Hats off to Black History in Peel

By Stephen Weir

PAMA group

The curtain isn’t about to go down soon on Black History Month, at least not in Brampton.  Hats off to the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA) who have recently opened an exhibition about Black communities in Peel in the waning days of Black History Month. The exhibition will stay up long after the end of February.

Our Voices, Our Journeys: Black Communities in Peel is on display at PAMA until next fall.  The exhibition, which includes a beautiful bonnet display, looks at the life and times of a Black Caledon church.

“Our Voices, Our Journeys, is an exhibition which celebrates one of many Black communities in Peel Region,” said Sam Cronk, the museum’s senior curator. “Our new exhibition tells the story of the personal journeys of leaders and members of the North Peel Community Church congregation in Sandhill, a crossroads in Caledon. Their photos and objects illustrate stories of immigration and family life, and how they established a community of faith here!”

The church was originally called St Mark’s Anglican Church. It was bought in 1983 by Bishop Ronald and Pastor Claudette Kelly and opened five years later. There are about 60 families in the congregation; most are originally from Trinidad, Jamaica, and Guyana.

PAMA has been loaned many historic personal objects – books, clothing, and photographs – that carry special historic meaning to members of the Church. The exhibit shares the stories of Black community experiences in Canada and looks at the objects that are close to their hearts

“In almost every photo from the North Peel Community Church congregation, you will see beautiful hats worn by women at worship services and formal events,” Cronk told the Caribbean Camera. “Ranging from colourful wide-brimmed hats to smaller ‘fascinators’, this centuries-old custom of wearing stylish hats to Church continues to flourish here to this day.”

There is a display case dedicated to showing some of the more picturesque hats worn by women in the congregation.  There are also glass cases filled with pictures and stories about well-known Black leaders in the community including a former Canadian military officer and a female Brampton bus driver!

The show, which opened in Black History Month in 2020, will stay up through next year’s BHM and on into the fall. PAMA Curator of History Sam Cronk says, “the exhibit will change and grow over time so visit often as the stories and artifacts are here to inspire and connect all of our communities in a contemporary narrative.”

The museum is housed inside one of the oldest stone buildings, The Peel County Jail (1867) in downtown Brampton.  PAMA is a cultural hub owned and operated by The Region of Peel, (which encompasses the communities of Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga). PAMA is committed to telling the stories of its diverse communities within the region.  There are more made-in-Peel art and museum exhibitions that are planned for the coming months such as Summer Powwows: Regalia (opening in June), Out in Peel: Power & Pride (opening in July) and Intangibles: Newcomer Art in Peel (opening in Nov.).

The exhibition had what is called a soft launch – the doors opened without any fan fare, red ribbons or cake.  The Museum has assured the Caribbean Camera that it will do it right new month.  There is a community opening of the exhibition planned for Saturday, March 21. Full bonnet alert, everyone is invited to attend!