Black history lives inside people
Festival honours diverse Charlottetown neighbourhood created by former slaves in the 19th century
A group of Islanders took a step back in time this weekend to explore an often-overlooked aspect of Charlottetown’s history.
More than 250 people took part on a walking tour of “the bog”, a diverse community in Charlottetown’s old west end that was founded by former slaves, during the first “Festival of the Bog” on Saturday.
Island historian Jim Hornby, who led the walking tour, said he felt it was time to recognize the neighbourhood as a historical and diverse population that lived in the area for about a century beginning around 1810.
“They’ve been completely forgotten and ignored,” said Hornby.
“They’ve been here for over 200 years so it’s time to accept and acknowledge them.”
The community was founded by former slaves who were brought to P.E.I. in the 1780s and later “cast off” by their owners.
Around 1810, Samuel Martin, who is referred to in historical documents as “Black Sam,” had lobbied government on behalf of a group of family members and former slaves to receive a piece of land in the boggy area.
Although he never officially received the land, a community did form in the area.
Hornby noted that since there were few black immigrants to P.E.I., the area saw black and white individuals marry with “the bog” eventually becoming a mixed-race area with a distinct African heritage.
“What united them was not so much race as much as poverty,” said Hornby, who noted that it was far from the only “poor area” in town. “They had the same problems that other poor communities in the city had, except with the addition of racism.”
Traffic was blocked as Hornby led the group down Rochford Street to Pownal Square while sharing anecdotes about those who lived in the area.
Linda Hennessey, a direct descendant of former slaves David and Kesiah Sheppard, said the community was also integral to the survival of other groups in the city.
“The loyalists hired my family to get up in the morning and start the fires, then go hunting in Victoria Park… without our family, the rich people would have had a very difficult time living here,” she said. “They were very resilient and had a lot of things in their way… but they did a good job at everything.”
The event, which was held in partnership with the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I., ended with music and art in Pownal Square celebrating the community.
Scott Parsons, president of the society, said he felt the celebration was a long time coming and thanked Hornby for advocating on behalf of the area.
“It’s really nice to see this happening,” said Parsons, noting that the families from “the bog” stayed in P.E.I.
Because of this, he said there are some Islanders who are unaware of their black ancestry.
“As I said in one of my songs, ‘the colour has been washed out of me, but the history lives inside,’” said Parsons.
“And a lot of them didn’t know (they had black heritage) until recent years because it was kind of kept hidden. But this is 2017 and it’s time we start celebrating this.”
The event also received funding and assistance from Canada 150 and the City of Charlottetown.
Island historian Jim Hornby leads a group of more than 250 people through a walking tour in the area of Charlottetown’s west end that was known as “the bog” in the 1800s. The often-overlooked piece of history saw a group of former slaves form a community in the area, which gradually became a diverse neighbourhood with a distinct African heritage.