Breaking The Chains

African Canadian Pioneers & Digital Storytelling

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Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada’s Role in the Underground Railroad is a groundbreaking, web-based educational project that aims to share new research about Canada and its African Canadian pioneers. Funded through a Knowledge Mobilization grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), this project promises to do nothing less than write a new chapter in the history of the Underground Railroad.

The Tubman Institute is collaborating with scholars and educators, community groups, libraries, government agencies and other stakeholders to develop and disseminate newly-acquired data about Canada’s Underground Railroad-era heritage in ways accessible to, and engaging for, multiple publics, and especially children and youth.

Primary documentation, images and maps, coupled with personal stories and memories of representatives of the descendant population, will bring to life the tales of men, women and children who risked their lives in search of freedom. It will focus on new research that foregrounds both the leadership of African Americans in the operation of the secret system of slave escape through the northern US, and the part played by African Canadians in the reception of what represented a very large body of immigrants into the early to mid-19th century Canada.

Digital storytelling has never been so exciting. Combining digital 3D models and oral histories, tales of the Underground Railroad are brought “to life” in the classroom. Settlers who came to Canada in search of freedom re-tell their stories of bravery and survival.

Children from grades 1-12, including their teachers are invited to engage with and learn about the important role people of the African Diaspora played in building Canada – and all through the most advanced media technology, Augmented Reality!

This project supports learning expectations in Ontario. In particular, it will assist teachers in meeting the curriculum expectations of Grade 3 Social Studies, Grade 6 First Nations Peoples and European Explorers, Grade 7 History, as well as Grade 8 History and Geography. Additional connections are also made to the subject areas of Language, Art, Science and Technology at all levels.

The Underground Railroad was the largest, most important social justice movement of 19th century North America. Women, men and children from all walks of life, religions and ethnic backgrounds engaged in a secret system to assist those escaping from American slavery in the search of freedom and equality. Thousands traveled the secret routes from “station to station” assisted by “conductors”, usually free African Americans who risked everything to help freedom-seekers on their way. Thousands more came to Canada with little or no assistance at all and their stories have yet to be told.

The Canadian story of Black history is often over-shadowed by American narratives of slavery, a Eurocentric view of the UGRR, and the Civil Rights Movement. This project not only aims to magnify the Canadian experience, but also share stories and histories of our own Black heritage which took place so close to home.

Join the Harriet Tubman Institute online to discover our rich heritage from our African Canadian past. Breaking the Chains focuses on four regions in what is now Ontario:

 Niagara Region
Essex County
Queen’s Bush (central Bruce Peninsula including Wellington County)
Greater Toronto Area

Click on the areas above to meet some of our province’s most enduring communities and citizens. Learning about the African Canadian Pioneers in these regions is easy and very exciting. Instructional media kits and Augmented Reality vignettes are available for download through the Breaking the Chains website, which is fully equipped with lesson plans, and supported by cutting edge research provided by scholars of the UGRR-era. Primary documents such as maps, photos, letters and official documents are included to demonstrate “how we know” about the people, places and events of the Underground Railroad.

Listen to the personal stories of freedom seekers who made their homes in Canada in the years before the American Civil War, and explore their world and the evidence we have for their histories through Augmented Reality!

Did you know?
Did you know that John Hall was captured by Americans during the War of 1812, and sold to a Kentucky plantation owner?

For more facts, please visit us on Facebook and follow @BChains2011 on Twitter.