Paying homage to Africans who died in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade

By Lincoln DePradine

Evelyn Myrie

Evie Auchinvole remembers a time when the Black people she knew and met were family members and a few friends. She says the growth in the number of Black Canadians, with the arrival of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa, has impacted her life positively.

“I remember when immigration first started trickling, opening in the 1950s and 60s, how grateful I felt to actually meet somebody on the street and in the school. I remember being absolutely delighted,’’ Auchinvole, an historian and Black archivist, said at a virtual Emancipation Day commemorative event of the Hamilton-based Afro Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA).

“When the Lion Tells the Story’’ was the theme of the activity that included a group of panelists comprising Auchinvole, Dr Camille Turner and Dr Gary Warner.

Emancipation Day is an occasion to thank the African ancestors and “a time to chart a more glorious future’’, said Evelyn Myrie, president of ACCA, a charitable non-profit organization – formed in January 1979 – serving residents in communities such as Halton Hills, Oakville, Milton and Burlington.

Myrie said homage should be paid to more than 1.8 million Africans who died in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, as well as to the enslaved Africans who fought for Black liberation in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.

“It is befitting that we take a moment, not only today, but really as we traverse this land, to remember those people on whose shoulders we stand,’’ she said. “We took our freedom, we fought for it.’’

The August 1 Emancipation Day theme, “When the Lion Tells the Story’’, is part of an ACCA project that includes the production of a video, documenting the history and contribution of community

Camille Turner

members, including founding-members of ACCA.

ACCA also is embarking on a series of “community mapping exercises’’ and is inviting residents to participate to “share stories of people, places and things Black in Hamilton to add to the story from your voice’’, Myrie said. “My vision, as the president, is to really tell the story, to celebrate the vision of the elders, who came, they saw and they conquered.’’

All panelists, including Jamaican-born Turner, offered tributes to Africans that fought against slavery, as well as to pioneering Black men and women in the post-emancipation societies in Canada and the Caribbean.

“It’s our duty to honour those who passed before; our ancestors, known and unknown,’’ said Turner.

She said part of the work she’s now doing includes studying 19 ships that transported Africans from the west coast of the continent to the Caribbean.

“As I’m working on it, I’m realizing that these could be my ancestors. These are people that were wiped out of student history. It’s really important for us to remember them and acknowledge them and to let them know that they are not forgotten, even though we don’t know their names,’’ said Turner, an educator and multi-disciplinary visual artiste, who has taught at institutions such as University of Toronto, Algoma University and the Toronto School of Art.

In examining the way forward, Warner, a Trinidad-born retired McMaster University professor, and Auchinvole underscored the need for greater unity and collaboration in Canada’s Black community.

Gary Warner

Diversity in the Black community is “something to be greatly celebrated; it’s our strength,’’ said Auchinvole. “As I age, I grow more in love with my people – all of my people.’’

However, “for some reason or another,’’ Black community members “have not totally embraced each other’’, Auchinvole admitted.

“We haven’t totally gelled together and accepted each other and have each other’s backs. I think that is a barrier that each one of us has to get over,’’ she urged.