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Monday, April 22, 2024
‘An inspiration:’ Wilma Morrison was black history advocate

Wilma Morrison, a longtime advocate for the recognition and preservation of Niagara's black history, has died.

Morrison, 91, lived at Lundy Manor Retirement Residence and died of COVID-19 complications. The Niagara Falls home has been devastated by the virus.

As the honorary chair of Niagara-on-the-Lake's Voices of Freedom Park, “Her leadership, quick wit and humble manner made her a joy to work with on the project,” said Lord Mayor Betty Disero. “Her inspiration to always do better will be missed by everyone.”

Morrison's “sense of humour, experience and creativity was appreciated by all of us,” Disero added. “She has left many legacies behind that have helped make our community a better place to live.”

A recipient of many awards, including the Order of Ontario, Morrison was the subject of a 2016 film documentary by Ayo Adewumi. “Wilma … the story of a Black Canadian,” tells about Morrison's life as an Ontario-born black Canadian, the discrimination she faced based on her colour and sex, and her efforts to preserve black history in Niagara.

The film also highlights her struggles to save the Niagara Falls BME Church, a key part of the Freedom Trail and the Underground Railroad. She helped the church become designated as a National Heritage Site.

“This is a big loss to Canada and the black community,” Adewumi said in a social media post. “Your story shall be told to generations yet unborn. My last visit to you on March 13, and our last phone conversation a few days before you tested positive to COVID-19, will forever remain fresh in my memory.”

Sarah Kaufman, managing director and curator of the NOTL Museum, said Morrison was a “pillar of knowledge” of black history.

“For anyone researching our local black history, Wilma was one of the top people that you had to reach out to. She was an absolute delight to work with,” she said.

“The community of Niagara-on-the-Lake was fortunate to benefit from her research, knowledge and contributions through the Voices of Freedom Park. We have lost an icon in the history and heritage preservation field.”

Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society, said, “Wilma wanted to ensure that the crucial work of documenting, preserving and educating about the rich, vast history of black peoples in Ontario would continue and expand in a manner that honoured these stories. She was also concerned about cultivating this knowledge and interest in young people so they could learn about a more fulsome narrative of Canada and see how they played a role in carrying on this mission.”

She noted, “Wilma was thrilled to learn about the work I was doing in researching black history. At the time I was writing my book on the history of Emancipation Day celebrations in Canada, and in curriculum development, developing teaching resources focusing on black Canadian experiences.”

They worked together on several occasions, including the community partnership between the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University, the Central Ontario Network for Black History and other heritage organizations to create two projects – “Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada's Role in the Underground Railroad” and “We Stand on Guard for Thee: Teaching and Learning the African Experience in the War of 1812.”

Morrison was happy those projects along with the Voices of Freedom Park project were fulfilled, Henry said. 

“It is incumbent upon many stakeholders to ensure that these projects remain accessible for posterity in honour of her legacy. Myself and the Ontario Black History Society will continue the work that we do in her name as well as those ancestors who have laid the foundation for our work.”

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