Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Plaquing slaveholders



CBC News Toronto reports on handsome, unofficial plaques that have begun appearing in Toronto streets and landmarks named after 18th and 19th century Upper Canadian slaveholders. It mentions two: at Jarvis Collegiate the plaque notes the slaveholdings of the Jarvis family, and a plaque near Baby Point does the same for the Baby family.

The plaques -- here's a twist -- are provided with footnotes. Windsor, Ontario historian Irene Moore Davis of the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, who is quoted on them, knew nothing of the plaques' origins, but she's intrigued:

"Unless it was something like a Confederate general statue, which nobody needs to see in a public place ... I'm [of] the mind that we educate people better by adding to what's already there."

From her interactions, she found people share a similar mindset.

"What I'm seeing across social media, and just in conversations with people, is that they want to see more of that," Davis said.

She suggested investing in more durable and permanent plaques to outline the historical context in different parts of the city.

There have been previous projects to supplement official historical plaques around Toronto and elsewhere: the Murmur project, whose plaques provided a phone number for a local historical message, and the Missing Plaques project, which put up posters on minority and labour history. I noted them in a Beaver/Canada's History column in 2007 -- along with digital-based projects around the country -- but both Murmur and Missing Plaques seem to have been discontinued: their websites produce error messages.

The Irene Moore Davis quote:  "What we accept, what we honour, who we choose to honour, says a lot about what we value as a society."

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