Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Amherstburg Freedom Museum recognizes long-time member at Emancipation Gala



By Ron Giofu


In recognition of Emancipation Day, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum held its annual gala Friday night.

This year, it was a special occasion for one particular member of the museum family.

Philip Alexander was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award for his involvement with the museum, which began as the North American Black Historical Museum. Though the museum officially launched in 1975, efforts to get it started date back over a decade prior to that with Alexander invited by founder Melvin “Mac” Simpson to help get the idea off the ground.

Alexander accepted the award but said he only did so to shine a spotlight on the museum rather than himself. He said he was contacted by members of the museum’s fundraising committee about wanting to honour him with the award.

“I tried to talk them out of it,” he admitted.

Once Alexander learned the award was going ahead anyway, he viewed it as a way to bring exposure and donations to the museum.

Alexander said Simpson tried to get the museum going in the 1960’s but ran into difficulty due to government regulations at the time. The efforts involved a church and there were laws against publicly funded bodies being affiliated with religious organizations.

While addressing the crowd last Friday night at the Caboto Club in Windsor, Alexander encouraged them to visit the museum and said they might find out more about their families by doing so. He praised those to “take the time, effort and raise money to keep the museum going.”

Amherstburg Freedom Museum board president Monty Logan listed the many accomplishments of Alexander, both professionally as an electrical engineer and volunteer-wise including his involvement with the museum. Logan pointed out that Alexander has held a variety of positions on the board with the board involvement itself spanning 33 years. When Alexander wasn’t on the board, he still stayed involved on various subcommittees and by helping in a number of different ways.

Philip Alexander
(centre) was honoured by the Amherstburg Freedom Museum with a Lifetime Achievement Award Friday night at the Emancipation Gala. Making the presentation are board president Monty Logan (left and Lt. Col. Lawrence Millben (right).

“It’s just a pleasure to work with you,” Logan told Alexander. “I truly appreciate everything you’ve done.”

Logan noted that Alexander is a fixture at museum events.

“If you come to one of our events and he’s not there, it’s because he’s sick,” said Logan.

Also as part of the evening, the museum presented the annual Mac Simpson Scholarship Award to Marlene Kombo. Kombo graduated from St. Joseph High School in Windsor and will be attending the University of Windsor in the fall.

Museum vice president David Van Dyke said they not only document the Underground Railroad era, but the stories that have come since then. He said the museum needs an “update” as certain infrastructure items such as windows need to be replaced.

Van Dyke added they want to upgrade the visitor experience and give people who come a “wow” factor.

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” he said.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is located at 277 King St. Their website is and they can be reached at 519-736-5433 or 1-800-713-6336. They can also be found on Facebook at or on Twitter at

TACCA members visit Amherstburg Freedom Museum


By Jonathan Martin


Around 50 Thornhill African Caribbean Canadian Association (TACCA) members came through town on a large bus with the words “York Regional Police” emblazoned on its side.

The group made the lengthy journey from Thornhill, along the northern border of Toronto, to visit the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

York Regional Police (YRP) provided the group with transportation as part of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Bureau programming.  When the police bus arrived at the site, the Amherstburg Police Service was there to greet its brother and sisters in blue.

Amherstburg mayor Aldo DiCarlo speaks with TACCA president Vernon Hendrickson at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

“York region is a microcosm of the world,” said YRP Superintendent #545 Ricky Veerappan.  “A lot of the work we do as a bureau is outreach and learning about how best to serve a very multicultural community.”

According to official 2016 figures, 49 per cent of the population of York Region were visible minorities.  In 2016, Amherstburg’s visible minorities made up 3.5 per cent of the population.

Vernon Hendrickson is one of York Region’s minorities.  He’s also the president of TACCA.

He said he believes Canada can be made better by focusing on shared experiences and developing mutual understandings.

“That’s why we decided not just to read about what happened here, but to see it for ourselves,” he said.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum assistant curator Lorene Bridgen-Lennie said that she believes Hendrickson is on the right track.

“There were different stories for different groups in different regions,” she said.  “The experiences (of African Canadians) in Toronto may have been different than those here in Amherstburg.”

Hendrickson said he was especially impressed by the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“It is so striking that slaves found their ways to freedom and the first thing they do is build such a breathtaking church,” he said.

Const. Nick D’Amore of the Amherstburg Police Service poses for a photo beside Const. Nina Rahravan of the York Regional Police. The two police services met up when the York Regional Police escorted the Thornhill African Caribbean Canadian Association (TACCA) to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum earlier this month.

The Nazrey AME Church was built in 1848 by a mix of former slaves and free blacks.  The congregation, however, was founded a couple decades earlier by African American refugees.

The church was used as a sanctuary space on the underground railroad, where escaping slaves could rest and regroup on the long road to freedom.

“I think it’s important to touch on what happened after the underground railroad, too,” Bridgen-Lennie said.  “The history doesn’t just stop once people reached Canada.  There was this amazing life people build in places like Amherstburg – and Toronto – so it’s important to learn about that too.”

“We have such a proud history in Amherstburg,” said Amherstburg mayor Aldo DiCarlo, who greeted the group personally and presented them with an official letter of welcome on behalf of the town. “I think sometimes it’s good to see our history through the eyes of a visitor and be reminded just how spectacular it really is.”




Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism stops in Amherstburg



By Ron Giofu


The Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism toured southwestern Ontario last week with one of his stops being in Amherstburg.

Arif Virani, also the Liberal MP for Parkdale-High Park, made the Amherstburg Freedom Museum one of his stops on the tour, a tour that was described in a press release as one that saw him “discuss the priorities facing the creative sector and ethnocultural communities.”

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Arif Virani visited the Amherstburg Freedom Museum last Tuesday. From left: summer students Hallee Kejick and Skylar Schmidt, Virani, curator Mary-Katherine Whelan and assistant curator Lorene Bridgen-Lennie.

Virani said he was meeting with groups and organizations on how to promote diversity and inclusion all the while combating racism. He said he wanted to hear from people on what the federal government can do and to also promote the investments the federal government is making, with two such examples being $19 million to promote mental health in black communities and another $23 million to promote multiculturalism and combat racism.

While in town, Virani said he was learning more about the role Amherstburg played during the Underground Railroad. He added he not only learned about the nation’s history as a safe haven, but of segregation that has occurred since and the steps that have been made to combat it.

“It’s quite amazing the history that is available here,” he said.

Virani indicated there are similarities to that era and today, as Canada continues to play a role in welcoming people from other parts of the world.

“This specific museum is eye-opening,” Virani added, noting that he was a human rights and constitutional lawyer before entering politics. “This is living history, which is incredible to see.”

Virani also met with students employed by the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through the Canada Summer Jobs Program and was enthused that they can learn about their community and even their own families at the same time.

Mary-Katherine Whelan, curator at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, believed Virani’s visit was good for the museum and the region as a whole.

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Arif Virani looks at one of the displays last Tuesday afternoon.

“I think it shines a light on the museum and it shines a light on the multiculturalism that exists in the county,” said Whelan.

Whelan added that Virani’s visit allows the history of the area to be promoted.

“It’s good to have him here to learn about what makes Amherstburg’s history unique,” she said.

Virani was thanked for having visited the museum as Whelan said black history is sometimes overlooked. The visit allowed him to be educated further about black history and its importance.

Other stops during Virani’s tour of southwestern Ontario included Windsor, North Buxton, St. Jacobs, London and Kitchener.

Ribs & Ragtime rocks Amherstburg Freedom Museum


By Jonathan Martin


The Amherstburg Freedom Museum’s (AFM) ninth annual Ribs and Ragtime garden party got more than 170 people out to enjoy history, food and tunes.

The evening featured a performance by Detroit jazz group Straight Ahead, a rib and chicken dinner and tearful birthday song for the mother of AFM board chairman Monty Logan.

The event spilled out into a blocked-off King St., where passersby paused to listen to Straight Ahead’s syncopated rhythms.

Jazz vocalist Kymberli Wright blasts out a high note at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum’s 2018 edition of its annual Ribs and Ragtime garden party.

AFM curator and administrator Mary-Katherine Whelan described Amherstburg’s role in the development of the music the group was playing.

“Jazz music’s commercial beginnings, with a greater Canadian relevance, took place in approximately 1917 with Amherstburg’s own Shelton Brooks,” she said.

Brooks, who was born in Amherstburg in 1886, wrote the massively popular “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” which would go on to be recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917.  The band is credited with making the first ever jazz recordings only a few months prior to taking on Brooks’ work.

Yancyy, a member of Detroit-based jazz band Straight Ahead, puts some soul into his music at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum’s annual Ribs and Ragtime garden party. The event was held last Saturday at the museum.

“Brooks moved into Detroit as a teen, where many of history’s greatest jazz hits were developed and where Straight Ahead is from,” Whelan said.

Straight Ahead received a warm reception, according to AFM board president Monty Logan, which bodes well for AFM’s upcoming programming.

“Events like this make up almost 80 per cent of our fund raising,” he said in a speech given just prior to Straight Ahead’s performance.  “Events like this allow us to continue to tell the stories of (the African-Canadian) legacy.”

Logan went on to take a “liberty” with his speech.  He wished his mother, sitting at a table just in front of the stage, a happy 70th birthday.  Event volunteers brought out a birthday cake while Straight Ahead played a “ragtimey rendition” of ‘Happy Birthday’ and the woman covered her eyes to hide her tearful smile.

According to Logan, 2018 was another successful year for the garden party and he looks forward to doing it again next year.


Amherstburg Freedom Museum and Artists of Colour unveil “Journeys” exhibit



By Ron Giofu


A new art exhibit is on display at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum with the official opening last Friday night.

“Journeys” debuted with Windsor-Essex County artists contributing work towards the exhibit’s first phase, entitled “New Canaan Journey in Pursuit of Freedom.” The exhibit is described as showing how the Underground Railroad gave birth to the first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for social change within the United States. The exhibit is further described as one that “speaks of the courage and determination of a people who refused to accept the degradation of slavery. Both black and white stood up against the injustice and demoralization of slavery, risking their lives and livelihood opposing the injustice inflicted upon their brothers and sisters.”

Dennis K. Smith, one of the artists that comprise the Artists of Colour, said the exhibit shows where they came from and what it took to find freedom. He said they hope it travels around as a teaching tool.

Lana Talbot shows one of her paintings that are featured as part of the “Journeys” exhibit at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through April 1.

Accompanied by musicians Jim Walls and Karzell Dew and conductor Milo Johnston, there was a presentation describing the stories behind the 14 paintings in the Nazrey AME Church before the public went to the second floor of the museum building to view the works themselves.

“We tell our story through art,” explained Smith. “As we tell it, we learn a little more about ourselves.”

Mary-Katherine Whelan, curator at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, stated the exhibit is about “the journey to freedom.” It is another way to provide an educational tool to those who may not know the history.

“It’s important to tell the story of a generation who refused to accept the degradation of slavery,” said Whelan.

The exhibit will not only run through February, which is Black History Month, but right up until April 1.

Connie Lee-Turner stands with one of her paintings that is part of the “Journeys” exhibit. The art can be viewed on the second floor of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

The Artists of Colour also plan an exhibit at Mackenzie Hall in Windsor May 11-20 entitled “Mosaic.”

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is open Tuesday-Friday 12-5 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 1-5 p.m. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $6.50 for students and seniors with Whelan adding that people will get $1 off admission during Black History Month if they can answer when the Nazrey AME Church was built and by whom.

For more information, call 519-736-5433 or visit There is also a list posted on the website of other Black History Month events happening, with Whelan noting the list was compiled by the Essex County Black Historical Research Society.