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‘Black history is Canadian history’: Event at Grace Tipling Hall celebrates Black heritage

February 29, 2024   ·   0 Comments

Written By Paula Brown

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As February comes to a close for another year, Dufferin County residents had the chance to celebrate Black History Month together with a special event from the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association (DCCBA). 

Patrons gathered at Grace Tipling Hall in Shelburne on Saturday (Feb. 24) for the annual DCCBA Black History Month event, “Celebrating Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; A Future to Build.”

“This is an amazing event and occasion to be able to honour the legacy of Black Canadians and celebrate the rich history. We have a rich Black history throughout Dufferin County and we’re able to talk about some of the struggles, but also the triumphs,” said Alethia O’Hara Stephenson, organizer of the event. “Historically, the Black narrative is often missing so this is an opportunity to showcase the excellence in the community, to educate the broader community about the contributions of Black Canadians and demonstrate how integrated we are as part of the Canadian mosaic; it’s an opportunity to be part of the story.”

The local Black History Month event was first held four years ago as a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association and the Museum of Dufferin (MoD). Since its inception in 2020, the DCCBA’s Black History Month event has continued to grow, with this year’s event selling out with a 195-seating capacity in Grace Tipling Hall.

In 2018, the Town of Shelburne became the first municipality in Dufferin County to officially proclaim February as Black History Month. 

“What I’m more proud of than that is what we’ve seen in the ensuing six years, moving from simple proclamations, which are largely symbolic, to seeing real advancements and real change,” said Shelburne Mayor Wade Mills. “Having that culminate in an event like this, seeing so many people joining together from different background, different culture, different histories, to celebrate Black History and recognize the fact that Black history is Canadian history, is something I find really heartening.” 

The Black History Month event featured a number of guests and performers including; Liberty Silver, Juno Award Winner; Capt. Kevin Junor, a retired member of the Canadian Forces; Amaya James, local author of the children’s book Afro, No; and the Ronetta Dance Group. 

Members from the Centre Dufferin District High School (CDDHS) Black Chapter performed their self-written poems titled, Enough Misconception and Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself.

“At the end of the day, we as students are the future so it’s important that we empower ourselves and empower other people, especially other students in the audience,” said Gabby Spencer, co-head of the CDDHS Black Chapter. 

“It’s always very rewarding to see how people react to our poems and it’s a great experience to create a name for ourselves and a presence in the community.” 

The foundation for formally recognizing Black History Month in Canada began nearly five decades ago with the formation of the Ontario Black History Society in 1978. The first-ever proclamation of Black History Month was issued in Toronto in 1979, following a petition from the Ontario Black History Society. The organization later went on to file successful petitions to proclaim February as Black History Month in the province in 1993 and nationally in 1995. 

Rohan Thompson, director of people and equity for the County of Dufferin, spoke with the Shelburne Free Press about the significance of hosting an event such as the one held by the DCCBA in honour of Black History Month. 

“The importance of this [event] is that it takes up space,” said Thompson. “When we’re talking about equity, when we’re talking about inclusion and talking about belonging, part of that is being able to take up space; to be seen and to be heard. That’s what this event is doing. In the economy of equity and inclusion, it’s important that we hold space for those who typically don’t get to hold space.” 

While Black History Month is formally recognized during the month of February, Dufferin County residents can be a part of celebrating Black excellence all year round through various programs and events held by the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association.  



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