Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Freedom Train Fires Up Senator to Push For A National Emancipation Day

Last Night’s Freedom Train Fires Up Senator to Push The Feds For A National August 1st Emancipation Day.
By Stephen Weir
It all happened underground late Tuesday night while most of Toronto slept. Looking out over a sea of Caribbean Canadian faces at the start of the Freedom Ride; Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard said “You should see the beautiful view from here!”
The Halifax senator, one of only a few Afro-Canadians currently sitting in the Upper Chamber, was a keynote speaker at last night’s 6th annual Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train ride. She told the audience of over a 1,000 that when she gets back to Ottawa she is going to continue the work that was started by Toronto Historian Rosemary Sadlier, to make August 1st, Emancipation Day, a federally proclaimed national day. 
senator bernard
Senator Bernard shared the microphone with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Rita Cox, the honourary conductor of the 2018 Freedom Train. They stood on the steps of the Rotunda inside the TTC Union Station. The pair were surrounded by people wanting to join them on a special subway train ride to mark the August 1,1834 proclamation abolishing slavery in the British Empire and to honour the people who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad.
“We will begin boarding the Underground Freedom Train (a private TTC subway train) at 11:30pm and we will travel nonstop to the Sheppard West Station. I ask all of you to stay silent until we pass the St. George station, in honour of those who came before us,” organizer Itah Sadu told the crowd. “ We should arrive just after midnight August 1st and together we will mark this glorious date -- Emancipation Day.” 
Organized and looked after by supportive TTC volunteers (check out the volunteer driver welcoming people on board the Freedom Train), the journey was a mixture of quiet reflection followed by a sing-along of Bob Marley tunes and spiritual songs.  Arriving at the large two-story Sheppard Station, the disembarking passengers were greeted by the sounds of event drummers Muhtadi Thomas and Quammie Williams along with pannists from the Pan Fantasy orchestra.
In the audience were a number of community activists including Dr. Rosemary Sadlier, the former president of the Ontario Black History Society. Last year she reached out to Canadians to sign a petition to the Federal Government to declare August 1st as Emancipation Day across the Dominion. 
“We did present the petition to the Feds, and while nothing has happened in the House, a lot things are going on behind the scenes”, Dr. Sadlier told me at the crowded subway station.  “What Senator Bernard said tonight makes a big difference, and I think this (Emancipation Day) will move forward.”
This morning a tired by ecstatic Itah Sadu talked to me about the Train Ride.  “I stayed until the last person had left the station. It was the best Freedom Train ever. No incidents. It was all love.  Looking forward to 2019, but, I am wondering what it would be like to watch from the comfort of sidelines next year!”

Poet at Union Station 

Monday, 30 July 2018

“All Aboard the Freedom Train” Tuesday night. Toronto. 10.30 PM Union Station

Jean Augustine (left). Rita Cox (far right) at last year's ride
When Conductor Rita Cox blows the whistle a thousand people will take a ride on Toronto’s Freedom Train.

Rita Cox, a longtime Toronto Caribbean community leader, is getting ready to blow her whistle and yell “All Aboard the Freedom Train” as Toronto gets set to mark Emancipation Day.  For the sixth year in a row there will be a special midnight TTC train that will take hundreds of people to the Sheppard West Station on July 31st to celebrate the August 1st date.
It all begins July 31st at 10:45pm at Toronto’s Union subway station. “We will be boarding the Underground Freedom Train at 11:30pm and travelling straight to Sheppard West subway station (previously Downsview station), arriving there at 12:15am on August 1st,” explained organizer Itah Sadu. “ The date is internationally acclaimed as Emancipation Day.” 
“This year’s sixth annual Freedom Train ride will be an incredible journey and experience about the Underground Railroad and the history of Emancipation Day,” She told the Caribbean Camera. “Opening ceremonies will begin at 10:45pm at Union subway station and half-an-hour later Dr. Rita Cox, our honourary conductor, will give the call to board the train.”
People will gather by the Brookfield Rotunda TTC entrance on the main floor of Union Station.  Last year over 1,000 people took the train to Sheppard West Station.
Inline imageAs people board the train there will be drumming, spoken word and songs will be sung, along with a tribute to the resilience of the many who travelled along the Underground Railway, seeking freedom in Canada. During the ride there will be a moment of silence called over the train’s intercom.
Rita Cox is often dubbed “Canada’s Icon”.  Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, the Master
 Storyteller, Author and Retired Librarian is a member of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival’s Festival Management Committee.  She has won numerous awards, including the 1996 Canadian Library Association Public Service Award and the Black Achievement Award. In 1997, Dr. Cox was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for her outstanding work in storytelling and literacy. She is also the recipient of honourary degrees from York and Wilfrid Laurier universities.

Also on board Tuesday night will be: Dr. Edith Lorimar, producer Fatima Mohamed and Master Drummer Muhtadi Thomas and Muhtadi International Drumming,

Everyone is welcome to join us on this Underground Freedom Train Ride to celebrate Emancipation Day. People will need a regular TTC ticket for admission and come prepared for being part of a very unique subway ride. Sixth annual Underground Freedom Train Ride t-shirts are available for purchase at A Different Booklist store, prior to the ride. Further information - available at A Different Booklist 416-538-0889 or by following on twitter @FreedomTrainTOR.


Friday, 20 July 2018

Movie Review: River Flows from Mayaro to Downtown Toronto

Best all Trini movie you will never see in a Canadian theatre
By Stephen Weir for Caribbean Camera

Chances are if you went to school in Trinidad you have read and studied Michael Anthony’s Green Days By The River. If you haven’t read the classic Trinidadian novel there is a new made-in-T&T movie that faithfully tells the story of coming of age for a poor young man in the coastal village of Mayaro in 1952.
The book, first published in 1967, is considered one of Trinidad’s most important post colonial novels and Michael Anthony one of the most important living authors (he is listed as one of the 50 most influential people in Trinidad and Tobago).  Now his masterpiece is a movie, and late last week, film junkies got to see the feature film for maybe the first and last time in Canada at a media screening in Toronto.
Michael Mooledhar, a Trinidadian born film maker put together a 100% T&T cast and crew to make Green Days By the River into a lush full length film.  For the past year the flick has been showing at festivals around the Caribbean, North America and Europe to critical acclaim. Last week the film was shown at the Royal Cinema in Toronto to launch this year’s Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF).
Proudly Trinidadian, it is a moving, suspenseful film that stirred the mostly Canadian Caribbean audience that all but filled the College Street cinema. Aside from the English subtitles for those that don’t have a “Caribbean ear”, the actors, the landscape and the moral dilemmas of its main characters were Trini to the Bone.
“It is really a story about nothing, and everything, “ says director Michael Mooledhar. “It touches on all the issues of Trinidad 66-years ago. It tackles colour issues, black and.  There is cultural conflict everywhere, between country and the city. The beachside and the bush. Race and religion too. It is also a story about love, life, death and coming of age of a teenage boy.”
 Mooledhar describes the story thusly: “In a remote village by the sea in 1952 Trinidad, a Black ambitious fifteen-year-old, Shellie (Sudai Tafari), is charmed by the attractive Indian girl Rosalie (Nadia Kandhai), and flattered by the friendship of her father, Gidharee (Anand Lawkaran), who mentally accepts him as a future son-in-law.”
Despite his father's terminal illness, Shellie follows a compassionate Gidharee to work his exotic plantation along the river in hopes of attracting Rosalie. All the while, Shellie falls for a tender, dainty girl from the city, Joan. The love triangle develops, as Shell leads on the girls, not realizing the marriage trap set by Gidharee.
“ We tried not to stray to far from the original story,” the film’s producer Christian James told the Caribbean Camera. “We had the blessing of Michael Anthony, and he did come on set to give his advice.  We did make changes to some of the details – we couldn’t find the right almond tree that opens the film and had to settle for a mango tree instead – but it is undoubtedly Green River.”
Mooledhar and James try to appear at all the festival screeners. “We do it whenever we can,” he continued. “We are always looking for distribution leads.  It has shown in Caribbean theatres but a North American deal has escaped us.  Canadians want to see the film? Follow us on Facebook, because we are looking at streaming it on ITunes or something similar very soon.”  
The film was brought to Toronto by the CTFF to bring attention to their coming movie fete.  What is in store for 2018? The theme this year is Light It Up, which the CTFF describe as “a call to action. A call to arms. A call to change.”
Director Mooledhar by sweirsweir
It all begins September 05 at the Royal Theatre in downtown Toronto and runs until the 20th. Over 30 provocative and political stories of the Black Caribbean experience will be screened including feature presentations from Trinidad, Haiti, Barbados, South Africa and Canada.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Opening Monday at the Anna Leonowens: North is Freedom

Important  Halifax exhibition profiles the legacy of the Underground Railroad in Canada  by Yuri Dojc
photo by Yuri Dojc
Halifax July 19, 2018 – Halifax’s Anna Leonowens Gallery in downtown Halifax is hosting North is Freedom, an evocative photo exhibition celebrating the descendants of former American slaves who fled to Canada in the years before the American Civil War. The show opens this Monday afternoon.
In portraits of 24 freedom-seeker descendants – the great-great-grandchildren of once-enslaved African Americans – Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc explores Canada’s end of the “Underground Railroad,” a clandestine network of "conductors" and “stations” that helped some 30,000 men, women, and children follow the “North Star” to freedom. 
Black freedom-seekers settled across Canada, but most came to what is now Ontario and Nova Scotia. Future generations remained, and North is Freedom tells their stories - Canadians attuned to their histories and justly proud of their ancestors' courage.  

North is Freedom opens Monday July 23rd, at the Anna Leonowens Gallery – 189 Granville Street, Halifax.  The opening reception runs from 5.30pm to 7:00 pm. Mr Yuri Dojc and Ms. Dorothy Abbott  (featured descendant and treasurer of the exhibition supporting Ontario Black Society -OBS), will be at the gallery at 5:00 to meet with the media. 
Yuri Dojc’s “North Is Freedom” features the great grandchildren of once-enslaved African Americans who found refuge at the Canadian terminus of the “Underground Railroad,” a clandestine network of conductors and stations that helped some 30,000 men, women, and children follow the “North Star” to freedom.
Freedom-seekers who escaped slavery in the United States in the years before the American Civil War settled across Canada. Future generations remained, and North is Freedom named after a poem by George Elliott Clarke, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, shines a spotlight on the descendants of slaves and reflects on their cultural memory.
The evocative photographic series was previously exhibited at the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. and timed to coincide with the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was subsequently showcased at the American Embassy in Ottawa during Black History Month in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday.  It has also been shown at The Grey Roots Museum in Owen Sound, Ontario
North Is Freedom’s partnership with the Owen Sound Emancipation Association / OBS  has facilitated the show travelling to Nova Scotia. It honours the descendants living history, heritage, and the enduring legacy of their ancestors. Their stories are both personal and historical.

In Halifax On Monday:

Dorothy Abbott is currently the volunteer Treasurer of two NFP organizations in Ontario; the first is the Ontario Black History Society where she has served on the Board since 2009. The second organization is the Owen Sound Emancipation Association, where she has been a board member since early 2000. Abbott’s interest in genealogy and her family’s origins developed into a passion to recognize and promote Black Canadian history as it is influenced and affected by her original African roots right through to the slave trade in the US, Caribbean and Central and South America. This passion has resulted in several exploratory trips to the southern USA and the Caribbean to trace her family tree. She will be in Halifax for the opening and her photograph hangs in the exhibition.

Photographer, artist and witness, Yuri Dojc’s expansive practice encompasses many kinds of looking. His multi-lens trajectory has pivoted from an established commercial photography practice to his current gaze as an artful observer of the vestiges of history’s most vulnerable.  
In 1968, as Russian tanks were rolling into his native Czechoslovakia, the young student summering in London became, abruptly, “refugee.” And soon, that status shifted again, to immigrant, as Dojc made his way to Canada.   In the decades since, the photographer has made Toronto his home, and the world both his subject and his host. 
Dojc is best known for his observational approach to the past, with its alloy of subjectivities, empathy, and intimacy.  Since the late 1990s, he has been documenting Slovakia's last living Holocaust survivors and the country’s abandoned synagogues, schools, and cemeteries for a series called Last Folio. An international success, this show travels extensively, with major exhibitions in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, New York, Sao Paulo among others. 
In Dojc’s most recent series, North is Freedom: The Legacy of the Underground Railroad as in so much of his work, the photographer illustrates the power of art to convey a narrative that continues to touch us here, now, and into the future.

North Is Freedom is partnered with the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival / OBS and is supported by TD Bank Group, The Embassy of Canada in Washington, D.C. as well as the kind donation of the printing services courtesy of Epson Canada.
Yuri Dojc


Media Preview with the artist Monday 23 July 5pm at the gallery, or earlier in the day if so desired.
For further information about the show and Yuri contact Stephen Weir 416-489-5868 / 416-801-3101