ of its “Museum Capital Fundraising Campaign’’. An “official launch’’ is pending, OBHS president Natasha Henry said.

She told the  meeting  that $100,000 has been raised in the project’s Phase 1 target of $750,000.

“The OBHS welcomes donations, small and large; community gifts and major gifts, as well as legacy gifts; and we welcome private donors and patrons,’’ Henry said.

“We are accepting donations earmarked for our Museum Capital Campaign and general donations online through Canada Helps. Visit our website to learn about ways to donate and how to become members.’’

The overall fundraising goal, said Henry, is $3.5 million for the museum, which “is intended to further the work necessary to preserve and interpret Black and African history, heritages and cultures; and to tell a more complete interpretation of Canadian history and Canadian historical narrative’’.

The “landmark museum’’, she added, will be “a dynamic 21st century institution and will have an impact on millions of onsite and online visitors of all ages annually’’.

Last month, the OBHS launched #BlackedOutHistory, as part of a renewed push for mandated Black history studies at schools, from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“Our campaign has been so well-received and has generated a lot of interest and discussion through media coverage,’’ said Henry, who is an educator and historian. “Please continue to help us to amplify this cause.’’

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced OBHS to move its activities online, including Monday’s AGM.

“The COVID pandemic has impacted us all, in many ways,’’ but OBHS still has been able “to maintain solid operations’’, said Henry.

“With these COVID challenges, it’s been difficult to keep in touch with members over the past few months with in-person events. But we have, and will continue, to offer programs online and opportunities for members to come together online,’’ Henry promised.

The OBHS, founded in 1978, is “dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of Black history and heritage’’.

Augustine encouraged the OBHS to seek ways of expanding membership to increase its strength as an organization.

“We want to encourage everybody not just to pay their own membership but also to spread the word in their own circles and see if we can increase the membership as much as we can,’’ Augustine said.

“The Ontario Black History Society is ours. We want to make it strong and we want to go forward with a strong organization. We know that the possibilities are endless as to what we can do when we do it together.’’