Tuesday was the first day of the month, and since the month is February that means it’s also the first day of Black History Month. First thing in the morning on Tuesday, representatives from Guelph Black Heritage Society were joined by Mayor Cam Guthrie, other local politicians, and about 50 spectators to see the black, red and gold colours of the African Nova Scotian flag raised above Wilson Street.
“When we rounded the corner this morning, and I saw all those people at City Hall, it was just totally overwhelming and it was beautiful to see and I thank you all for being here,” said Denise Francis, the president and treasurer of the GBHS board later at Heritage Hall. The flag raising at City Hall was followed by a Freedom Walk to the Hall on Essex Street, where a second flag was raised.
“For over 25 years, February has been referred to as Black History Month in Canada, following a motion introduced by the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament,” Francis explained back at City Hall. “It is the month in which we celebrate the contributions of Black historical figures that have made contributions to our society.”
Although she’s not yet a historical figure, the day celebrated the contributions of visual artist Wendy Wilson, who designed the African Nova Scotian flag over a decade ago.
“The flag colours of red gold and green are used by people of African descent across this world; red symbolizing the sacrifice African Nova Scotian peoples have endured, gold represents the cultural richness, and green for fertility and growth in the future generations,” explained Kween, the GHBS’ executive director and social justice initiatives co-ordinator.
“The symbol at the flag’s centre is Wilson’s own interpretation of the African Adinkra symbol, Sankofa, meaning ‘go back and fetch it.’ The Sankofa bird represents the spirit of the African Nova Scotians, a resilient people who have never forgotten their history and continue to build on lessons learned in the past and create a new future,” Kween added.
“We are pleased to honour that heritage and culture through Illuminate Guelph and through these two flag raisings here today. Each day we continue to work passionately and fearlessly towards freedom.”
The twin flag raisings on Tuesday kick off a month of Black History Month commemorations in Guelph, which include many virtual and in-person events, but also includes the aforementioned Illuminate Guelph, where four downtown buildings will be cast in red, gold and green lights.
There’s also the “Give a Cup” campaign with the Daily Grind 519 and Lost Aviator Coffee Co. where proceeds from the sale of Lantern Brew Coffee will go to help pay off the mortgage of Heritage Hall. Royal City Brewing Company has also brought back their Lantern Ale for the month, and 50 cents from the sale of every ale sold also goes to the Black Heritage Society.
After the Freedom Walk to Heritage Hall, there was one last ceremony. Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner presented GBHS with a recognition from Ontario Architects Association, who selected Heritage Hall as once of their 2021 “Queen’s Park Picks.” These are buildings selected by MPPs from their own riddings that “showcase outstanding examples of Ontario architecture.”
“Not only does this building represent a profound statement of history in terms of liberation, freedom, justice, equality, but it also continues to this day to be a beacon of hope for liberation, freedom, justice and equality,” Schreiner said. “I can’t tell you how many concerts and lectures and events I’ve attended in this community, so nominating this building was not only about the architecture, but about the profound impact it has on our community and bringing us all together. I think this morning is an example of that.”