Mary-Katherine Whelan

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.

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.