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Guelph Black Heritage Society launching heritage project next month

'We need to try and recognize these local heroes that made an impact on our community'
File photo. Denise Francis, president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society, stands outside Heritage Hall on Essex Street.

After years in the making, augmented reality and more are coming to the Guelph Black Heritage Society next month with the official launch of the Black Heritage Reclaimed Project. 

The project consists of a series of components from the underground railroad quilt code mosaic displayed at Heritage Hall,  the history of the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church booklet, a historical video series, the Wellington County driving map, a City of Guelph walking tour and Heritage Hall tours – many of which have been developed over the last few years. 

“I grew up in Guelph, and as a member of the Black community, sadly, we did not learn anything about Black history or heritage when I was going to school,” said Denise Francis, the President of the GBHS who first conceptualized the project about 10 years ago. 

"I want people to realize that there's history in our midst. We don't have to travel across the border to the States. We also have heroes in our backyard. And that's what I want us to talk about our local history and our local heritage,” she said.

The latest components include augmented reality exhibits and a digital archive.

The first part of the augmented reality experience starts in Heritage Hall. With your phone, you’ll be able to scan a section of the mosaic quilt, and will follow two Black settlers, Elizabeth and Henry, as they journey from the southern states into Canada through the underground railroad. 

“You'll activate it when you come to the Heritage Hall, and then it'll play these different scenes for you as you go along their journey. I think there's six stops on the journey that you'll travel with Henry and Elizabeth,” Francis said.  

They have three more augmented reality exhibits in the works, one following Harriet Tubman, one with Richard Pierpoint, and one focused on a local woman named Melissa Smith. 

“She was the organist at the BME Church, and she used to live right beside Heritage Hall,” she said. “People know about Harriet Tubman, people know about Pierpoint. But we also need to highlight the story of somebody local, who also made an impact on our communities.”

The first two will need to be activated at Heritage Hall, but some will be more mobile, she said. 

The other new element is the #ChangeStartsNow digital archive. The website is currently under construction, but will feature pictures and videos of past GBHS programs and events and artifacts owned by the organization. Viewers can learn about historical members of the Black settler and immigrant communities, take a virtual tour of Heritage Hall, or listen to the Nicky “Dread” Taylor podcasts. 

Originally from Guyana, he hosted a reggae radio show on CFRU for more than 40 years.

“Taylor was an amazing community member, and the influence of the Caribbean immigrants in Guelph and Wellington can never be forgotten.” 

Local producer Shane Philips digitized his radio programs and has created a podcast series playing Taylor’s radio segments and then discussing the influence he and reggae music had on local culture.

Philips will also be playing live reggae music with his band at the launch event, which will also see the first augmented reality exhibit premiered. 

“It’s like a big party to celebrate the newest part,” as well as what Francis and the community have accomplished in the last 10 years with this project, she said. 

“When people think about Black history and Black heritage, they think of the States. And we have so many amazing stories in Canada, and specifically Guelph and Wellington County too,” she said. “So we need to try and recognize these local heroes that made an impact on our community.”

“We want to celebrate these stories. Even the GBHS story. We've been here since 2011. And we're still going strong, and our history is something to be celebrated too.”

The free event will take place at 6 p.m. on Oct. 27 at Heritage Hall on 83 Essex St. 

All are welcome, although anyone wishing to come is asked to register. You can learn more about the launch or register here.


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Taylor Pace

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