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A lot to celebrate for Black History Month, says heritage society (5 photos)

The Ramp it Up campaign is raising money to make the Guelph Black Historical Society's Heritage Hall wheelchair accessible

The Guelph Black Heritage Society celebrated launch of their events calendar for Black History Month during an event Wednesday evening at Royal City Brewing Company.

For the second year in a row, Royal City Brewing is offering a ‘Lantern Ale’, with 50 cents from every bottle going toward the GBHS’s Ramp it Up campaign.

Denise Francis, president of GBHS, said the lantern is a symbol of hope for many fleeing slavery.

“It would be on the railings or in a window along the Underground Railroad as the people were moving from the south to the north toward freedom,” said Francis.

Before Christmas, GBHS teamed up with Royal City Brewing to sell another themed beer for the organization called Caribbean Sunshine.

Francis said she hopes the partnership with the brewery will be a long one.

GBHS’s Ramp it Up campaign is raising money to make their 1880s-era building at 83 Essex Street wheelchair accessible by adding a ramp and a main floor bathroom.

The group took possession of the former church in 2012 and renamed it Heritage Hall.

“Even if you do make it in the building, you go up the six steps but then you have to go down a dozen to get to the bathroom,” said Francis.

GBHS volunteer John Leacock said the renovations needed to make the former Bethany Baptist Church accessible will require about $185,000.

The event on Wednesday was also intended to launch the group’s calendar of events planned throughout February for Black History Month.

On Feb. 3, a tribute called “The Viola Desmond Story” will be held at Heritage Hall, put on by Flex We Talent Theatre Company.

Desmond is an activist known for being arrested after defiantly sitting in a ‘whites only’ section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946. 

Francis said Heritage Hall boast great acoustics.

A celebration of jazz and blues called ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ will be held Feb. 11 at Life Centre, a partnership between GBHS, Silence and Hope House.

Why We Can’t Wait is the name of a 1964 book by Martin Luther King. 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the civil rights leader, known for his nonviolent movement against racial segregation.

A full events calendar for the group’s Black History Month events can be seen here.

Retiree Martin Bosch brought an antique lantern to Wednesday’s event that is similar to the imagery used by the group for the Lantern Ale.

Bosch said he has been in support of the group since its founding in 2011. 

The kerosene lantern was lit, providing additional ambiance in the Ward Room event space at Royal City Brewing.

“I have three of them, so if they want to use them for Black History Month they are welcome to them,” said Bosch.

Leacock said the Black History Month events are intended to be enjoyed by people of all colours.

“I think black heritage is good when you have some fun about it and people can feel comfortable, that they want to be part of understanding history,” said Leacock.

He added, “there’s a lot to celebrate with black history. It’s not only about anger, it’s about love and community.”


Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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