Mary-Katherine Whelan

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 www.amherstburgfreedom.org. 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.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum welcomed holiday season with “joyous sounds”

 

By Jolene Perron

 

“We want to welcome the season with joyous sounds and welcome the community to celebrate the sounds of the season and bring everyone together one last time before the end of the year.”

Curator and administrator at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, Mary-Katherine Whelan, said their annual Christmas event, which has been happening at the museum for a number of years, is a way to celebrate the holidays and cap off the year with “one last hurrah.”

Renée King-Jackson sang Christmas tunes and jazz numbers at Amherstburg’s Freedom Museum Dec. 20, during their fundraising event, which their curator explained is held every year as a final “hurrah” heading into the holiday season.

“I think in the history of Amherstburg, the history of the Underground Railroad is sort of overlooked and I think it’s definitely important to recall that history and share that history with everyone so they are aware of how important and integral it was to this area and Amherstburg,” said Whelan. “It’s important for people to realize that it wasn’t something that was specifically just in the states, or somewhere else, it did specifically happen in Amherstburg.”

The Dec. 20 event featured soprano vocalist Renée King-Jackson singing with her ensemble of jazz musicians. King-Jackson has performed at the museum previously throughout its history.

“I love this event,” said Whelan. “It’s a breezy, fun kind of event where you can enjoy music and socialize with people that you may not have seen for a little big and just relax and enjoy things before the wrap up of the year.”

Emancipation Gala presented by Amherstburg Freedom Museum

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

It was a busy weekend for the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and it got underway with the Emancipation Gala Friday night.

According to museum curator Mary-Katherine Whelan, upwards of 185 people attended the event at the Caboto Club in Windsor. David Van Dyke, vice president of the museum’s board of directors, said he recalled relatives talking about Emancipation Day celebrations and now that tradition is continuing.

Van Dyke pointed out on Aug. 1, 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was signed by the British government and enacted the following year.

Amherstburg Freedom Museum board members Philip Alexander and Tom Hurst join Windsor-Tecumseh MP Cheryl Hardcastle and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield in presenting a Mac Simpson Award to Justice Elliott (centre).

Amherstburg Freedom Museum board members Philip Alexander and Tom Hurst join Windsor-Tecumseh MP Cheryl Hardcastle and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield in presenting a Mac Simpson Award to Justice Elliott (centre).

“Essentially, what it did was spark interest in the south,” he added. “In the south, slavery was still the law of the land.”

From there, slaves became escaping to what is now Canada from the United States via the Underground Railroad. Communities such as Dresden, Buxton, Amherstburg, Puce and Windsor were formed with the aid of Black people, he added.

“Emancipation evokes happiness. Emancipation evokes freedom. Emancipation evokes the feeling of doing what we want to do,” said Van Dyke.

Van Dyke noted the Amherstburg Freedom Museum houses over 40,000 documents and work is being done to digitize them. He said the museum is a place of learning but a place to have fun as well.

Another Mac Simpson Award was presented to Shaniece Peters (centre). With her is WIndsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield, Tom Hurst, Windsor-Essex MP Cheryl Hardcastle and Philip Alexander.

Another Mac Simpson Award was presented to Shaniece Peters (centre). With her is WIndsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield, Tom Hurst, Windsor-Essex MP Cheryl Hardcastle and Philip Alexander.

Eric Griggs, district vice president with TD Canada Trust, said the bank is a proud sponsor of the Emancipation Gala and touted TD Canada Trust’s efforts in not only supporting the Black community, but also developing the TD Black Employee Network in order to assist Black employees in advancing.

There were two Mac Simpson Awards handed out, with high school students in the region eligible to write a poem, essay or make a presentation. Justice Elliott and Shaniece Peters were this year’s recipients.

Guest speaker Kenn Stanton, a former curator with the museum, outlined several of his choices for local heroes. He cited several civil rights activists, along with newspaper publishers, teachers, politicians and more including Mary (Miles) Bibb, Mary Ann (Shadd) Cary, James L. Dunn, Alvin McCurdy, George McCurdy, Dr. Henry D. Taylor, Alton Parker, James Watson, Mac and Betty Simpson and Oshiomogho Atogwe.

“There are many others,” Stanton told the audience, “but time doesn’t permit.”

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum also presented the Walter Perry Golf Classic Saturday afternoon at Fox Glen Golf Club in McGregor.

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.

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.