Guelph Black Heritage Society launches Black Heritage Reclaimed project

GUELPH – Heritage Hall was full of music, laughter, food, and Black heritage during the Guelph Black Heritage Society’s (GBHS) launch of the Black Heritage Reclaimed project on Oct. 27, with about 70 people showing up to celebrate. The project includes a historical video series, booklet, Wellington Country driving map, Heritage Hall tours, and an augmented reality (AR) exhibit featuring the Guelph community underground railroad quilt code mosaic.

The AR exhibit is an interactive experience including animated characters, voiced by Kween and Denise Francis, telling stories that help people put them in the shoes of people who escaped slavery and travelled on the underground railroad. Near the end of the evening, Kween read out a message from Southern Ontario’s minister for federal economic development Honourable Filomena Tassi, congratulating the GBHS on their project launch.

The project was in part funded by a $45,000 from the Tourism Relief Fund. Kween spoke reverently about founding board member Denise Francis’ unwavering work at the Guelph Black Heritage Society, noting her role is entirely volunteer, and she manages it on top of working full time for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

When Kween said there will never be someone more powerful and wise than Francis, the attending crowd began calling out what they admire about Francis – including her kindness, humour, and assertiveness. Francis shared an emotional speech about the hard work that went into making GBHS what it is today, and what will come next for her as she steps away from a primary role with the GBHS.

The project launch included a feast provided by Journeys Cuisine including jerk chicken, ackee and fish, rice and peas, samosas, and sweet treats. Shane Phillips and his band provided musical entertainment throughout the evening, playing original songs about love and social justice including A New World, Diamond Shoes, and Freedom. He said A New World is about how “the light in all of us is the same light – there’s no difference.” 

The band also played a couple covers by Stevie Wonder and Al Green. Phillips is a Fergus local known for his successful music career, his “Ear to the Groundwater” walks for water protection and First Nations rights, and for hosting and producing the “Nicky Dread” podcasts. Phillip said he was honoured to attended the launch on Oct. 27 to “celebrate life and celebrate a lot of great things the GBHS does.”  

Kween, right, spoke reverently about founding board member Denise Francis’ unwavering work.