Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Author seeking local stories May 24 at two Amherstburg locations

By Danica Skakavac

 

In honour of Canada’s 150 Anniversary, Toronto author Darlene Butts has decided to create a book that contains 150 different Canadian stories, all containing the same idea; “ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” as Butts puts it.

Instead of researching and writing the whole book and all 150 stories herself, Butts is asking around all of Canada for people to send in their unique and historical story so that it may be added to the book. There are many ways to get involved; submit a story, follow on social media or through the website that includes an interactive map that shows where the tour is going and where it has already been. You can also sponsor a classroom for books or sponsor the tour itself to ensure it becomes a reality.

Butts is calling it the ‘150 Canadian Stories’ project and is taking it on tour with her as she collects more and more entries. The book itself is a ‘mixture of Chicken Soup for the Soul and a really cool Canadian history book’. Butts’ goal is to get a finished copy of the book in the hands of every grade five student, from St. John’s to Vancouver. She is looking for a combination of tears, laughter, goosebumps and as well as the response, “Wow! I didn’t know that!”

Various stories included will be about historical figures that contributed to Canada. “I want stories that engage the reader, inspire them to experience Canada, and help them learn about all the wonderful people, places and things that have been woven together to make this country great,” says Butts, about her aim for the book. She will be stopping at Fort Malden and the Freedom Museum on the afternoon of May 24 during her tour, as she has lived in Windsor/Essex County for 18 years.

She plans on being at the museum for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Fort Malden for 3-3:30 p.m.

“I love Canada so much and believe that I can be anyone and do anything here. I wanted to share that with other Canadian’s and especially inspire the next generation,” says Butts.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum recognized by Ontario Trillium Foundation at AGM

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum held its annual general meeting inside the Nazrey AME Church and the meeting included provincial recognition for the museum.

The museum was recognized by the Ontario Trillium Foundation for receiving a $45,000 grant under the Ontario 150 Community Capital Grant program. The money helped the museum complete the project to put a new cedar shake roof on the Nazrey AME Church with some of the funds also being put towards a new courtyard at the museum.

“We had a great year in 2016 and we’re looking forward to a great 2017,” said Monty Logan, president of the museum’s board of directors.

Dan Allen (left), chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s grant review team, and Essex MPP Taras Natyshak (right) present Amherstburg Freedom Museum president Monty Logan with a plaque in recognition of the museum’s Ontario 150 grant.  The presentation came at the museum’s annual general meeting.

Dan Allen (left), chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s grant review team, and Essex MPP Taras Natyshak (right) present Amherstburg Freedom Museum president Monty Logan with a plaque in recognition of the museum’s Ontario 150 grant. The presentation came at the museum’s annual general meeting.

Logan also pointed out the challenge to repair the church roof was assisted by a fundraising campaign, and thanked those who donated towards it.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak recognized the museum, saying while he gets to honour those who receive grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), it is the OTF that does the bulk of the work.

“The importance of maintaining, preserving and sharing this facility – this place of worship – and all the stories within is immense,” said Natyshak.

Natyshak pointed out the church’s role on the Underground Railroad, stating people seeking freedom from slavery found solace and love at the church. He said it not only means a lot to the Amherstburg and Essex County communities, but the church means a lot to the nation as well.

Dan Allen, a member of the OTF’s grant review team, noted the Nazrey AME Church has been part of the community for 170 years and it has played a vital role for so many people throughout the generations.

The AGM also was a time to recognize volunteers, including awarding the 2017 recipient of the Betty Simpson Volunteer of the Year Award. That was presented to Carolin Harris.

“It’s an incredible place to volunteer,” said Harris. “It was humbling to receive such a prestigious award. It’s humbling because it’s something I enjoy.”

Harris, who estimated she donated 200 hours of her time in 2016, said she lives across the street and came to volunteer about ten years ago when she saw a need to help maintain flowers and plants the Amherstburg Fort Malden Horticultural Society had planted.

“Ever since then, I’ve been taking care of it,” she said.

Harris added her children have worked at the museum and said “I could never repay what the museum has given to them.”

“Without volunteers, we couldn’t keep the doors open,” said Logan, who also paid tribute to the museum’s staff.

Logan also pointed out the museum is looking at getting a new website and wants to digitize their archives to make them more accessible online.

Carolin Harris (centre) receives the 2017 Betty Simpson Volunteer of the Year Award from Amherstburg Freedom Museum curator Mary-Katherine Whelan (left) and board president Monty Logan (right).

Carolin Harris (centre) receives the 2017 Betty Simpson Volunteer of the Year Award from Amherstburg Freedom Museum curator Mary-Katherine Whelan (left) and board president Monty Logan (right).

“We’re really excited about that initiative,” she said.

The museum is excited to host the Amherstburg Freedom Summit this fall, he added.

Programming committee chair Philip Alexander noted the museum facilitated the photography of some Underground Railroad descendants for an exhibit called “North is Freedom.” It was launched at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and was later displayed at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa. Alexander also pointed out the museum housed a portion of the “Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150” exhibit and also presented Mac Simpson Awards to students Sarah Tesfay and Keenan Wilson to help them pursue post-secondary educations.

Fundraising chair and museum vice president Darryl Hogan said they have a $35,000 goal that they want to hit and noted the upcoming June 3 “Ribs & Ragtime” event is one of the ways they will do it along with the Emancipation Gala and the Walter Perry Golf Classic. He encouraged people to bring family and friends to the museum so they could see what it’s all about.

Curator Mary-Katherine Whelan said the museum welcomed 1,654 visitors last year including school groups and people from across Canada and the United States. She thanked the volunteers and staff for their work and believed one of the most important parts of their jobs is sharing the history and stories the museum has to offer.

 

Traveling exhibit makes stop at Amherstburg Freedom Museum

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A traveling exhibit has made its way to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and is part of Black History Month.

“Family Ties – Ontario Turns 150” is being hosted on the second floor of the museum, with the regular exhibit still being featured on the main floor.

“It’s from the Archives of Ontario,” explained Mary-Katherine Whelan, curator/administrator at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

Whelan said the museum has previously worked with the Archives of Ontario, including performing research for the travelling exhibit. The exhibit tells the story of four families around during the period of Confederation, including the McCurdy family. Much of the exhibit features material from the collection of Alvin McCurdy and dates back to the life of Nasa McCurdy Jr. and his ancestors.

The McCurdy family is very prominent locally, Whelan stated, and “their history is well known.”

Whelan also pointed out the McCurdy family has close ties to the museum with Mabel McCurdy being a cousin of museum co-founder Melvin “Mac” Simpson.

A travelling exhibit from the Archives of Ontario entitled “Family Ties - Ontario Turns 150” is on  display at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through the end of March.

A travelling exhibit from the Archives of Ontario entitled “Family Ties – Ontario Turns 150” is on display at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through the end of March.

“It’s a nice tie-in as well,” said Whelan.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum has also put out additional pieces from its collection to accompany the “Family Ties – Ontario Turns 150” exhibit including carpenter’s tools that Nasa McCurdy Jr. may have used back in his day. There is also a copy of “The Globe” newspaper from July 1, 1867 on display.

The relationship between the Archives of Ontario and the Amherstburg Freedom Museum goes both ways, she pointed out, as an artifact from the local museum is part of an exhibit with the Archives of Ontario. Much of the materials and artifacts gathered over the years by Alvin McCurdy is featured by the Archives of Ontario.

Work on the current exhibit started under former curator/administrator Terran Fader, Whelan explained, but Whelan added she wanted to ensure the “Family Ties” exhibit was at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum for Black History Month. In fact, it not only runs throughout February but all of March as well.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum, located at 277 King Street in Amherstburg, is offering $1 off admission per person to celebrate Black History Month. Admission is normally $7.50 per adult, $6.50 per student or senior with children five and under admitted free of charge.

In order to claim the discount, people need to know when the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church National Historic Site of Canada was built and by whom, when tickets are purchased. This discount is only available in February and only if the correct response (in 1848 people fleeing American slavery built this church by hand to serve Amherstburg’s growing Black community) is given. The offer does not apply to tour groups, said Whelan.

Hours of operation are Tuesday-Friday 12-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1-5 p.m., and closed Mondays.

The link for the Black History Month events happening in Windsor-Essex is www.amherstburgfreedommuseum.org/black-history-month-2017.html.

The museum is also continuing to fundraise for a new cedar shake roof for the Nazrey AME Church. People can make donations directly to the museum or by visiting www.gofundme.com/repairhistoricsiteroof. Whelan said they hope to start work on the roof in the spring.

“Christmas at the Museum” celebrated in Nazrey AME Church

 

By Jonathan Martin

It’s beginning to sound a lot like bebop at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

Local trio Jazzus Ensemble decked the halls with 14 bouncy tunes for 2016’s Christmas at the Museum.

Around 80 people – a mix of ages and races – gathered in the museum’s church, where AFM president Monty Logan said he hoped to “both entertain and educate.”

Around halfway through the concert, Jazzus set down their instruments and historian Irene Moore-Davis stepped up to take centre stage.

She taught the concertgoers about the Number Two Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. The battalion was founded in Nova Scotia in 1916 to give Canadian men of African descent a chance to join the war efforts in WWI.

“There were some other men of African descent who fought in other battalions,” Moore-Davis said. “But this was the first (and only) all-black battalion in Canadian history.”

Local jazz band Jazzus plays one last set at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum's “Christmas at the Museum” concert in Amherstburg last Wednesday. Around 80 people showed up to listen to some bouncy tunes and learn a little bit about black history. (Photo by Jonathan Martin)

Local jazz band Jazzus plays one last set at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum’s “Christmas at the Museum” concert in Amherstburg last Wednesday. Around 80 people showed up to listen to some bouncy tunes and learn a little bit about black history. (Photo by Jonathan Martin)

The battalion was used to build infrastructure in battlefields overseas.

“It was a construction battalion because it was believed by many people that black men weren’t suitable for the role of soldier,” said Moore-Davis. “People thought they couldn’t be trusted to hold arms or be counted on in a fight.”

When WWI ended, the battalion was disbanded.

“I thought it was really great hearing about (the battalion),” said Gregory Moore, bassist and guitarist for Jazzus. “It’s an important part of our history.”

Jazzus became acquainted with the Freedom Museum years ago. According to Logan, it’s good to have them back.

“They’re a great ensemble,” he said. “Those guys are awesome. This has been a fantastic way to bring the community together.”

The motif of community coming together extended into Jazzus’ history.

“We all play together in the same church in Harrow,” said Moore. “We’ve been playing at St. Mark’s for around eight years. We formed the band maybe five years ago.”

None of the members of Jazzus have any formal musical education. According to Moore, they learned from each other.

“And YouTube,” he added. The trio all nodded in agreement and laughed.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum seeking funding to replace Nazrey AME Church roof

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is hoping to replace the roof on the Nazrey AME Church and is looking for the public’s help to do it.

The cedar shake roof is leaking and museum curator Mary-Katherine Whelan said it is evident particularly in heavy rain. Plaster and paint is flaking around windows due to moisture and a tarp or buckets have to be used to protect the floor.

“We first noticed the damage in the summer,” said Whelan. “It’s been something we’ve been noticing since mid-August.”

David Van Dyke, a member of the museum’s board of directors, said the leaks aren’t concentrated to one specific area though they are mainly in the southern side of the roof.

“It’s one of those leaks that doesn’t come to the same spot every time,” said Van Dyke, adding sometimes it takes a pail to catch the water while a tarp is needed other times.

“I have to check it every day,” added Whelan.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum board member David Van Dyke and curator Mary-Katherine Whelan view water that has dropped on a tarp inside the Nazrey AME Church.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum board member David Van Dyke and curator Mary-Katherine Whelan view water that has dropped on a tarp inside the Nazrey AME Church.

No artifacts, pews or floorboards have been damaged due to the leaky roof, she continued, but the museum doesn’t want it to get to that point either.

“It’s been a slow process over the summer but we want to nip it in the bud right now,” she said. “We don’t want this to manifest into a major issue.”

The cedar shake roof was put on when the Nazrey AME Church was restored in the late 1990’s. Van Dyke indicated that the current roof lasted likely longer than it was supposed to, stating cedar shake roofs don’t last as long as house roofs.

“Roofs generally last 10-15 years for a house roof,” he added.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum has started a GoFundMe account with the online crowd sourcing campaign setting a goal of $35,000. Whelan said an appeal was sent out to museum members through letters and the newsletter and that has raised some funds.

Whelan notes that even though the Nazrey AME Church is designated as a national historic site, it does not entitle them to federal funding though they are seeking grant funding from multiple sources.

Van Dyke added that they hope the online fundraising campaign also raises awareness of the museum as well. He said they are on the web, social media and are digitizing their materials and they hope more and more people find out what the museum is all about.

“It’s all part of having more people find us than ever before,” said Van Dyke.

Refugees from American slavery established the Nazrey AME Church in 1848. It was an end point on the Underground Railroad as people came to Canada seeking freedom.

“It’s definitely important to keep history alive and educate people on the Underground Railroad and Amherstburg’s role in it,” said Whelan.

Van Dyke added that people still “look for their roots” and if they have left the area and moved to different locations, they can still look to the museum for their family histories and stories of the Underground Railroad.

“It’s just important to keep preserving history,” said Whelan.

The leak in the roof does not prevent the Amherstburg Freedom Museum from putting on programming inside of it, with one event planned for mid-December.

The annual Christmas at the Museum concert is taking place Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., in the Nazrey A.M.E Church National Historic Site.

Special musical guests are the Jazzus Ensemble, a jazz trio that includes local musicians Jules Carreira, Jeffrey Sims and Gregory Moore. The 90-minute program will also feature traditional songs of the season and heart warming holiday classics that beautifully capture the spirit of the season.

There will also be a presentation of the Melvin (Mac) Simpson Award to Sara Tesfay, in her first year in the Medical Laboratory Technician program at St. Clair College and Keenan Wilson who began his studies at Sheridan College in the Art Fundamentals/Illustration program.

The Nazrey AME Church, on the grounds of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, needs a new cedar shake roof. A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help raise money for the museum.

The Nazrey AME Church, on the grounds of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, needs a new cedar shake roof. A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help raise money for the museum.

The award honours the memory of Melvin “Mac” Simson, the museum’s founder while financially assisting the two deserving young people with their post-secondary education.

Tickets are $30 each and the museum recommends purchasing tickets in advance. The Amherstburg Freedom Museum can be reached by phone at 519-736-5433 or online at www.eventbrite.ca and searching “Christmas at the Museum.” The direct link for “Christmas at the Museum” is https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/christmas-at-the-museum-tickets-29029373638.

The GoFundMe page for the roof can be found by searching “Heritage Site Roof Needs Repair.” The direct link is https://www.gofundme.com/repairhistoricsiteroof?ssid=815583022&pos=1.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is located at 277 King St.