'Journey is not over': Organizations mark 1st official Emancipation Day in Ottawa

·3 min read
A young girl holds up a sign as she marches with hundreds of others on Emancipation Day in 2020. This year is the first time the day is officially marked by the federal government. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A young girl holds up a sign as she marches with hundreds of others on Emancipation Day in 2020. This year is the first time the day is officially marked by the federal government. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

On Sunday, Canadians will mark a day that reflects on centuries of slavery and segregation — and which was only recognized by the Canadian government earlier this year.

The federal recognition of Emancipation Day comes 187 years after Britain's Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire.

Groups in Ottawa are glad Emancipation Day has finally been recognized by the federal government.

"It's a celebration of freedom. It's a celebration of the efforts of our ancestors who fought so hard to get us to where we are today," said Jayeur Joseph, president and founder of West Indian Youth Association of Ottawa.

Joseph says recognizing the day is an acknowledgement of the past and the lengths her and others' ancestors went to to secure the freedom current generations enjoy.

"To be surrounded by people who are bonded by the different cultures, especially within the Afro-Caribbean community. It gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of awareness and a sense of liberation."

Her group will host a flag-raising ceremony at Ottawa City Hall commemorating the day, which will include politicians and community members giving speeches in various languages spoken throughout parts of Africa and the Caribbean, including Swahili, Yoruba, French, Spanish, Creole and English.

WATCH: Jayeur Joseph on the 'celebration of freedom':

'Doing something is part of the work'

June Girvan, president of Black History Ottawa, said the day needs to be one of reflection for not only members of the Black community, but all Canadians, where they think about the horrors of the past and how they have shaped the present day.

She stresses the importance of Ubuntu — a Nguni Bantu word from South Africa — that means working together for change.

"Talking about it is part of the privilege. Doing something is part of the work," said Girvan.

Ingrid John-Baptiste, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ottawa, also acknowledged the need for reflection.

"This is a chance to stop and think and be a little sorry for what has happened, but also to pick up the mantle and start to right the wrongs," she said.

"But the journey is not over. It's far from over. There's a lot of work to be done ... We as a people and all of Canada actually has to recognize the significance of emancipation to our ancestors, because if we don't place importance on our history, no one is going to do it for us."

WATCH: Ingrid John-Baptiste says Emancipation Day a chance for reflection:

Saturday service

Girvan will also address the Or Haneshamah congregation at its outdoor service in Andrew Haydon Park at 10 a.m. Saturday.

She plans to address anti-racism in Judaism, as well as her own history as a woman of mixed heritage trying to understand how her paternal European ancestors affected her maternal Black ancestors' lives and those of Indigenous and Black people in Caribbean countries for centuries.

Both Saturday and Sunday's events have gathering limitations because of COVID-19. Anyone who wishes to attend Saturday's service is asked to contact president@orh.ca, while Sunday's event will also be live-streamed on the West Indian Youth Association of Ottawa's social media accounts.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Join CBC Arts on Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. AT on CBC Gem and YouTube for FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021, a youth-led celebration of spoken word, dance, theatre and music, as we gather together to celebrate freedom.

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