Stage Door News

St. Catharines: FirstOntario PAC presents #EmancipationDaySTC July 29-August 1

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Matter of Black (MOB) and BlackOwned905 proudly present a virtual edition of #EmancipationDaySTC, an annual celebration set to reawaken old traditions and foster greater solidarity and pride among the Black Canadian community in memory of its remarkable achievements and in face of persistent racism. Free events that feature speakers, conversations, streamed performances and a virtual market featuring BlackOwned905 businesses will take place from 29 July – 1 August, presented in partnership with the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (PAC), City of St. Catharines, TD Niagara Jazz Festival and community partners.

“Emancipation Day is a day to acknowledge and educate the community about the traumas and hardships our ancestors endured in their fight for the freedom,” says Matter of Black Co-founder Erika Smith. “It is also a day to celebrate the strength and resilience of our ancestors and Black community. It is so important to remember the past and where we came from as we progress to an even brighter future for marginalized people.”

Historically, the annual Emancipation Day Picnic was said to have rivalled only Christmas as the high point in the lives of Black Canadians living in Niagara. And from 1924 until the early 1970s, as many as 8000 people could be expected to converge at Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie to attend the "Big Picnic" each year. People came from Toronto to Owen Sound and throughout the Great Lakes region, with some even travelling from Virginia and Tennessee in the U.S. to attend.

“Some of the best memories from my childhood took place at Lakeside Park in St. Catharines while celebrating Emancipation Day,” says Natasha Bell, Co-founder Matter of Black/ Founder of BlackOwned905. “My grandmother Ruth Harper Bell organized the event from 1970-2003. Since then, I have wanted to see a revival of Emancipation Day to bring back the tradition of that feel good celebration that was a part of my childhood and my grandmother's legacy.”

Emancipation Day has been part of St. Catharines history since 1924 and leadership from the local Black community and many partner organizations is bringing it back to centre stage. Though virtual again for a second year, #EmancipationDaySTC intends to once again become an annual celebration in Lakeside Park.

“St. Catharines has a long and proud Black history and I’m very proud that community leaders are bringing Emancipation Day back again this year,” says Mayor of St. Catharines Walter Sendzik. “While we continue to get together virtually, there are many ways to learn about St. Catharines rich Black history and leaders who fought for equal rights and freedoms for all. And next year we look forward to getting together in Lakeside Park for the Big Emancipation Day picnic once again.”

“The PAC creates and supports experiences for, and with, our community,” says Colleen Smith, Executive Director of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  "#EmancipationDaySTC is an important moment for us to remember, honour and respect the struggles for freedom that people have experienced in the past, while continuing to learn and create a better, more inclusive world for our future. We thank our community leaders and partners from Matter of Black, BlackOwned905, TD Niagara Jazz Festival, City of St Catharines and others for their commitment and efforts towards this celebration.”

The TD Niagara Jazz Festival has built a rich lineup of musical performances in celebration of #EmancipationDaySTC that can be enjoyed safely from home.

“The music of jazz and blues embodies the spirit of freedom that was fought for by our ancestors,” shares Juliet Dunn, Co-Creator/Executive Director/Artistic Producer of TD Niagara Jazz Festival. “This music is a beautiful thing that has risen from the ashes of a terrible fire.  And the history of North America - and so much music - is inextricably woven into the fabric of jazz and blues.  We have the upmost respect for this art form and we are honoured to bring this music to the celebration of Emancipation Day in Niagara. Special thanks to the Niagara Region’s Investment in Culture, the Niagara Community Foundation and the City of St. Catharines for supporting the performances.”

Last year, more than 12,500 members of our community joined virtually to learn, share and celebrate Emancipation Day. The Niagara community is once again invited to join in on the celebration and are encouraged to share their participation with the #EmancipationDaySTC.

All Emancipation Day programs will be presented online via FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre’s Facebook and YouTube channels as well as Matter of Black, BlackOwned905, City of St. Catharines, Mayor Walter Sendzik and TD Niagara Jazz Festival Facebook pages. Sunday’s Emancipation Day concert event will be hosted on TD Niagara Jazz Festival’s Facebook and YouTube pages and shared through partner channels.