Town of Oakville officially names civic holiday Emancipation Day

Before Canada Day had even arrived July 1, Town Council voted unanimously Monday to name the Aug. 3 civic holiday Emancipation Day in recognition of the town’s African Canadian heritage and to celebrate freedom.

Other municipalities have named the Ontario holiday, which falls on the first Monday of August, after significant people or events.

Ward 2 Town Councillor Pam Damoff said it made sense to recognize the town’s role in the Underground Railroad, which saw African American slaves in the United States smuggled to freedom in Canada.

“Captain Robert Wilson (who sailed the Great Lakes out of Oakville) concealed many slaves seeking freedom in wooden crates on his ship. If you visit Oakville Museum to see the display there, you can find out more about the town’s ties to the Underground Railroad and see one of these crates,” said the councillor.

Damoff said other Underground Railroad connections to Oakville included the story of Conductor James Wesley Hill or “Canada Jim,” a former slave who fled to Bronte.

Damoff noted Hill repeatedly risked his life by returning to America, where he was wanted dead or alive, to guide other slaves to freedom.

Hill is credited with leading 700-800 slaves to a new beginning in Oakville.

“The first Canadian prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan was tried here in Oakville in what is now Seasons Restaurant in the 1930s following a cross burning at the home of a local man,” said Damoff.

It was also pointed out Oakville annually celebrates Emancipation Day to commemorate Aug. 1, 1834 — the day slavery was abolished in Canada and throughout the British Empire.

The annual Emancipation Day Picnic is integral to Oakville’s heritage. It dates to 1850, when African Canadians gathered in George’s Square to celebrate their journey to freedom.

“We are very proud of Oakville’s role in the abolishment of slavery and our community’s devotion and commitment to helping African Canadians on their journey to freedom,” said Oakville Mayor Rob Burton in a press release.

This year’s Emancipation Day Family Picnic festivities will be Monday, Aug. 3, on the grounds of the Erchless Estate, starting at 1 p.m. It will feature free music, dance, games, crafts and activities.

For more information, visit www.oakville.ca.

Source: Oakville Beaver By David Lea

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