Archive tours offer chance to explore Black history in Niagara

Black history in the Niagara region can be traced back more than 200 years, with St. Catharines serving as one of the final destinations on the Underground Railroad for Black people fleeing slavery in the United States. It is estimated that about 30,000 Black people came to Canada via the Underground Railroad between 1800 and 1865.

As part of Black History Month/African Heritage Month, the Brock Library and the Black Student Success Centre (BSSC) have partnered to offer the University community two tours of select Archives and Special Collections materials showcasing Black history in the region on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Each Black History in Niagara tour will offer students the opportunity to engage with artifacts, photographs and other archival materials recounting the stories and socio-political contexts of Black individuals and communities in St. Catharines and region.

Among the resources that will be explored are a book about Confederate spy activity in Toronto and Montreal and materials about Emancipation Day festivities in Niagara, which celebrated the abolition of slavery across the British Empire.

“The tours take an experiential learning approach, which nurtures critical-thinking skills while enabling students to acknowledge the contributions, challenges and resilience that have shaped our region’s history,” says Black Student Success Centre Co-ordinator Tassia Gabbidon.

For several years, the Brock Library has been actively expanding materials available on Black scholarship, culture and experiences.

“One of the Brock Library’s decolonization strategies is to source collections of understanding and critical thought that includes marginalized viewpoints and moving the spotlight onto them,” says Interim University Librarian Nicole Nolan.

A featured collection, “Celebrating Black Voices and Sharing Black Stories,” of Black scholarship books and resources can be found on the Brock Library website. A print display of Black authors can also be found at the Library’s Badger Books Collection in the Library Learning Commons.

While work to fill in gaps in the collections has been underway for several years, a direct outcome of the Black Lives Matter movement is that a broader scope of content has become easier to acquire.

“Scholars and writers have consistently explored the Black experience in their works, and there is a noticeable increase in publishers actively promoting such content,” says Head of Collections Services Alicia Zorzetto. “However, difficulties persist in recognizing literature by Black authors that delves into subjects beyond their Black identity. These authors provide valuable perspectives on a diverse range of topics, offering unique insights as representatives of the Black community. We need to do more to find and promote these authors alongside ones specifically discussing their Black experience.”

To learn more about the Black History in Niagara tours or to register in advance, visit ExperienceBU.

For more information about the BSSC, visit the team in TH 131 or follow the centre on Instagram.

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