War of 1812 Conference

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On May 10 and 11, 2012, The Harriet Tubman Institute and the Augmented Reality Lab in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, in cooperation with the History Department, Brock University, the Central Ontario Network for Black History, and the St. Catharines Museum, hosted an important and inspiring workshop entitled We Stand on Guard for Thee: African Canadians in the War of 1812. The event was sponsored by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada with support from the Brock University History Department.

The African Canadian experience in the War of 1812 is a topic lamentably underrepresented in scholarly and popular literature. We Stand on Guard for Thee: African Canadians in the War of 1812 provided a forum for scholars, students, educators, community historians and members of the public to explore the important role played by African Canadians in the War of 1812.

The opening reception on May 10, 2012, was MC’d by the workshop Chair, Dr. Michele Johnson, with a warm welcome to all participants by Dr. Paul Lovejoy, CRC in African Diaspora History and Director of the Harriet Tubman Institute. The event featured the Honorable James J. Bradley, Deputy Government Leader of the House and Environment Minister for Ontario; Brian McMullan, Mayor of St. Catharines; Paul Dyster, Mayor of Niagara Falls, New York; Brian Merrett, CEO of the War of 1812 Legacy Council for Niagara; and Dr. Bonnie Rose, Executive VP of Niagara University.

Special guest speaker Gareth Newfield of the Canadian War Museum presented ” ‘Free Men of Colour.’ The Coloured Corps during the War of 1812,” followed by a musical performance by Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whitely. The launch of Conestogo Bound: Black Pioneers of Wellington County, an original film by Queen’s Bush pioneer descendant Diana Braithwaite, concluded the evening.

At the workshop on Friday, May 11, 2012, participants discussed a wide variety of topics including the Coloured Corps stationed at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake; the wartime experience of Black women and children; African Canadian service in the battle for the Great Lakes and on the high seas; and directions for future research into the lives of individuals who participated in this, the last war fought on Canadian soil. Sessions were chaired by Dr. Murray Wickett, chair of the History Department at Brock University; Donna Ford, President of the Central Ontario Network for Black History; and Dr. Michele Johnson, Associate Professor in the Department of History, York University.

An exciting part of the workshop took place on Friday, May 11, 2012, when the Hon. Jean Augustine, Fairness Commissioner for Ontario, launched Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada’s Role in the Underground Railroad. Dr. Caitlin Fisher of York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, CRC in Digital Culture and Andrew Roth of York’s Augmented Reality Lab presented this innovative web-based project. It includes 24 original biographies of people who came to Canada in search of freedom before the US Civil War. Narratives, detailed essays, primary documents and historic images support a series of original lesson plans designed for Grades 3-12. These are enhanced by specially created Augmented Reality segments, and available on-line through the Harriet Tubman Institute website. Based on substantial new research and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, this is a project of the Harriet Tubman Institute and Faculty of Fine Arts (Augmented Reality Lab), both of York University, with support from community partners across Ontario.

Dr. Naomi Norquay of the Faculty of Education and Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost, Senior Research Fellow at the Harriet Tubman Institute, York University, announced that a new phase of research coupled with instructional media development will be undertaken based on the result of this workshop. It will be conducted by The Harriet Tubman Institute and the Faculty of Fine Arts, York University, with the support of a wide range of community partners. Entitled We Stand On Guard for Thee: Teaching and Learning the African Canadian Experience in the War of 1812, this project will employ cutting edge technologies to encourage teachers and students, as well as members of the general public to explore the results of scholarly inquiry into the experience of Black Canadians in the War of 1812.