A workshop co-sponsored by York University will delve into the role of African Canadians in the War of 1812 – a topic researchers say is underrepresented in scholarly and popular literature.
We Stand on Guard for Thee: African Canadians in the War of 1812, taking place at Brock University May 10 to 11, offers a forum for scholars, students, educators, historians and members of the public to explore the important role played by African Canadians the last war fought on Canadian soil. It will also showcase a new web-based project to help children “virtually” experience the history surrounding the Underground Railroad, the first phase of which will be unveiled by Jean Augustine, fairness commissioner for Ontario.
The workshop’s opening reception on Thursday will feature James Bradley, Ontario environment minister; Brian McMullan, mayor of St. Catharines; Paul Dyster, mayor of Niagara Falls, New York; Brian Merrett, chief executive officer of the War of 1812 Legacy Council for Niagara; and Bonnie Rose, executive vice-president of Niagara University.
Guest speaker Gareth Newfield of the Canadian War Museum will present “Free Men of Colour: The Coloured Corps during the War of 1812”, followed by a musical performance by Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley. The launch of Conestogo Bound: Black Pioneers of Wellington County, an original film by Queen’s Bush pioneer descendant Diana Braithwaite, will conclude the evening.
Friday, workshop topics include the “coloured corps” stationed at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake; the wartime experience of black women and children; African Canadian service in the battle for the Great Lakes and on the high seas; and the post-war migration to Canada Maritimes of the so-called “black refugees”, some 2,000 African Americans who fought on the British side in the War of 1812.
An important component of the workshop will be outlining directions for future research and providing suggestions for the development of educational materials for the new project of the Harriet Tubman Institute and Faculty of Fine Arts, York University: We Stand On Guard for Thee: Teaching and Learning the African Canadian Experience in the War of 1812.
Also on Friday, Augustine will launch Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada’s Role in the Underground Railroad. The web-based project includes 24 original biographies of people who came to Canada in search of freedom before the American Civil War. Narratives, detailed essays, primary documents and historic images support a series of original lesson plans designed for Grades 3-12, enhanced by augmented reality segments created by York film Professor Caitlin Fisher, Canadian Research Chair in Digital Culture at York, and her team in the Faculty of Fine Arts Augmented Reality Lab.
Augmented reality allows students and teachers to engage with personal stories and photos of refugees from American slavery and free African American immigrants before the Civil War. Some of the materials were contributed by descendants of those profiled and have never before been shown in public. The segment is set in motion when an image card is held in view of a webcam; the program conjures three-dimensional digital images, video and audio in a number of vignettes. The person holding the card up to the webcam becomes part of the picture and thus part of the action.
Breaking the Chains was created by York’s Harriet Tubman Institute and the Augmented Reality Lab in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University with community partners from across Ontario. The project, carried out under the supervision of Karolyn Smardz Frost, senior research fellow at the Tubman Institute,was tested in a number of Ontario schools over the past few months. It will be rolled out after its May 11 launch and offered free online through the Tubman Institute website as a resource for teachers to encourage students to interact with Canadian history.
Several York scholars will be involved in the We Stand on Guard for Thee workshop. History Professor Michele Johnson is conference chair. She is also moderator of the panel, Teaching and Learning the African Canadian Experience in the War of 1812, on which historian Hilary Dawson and education director Natasha Henry, both of the Tubman Institute, will speak. Welcoming workshop participants will be Paul Lovejoy, Tubman Institute director and Canadian Research Chair in African Diaspora History, and workshop organizer Smardz Frost, author of I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land, A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad, winner of the 2007 Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. Smardz Frost will also discuss the connection between the War of 1812 and the Underground Railroad.
The workshop and Breaking the Chains project are funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.