Forging Freedom

In Honour of the Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade

In 2007, Canada commemorated the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade Act. The Ontario Historical Society held its annual conference on June 22 & 23rd, 2007, entitled Forging Freedom: In Honour of the Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade, in honour of this important landmark in the struggle for human dignity.

The Ontario Historical Society acknowledges the financial support from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for this special project.

“This Forging Freedom education website will provide educators and students with the opportunity to learn and experience African-Canadian History. Well researched and quality educational materials of this calibre are essential for use in our schools as students learn each other’s history in our diverse Canada. I am pleased that the Roots of Freedom funding provided the opportunity to produce this material.”

Jean Augustine, Fairness Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, Former Deputy Speaker of Canadian Parliament.

Papers & Authors

The papers presented at the Forging Freedom conference

Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of An American Hero

by Dr. Kate Clifford Larson

Harriet Tubman is one of the most famous figures in North American history. Unlike many once famous men and women who are now obscured and forgotten, Tubman has become even more renowned and celebrated than the day she died almost one hundred years ago. Remarkably, the actual details of her life have only recently been uncovered, making her status as a great historic figure even more astonishing. Recent research brings vivid new detail to an extraordinary story of a real woman far more compelling, powerful, and accessible than the secretive, legendary former slave and Underground Railroad conductor of children’s books and Victorian biographies. A hero for the 21st century, Tubman’s timeless demands for liberty, equality, justice, and self-determination continue to speak to new generations around the world, reminding us the struggle for freedom is not yet finished.

Dr. Kate Clifford Larson

Kate Clifford Larson is the author of the critically acclaimed biography, Bound For The Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of An American Hero, published in January 2004. She earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of New Hampshire, where she completed her doctoral dissertation on the life and memory of Harriet Tubman, earning her a finalist spot for the 2004 Lerner-Scott Dissertation Award from the Organization of American Historians. Larson is also the recipient of numerous awards, fellowships and grants in support of her work on Harriet Tubman. Since 2003, Dr. Larson has been the Harriet Tubman specialist for the National Park Service’s Harriet Tubman Special Resource Study, and is currently serving as the historical consultant and advisor to the proposed Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Center museum in Dorchester County, MD.

Dr. Larson is involved in a variety of Public History initiatives related to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, including the State of Maryland’s Underground Railroad Map and Guide and the federally funded Corridor Management Plan for the Underground Railroad Scenic Byway in Dorchester and Caroline counties in Maryland. She lectures widely on Harriet Tubman, and has been a guest instructor at numerous professional development workshops for teachers, including National Endowment for the Humanities and Teaching American History programs. Dr. Larson holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Simmons College, and an M.B.A. from Northeastern University. She is working on a biography of Mary Surratt, a co-conspirator in John Wilkes Booth’s plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. She teaches at Simmons College in Boston.

Fred Landon (1880-1969): Journalist, Librarian, Historian and Scholar in African Canadian History

by Dr. Fred H. Armstrong

This is a brief comment on the life and accomplishments of Fred Landon (1880-1969), a London librarian and professor who was both president of the OHS and one of the first Canadian writers on Black history. As both a Great Lakes sailor and journalist, Landon early developed an interest in the common man. An important part of his writing deals with their lives, and especially relevant for this conference, includes many studies on American slavery and the lives of the Black immigrants to Canada.

Dr. Fred Landon. Image courtesy of the Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library, London, Ontario

A Toronto native, Fred Armstrong attended the University of Toronto, obtaining his M.A. in 1949. While a student, he also worked at the American Numismatic Society in New York and the Royal Ontario Museum. In 1960, after some years in business, he returned to take his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. His thesis, on Toronto after its 1834 incorporation, was supervised by Professor J. M. S. Careless and completed in 1965. After briefly teaching at Toronto, he joined the History Department at the University of Western Ontario, retiring in 1991.

His specializations, both in writing and teaching, were pre-Confederation Ontario and urban history. He has written histories of Toronto and London, Ontario, and many Ontario History articles. Active in the preservation movement, he has been chairman of London’s heritage committee, and also president of both the Champlain Society and the Ontario Historical Society.

Slavery in Canada

by Dr. Afua Cooper

Dr. Cooper’s presentation explores the phenomenon of slavery under both the French and British colonial regimes. The paper looks at the nature of slavery, control and resistance, and the question of gender and enslavement.

Dr. Afua Cooper

Afua Cooper earned her Ph.D. in Canadian history with a special focus on the Black communities of 19th century Ontario. Her doctoral dissertation was a biography of Henry Bibb, the renowned antislavery crusader. Further, she has done extensive work on Mary Bibb as a schoolteacher and abolitionist reformer. Dr. Cooper has also done ground-breaking work on the enslavement of Black people in Canada. Such research has resulted in The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Slavery in Canada and the Burning of Old Montréal (HarperCollins, 2006). The French language version was published by L’Editions de L’Homme in 2007. Angélique became a national bestseller and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award in 2006.

The Road That Led to Somewhere: Personal Reflections on How a Family Chapter in Underground Railroad History Can Be Used To Celebrate and Forge Freedom 200 Years After the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

by Dr. Bryan E. Walls

Weaving history and personal family struggles contained within his book, The Road That Led To Somewhere (Windsor,1980), Dr. Walls will connect the significance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the Underground Railroad Freedom Movement and our world today.

Grant funding from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration has made it possible to mount on the Web the papers delivered at this important conference.

Included are lesson plans and suggestions for incorporating the results of this cutting edge research into elementary, middle and secondary school curricula. These lesson plans meet educational standards and curriculum guidelines for social studies and history education in the Province of Ontario. They are designed for Grades 3, 7 and 11/12.

Dr. Bryan Walls. Image: C. Ferguson/AfroCanadaViews

Dr Bryan E. Walls, C.M. O.Ont. is a dental surgeon, historian and author. He was born a proud Canadian on a farm near a little place called Puce, Ontario, outside of Windsor. His ancestors before him, back to a time before the end of enslavement in the United States, were also proud. His parents impressed on him the importance of education as an avenue for freedom and achievement today. He has received the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry Honouree of Distinction Alumni Award of Merit 2005; Order Of Canada (C.M.) 2003; Chancellor’s Award, Iona College University of Windsor 2002; the Order of Ontario (O.Ont.) in 1994, Lamp of Learning Award from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation in 1989 among others. Dr. Walls is a past president of the Essex County Dental Society; past secretary of the Ontario Heritage Trust; committee member of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Recruiting Unit; board member of the National Alliance of Faith and Justice out of Washington D.C.; deacon of historic First Baptist Church, Puce Ontario; and a past president of the Ontario Historical Society, founded in 1888.

Milestones Along the Freedom Road: Extradition Cases and the Fugitive Slave in Canada

by Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost

The road north was a long and rocky one for many who sought freedom in Canada. Slaveholders in the United States actively sought the return of their lost human “property” and sometimes went to remarkable lengths to try and retrieve those who had found refuge on Canadian soil. This paper details the ways in which American slaveholders challenged Canada’s role as haven for immigrant African Americans, the legal and ethical decisions made by government officials to protect them, and the sometimes dramatic lengths to which recaptured refugees, with the help of the African Canadian communities of this province, would go to ensure their liberty.

Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost

Karolyn Smardz Frost is a professional archaeologist and historian with a BA in Classical Archaeology, an MA in Classical Studies and a PhD in Canadian History specializing in Race and Slavery. Dr. Smardz Frost is widely published in educational archaeology and public history, and helped to produce the first required African Canadian history curriculum used by the Toronto Board of Education. She co-authored The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto! with Adrienne Shadd and Dr. Afua Cooper in 2002, and has conducted research for exhibits for Parks Canada and the Ontario Heritage Trust, as well as the documentary, Freedom’s Land for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. More recently, she assisted with research for the new exhibit at Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden, and for the Ontario Heritage Trust plaques at the William and Susannah Stewart House in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the AME Cemetery in Otterville, Ontario. She is also former Executive Director of The Ontario Historical Society.

Dr. Smardz Frost’s 1985 discovery of the Thornton and Lucie Blackburn Site in a downtown Toronto schoolyard resulted in Canada’s first Underground Railroad-related archaeological project. The Blackburns have been designated Persons of National Historic Significance in Canada and of state historic significance in Kentucky based on her research. Her recent book, I’ve Got A Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad (Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers & New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2007), is the result of a twenty-year quest to detail the lives of this remarkable couple in slavery and in freedom. The book won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction.

Lesson Plans

The lesson plans on these pages have been derived from and address the topics and issues contained in the Forging Freedom conference papers herein published. They have been devised for and meet the standards set by the Ontario Ministry of Education in its revised curriculum policy guidelines for teachers. New research on slavery in Canada, the life of Harriet Tubman, the fugitive slave extradition cases of the 19th century and the John Freeman Walls Underground Railroad story give students the opportunity to learn more about these key events and narratives in Canadian history.
For the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum guidelines go here.

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Grade 3

The teacher will introduce the class to the story of the Underground Railroad and the Blacks who settled in Upper Canada (Ontario) during this time period. The teacher can read a picture book about Harriet Tubman or have the class read picture books about Harriet Tubman. Working individually or in small groups, the students will then complete the Harriet Tubman Life Chart and create a piece of artwork based on the information they have learned about this great heroine.

Living History: The Walls Family Oral History

Grade 7

The class will read the historical background paper about the Walls family entitled “DR. BRYAN WALLS AND THE JOHN FREEMAN WALLS HISTORIC SITE AND UNDERGROUND RAILROAD MUSEUM.” They will review the glossary of key words and do the vocabulary activity. Working individually or in small groups, the students will then design and execute an oral history project in which they will select, interview and document the history of an older person in their family or community. They will present their project to the class.

Forging Freedom: Conference Papers In Honour of the Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Grade 11-12

Students will read the papers presented at the Forging Freedom Conference In Honour of the Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade. They will review and answer questions related to the readings and discuss their implications. They will then choose one of the essay questions and write an essay on one of the topics dealt with in the conference papers. As an optional activity, they may also prepare a timeline of important legislation, legal court decisions and the actions of African people themselves that impacted on the lives of Blacks in Canada from the earliest beginnings to 1865.

Bibliography: further reading for younger readers and adults.