Freedom Train Fires Up Senator to Push For A National Emancipation Day
Last Night’s Freedom Train Fires Up Senator to Push The Feds For A National August 1st Emancipation Day.
By Stephen Weir
It all happened underground late Tuesday night while most of Toronto slept. Looking out over a sea of Caribbean Canadian faces at the start of the Freedom Ride; Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard said “You should see the beautiful view from here!”
The Halifax senator, one of only a few Afro-Canadians currently sitting in the Upper Chamber, was a keynote speaker at last night’s 6th annual Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train ride. She told the audience of over a 1,000 that when she gets back to Ottawa she is going to continue the work that was started by Toronto Historian Rosemary Sadlier, to make August 1st, Emancipation Day, a federally proclaimed national day.
Senator Bernard shared the microphone with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's Rita Cox, the honourary conductor of the 2018 Freedom Train. They stood on the steps of the Rotunda inside the TTC Union Station. The pair were surrounded by people wanting to join them on a special subway train ride to mark the August 1,1834 proclamation abolishing slavery in the British Empire and to honour the people who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad.
“We will begin boarding the Underground Freedom Train (a private TTC subway train) at 11:30pm and we will travel nonstop to the Sheppard West Station. I ask all of you to stay silent until we pass the St. George station, in honour of those who came before us,” organizer Itah Sadu told the crowd. “ We should arrive just after midnight August 1st and together we will mark this glorious date -- Emancipation Day.”
Organized and looked after by supportive TTC volunteers (check out the volunteer driver welcoming people on board the Freedom Train), the journey was a mixture of quiet reflection followed by a sing-along of Bob Marley tunes and spiritual songs. Arriving at the large two-story Sheppard Station, the disembarking passengers were greeted by the sounds of event drummers Muhtadi Thomas and Quammie Williams along with pannists from the Pan Fantasy orchestra.
In the audience were a number of community activists including Dr. Rosemary Sadlier, the former president of the Ontario Black History Society. Last year she reached out to Canadians to sign a petition to the Federal Government to declare August 1st as Emancipation Day across the Dominion.
“We did present the petition to the Feds, and while nothing has happened in the House, a lot things are going on behind the scenes”, Dr. Sadlier told me at the crowded subway station. “What Senator Bernard said tonight makes a big difference, and I think this (Emancipation Day) will move forward.”
This morning a tired by ecstatic Itah Sadu talked to me about the Train Ride. “I stayed until the last person had left the station. It was the best Freedom Train ever. No incidents. It was all love. Looking forward to 2019, but, I am wondering what it would be like to watch from the comfort of sidelines next year!”
|Poet at Union Station|