Tracy Cain tells Rockwood students about how her ancestors escaped slavery

ROCKWOOD – Tracy Cain wants her ancestors’ achievements to inspire students to make a positive influence on their own communities. 

She is a passionate public speaker, enthusiastic educator and fifth generation Black Canadian. 

Rockwood Centennial Public School welcomed Cain on Feb. 9 to speak to students in Grades 3 to 8 throughout the day.

Cain told stories about how many of her ancestors came to Canada by way of the Underground Railroad. 

These ancestors include Cain’s great-great-great grandfather Josephus Malott, who was part of the Queen’s Bush Settlement. 

Malott cleared and cultivated over eight hectares (20 acres) of land in Wellesley, Cain said, but he was never able to purchase the plot. 

Throughout her presentation Cain displayed primary sources and visuals that shed light on her ancestors’ lives, including newspaper clippings, artwork, maps, and even the original freedom papers that belonged to another of her third-great grandfathers, Allen Cooper. 

These freedom papers were essential for Black people to have with them at all times, Cain explained, because without them, they could be captured and sold into slavery.

Cain helped students put themselves in the shoes of her ancestors and other Black people who travelled long distances in treacherous conditions to escape slavery.

To put how far they travelled in terms students could understand, Cain asked them to put up their hands if they thought they could walk from school to the Rockwood Conservation Area 2,216 times. 

One confident kid shot their hand into the air, and Cain challenged them: Could they do it the dark? Alone? On an empty stomach? “With people chasing you who want to hurt you?”

Understanding history, especially personal heritage, is important, Cain said, in order to “rejoice and celebrate what your ancestors did” while also acknowledging and learning from their mistakes. 

Everyone makes mistakes, Cain reassured, and the key is to learn from them.

Cain encouraged students to work towards positive change in their own communities, because no matter how small the action may be, it could make a difference.

She facilitated a group discussion about examples of different communities, including families, schools, friend groups, clubs, teams, and towns. 

“I need you guys to work together as a community,” she said. “I want you guys to strive for greatness.” 

Cain’s stories showed how her ancestors left great legacies by working together with their communities with resilience and tenacity, and Cain encouraged students to consider what legacies they will leave behind themselves. 

“Make your legacy positive,” Cain said, whether that’s with an infectious smile, academic achievements or athletic excellence.  

“Make people remember you for who you are and the positivity you put into your communities,” she said. 

Tracy Cain talked to students in Grades 3 through 8 at Rockwood Centennial Public School on Feb. 8. Photo by Robin George


At the end of the presentation, students Arian Kahriz and Ben Rowsell thanked Cain on behalf of their classmates. 

“Thank you for informing us of our history, Kahriz said, “so we can learn from it to make a better future.” 

Principal Reena Anand said it was important to have Cain visit the school to help students learn history through her lived experience, especially as part of the school’s work towards dismantling anti-Black racism.  

Beginning in September 2025, the Ontario Ministry of Education is implementing mandatory Black history learning for Grade 7, 8 and 10 students. 

This learning will focus on “the exceptional contributions and history of Black Canadians who helped build Canada,” states a provincial press release.

The province announced the change on Feb. 8, and Cain told the Advertiser she  was “thrilled” to see it. 

“A lot of people are trying to get this information out there,” she said, but she finds a general lack of Black history knowledge among Canadians. 

So Cain is working to increase people’s knowledge by offering “education in a fun way.”

Cain has been sharing presentations like this at schools, universities and historical organizations since November 2022, and is motivated by what participants tell her they have learned. 

“It opens their eyes,” she said. One testimonial Cain said stands out to her is when a young student wrote “what I learned is that when I am facing adversity I am going to keep on, like Tracy’s ancestors did.”

For more information about Cain, visit