Re­mem­ber­ing the fight for free­dom

Ste­wart Memo­rial holds Eman­ci­pa­tion Day ser­vice: ‘We can­not for­get those who came be­fore us’

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NATALIE PAD­DON npad­don@thes­pec.com 905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

They drummed, they danced and they sang at Ste­wart Memo­rial Church on Sun­day for the an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion mark­ing the end of slav­ery in the Bri­tish Em­pire.

But this year’s cel­e­bra­tion of the en­act­ment of the Slav­ery Abo­li­tion Act on Aug. 1, 1834, took on a sec­ondary cause as Canada’s 150th birth­day was also rec­og­nized.

The John Street North church pre­dates con­fed­er­a­tion by about 32 years as it was es­tab­lished in 1835, Rev. Richard Dove told the 75 peo­ple gath­ered.

“We were al­ready mak­ing his­tory and put­ting our im­print in the fab­ric of what is Canada be­fore there was Canada as we know it,” he said.

Com­mu­nity ac­tivist Eve­lyn Myrie, who hosted the event, noted that Eman­ci­pa­tion Day marks only the be­gin­ning of African peo­ple achiev­ing free­dom.

“It was years later that free­dom was fully achieved,” she told the room.

Ste­wart Memo­rial was founded by run­away slaves as well as free black men and women in 1835 and served as a so­cial and re­li­gious cen­tre for them.

The church traces its his­tory back to a log cabin build­ing on Re­becca Street, but the con­gre­ga­tion ac­quired its cur­rent build­ing in 1879.

These founders are among the an­ces­tors who should be re­mem­bered and thanked for their re­silience in help­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter life for black Hamil­to­ni­ans to­day, Myrie said.

“We can­not for­get those who have come be­fore us,” she added.

Myrie asked con­gre­ga­tion mem­ber Jef­fery Fos­ter, who shared his story of com­ing to Hamil­ton from Trinidad in De­cem­ber 1970, how the city has mor­phed since he first ar­rived.

“When I came, you walked down the street and there were so very few black peo­ple,” he told the room. Not so to­day. “In the 47 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a huge, huge change,” Fos­ter said.

SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Michael Highgate, right, leads the choir in song. Ste­wart Memo­rial Church marked the end of slav­ery in the Bri­tish Em­pire.

Above left: Dr. Irv­ing An­dre, a Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice in Bramp­ton, speaks at the ser­vice.

For video of the Ste­wart Memo­rial ser­vice, visit thes­pec.com

Left: Wal­ter Ma­clean plays a djembe as a mu­si­cal start to an Eman­ci­pa­tion Day Cel­e­bra­tion.

Above: Aisha Nicholson per­forms an in­ter­pre­tive dance dur­ing Ste­wart Memo­rial Church’s Eman­ci­pa­tion Day Cel­e­bra­tion.

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