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Niagara Falls
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Friends add a little jazz to kickstart burial ground fundraising
George Webber, Chair of Friends of the Forgotten educated a group on the history of the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground during his Tent Talk at the Jazz Festival. Julia Sacco

While listening to jazz in the park, some music lovers decided to set some time aside for a history lesson.

George Webber was given space for his “Tent Talk” Saturday evening during the TD Niagara Jazz Festival’s Music in the Park at Simcoe Park.

Webber spent his half-hour time slot speaking about the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground on Mississagua Street, and efforts to preserve the site and honour those buried there, some of the earliest members of Niagara’s Black community.

“I didn’t know whether I’d be talking to five people or 50 people, but it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to start talking about it,” said Webber, chair of Friends of the Forgotten. 

Juliet Dunn, co-founder of the TD Niagara Jazz Festival, is a member of the group’s advisory committee.

Webber said the main focus of his talk was to share the history of the burial ground in order to spread awareness and hopefully obtain donations to fund plans for the site.

Speaking to council at its meeting on June 27, Webber reported that Friends of the Forgotten will need up to $50,000 to fund the second and third stages of archeological assessments that need to be completed on the property.

The history of the burial ground dates to the 1800s, when the Niagara Baptist Church was active and a congregation site for parishioners in the community.

“We have five strategies in place,” Webber said. The group hopes to secure funding from government, service clubs and organizations, individual residents, businesses and foundations.

Members also want to make sure they approach each sector they’re requesting funding from properly.

“For me, how you go out and talk to each individual resident is much different than how you would approach a business,” Webber said. 

Along with a general history of the burial ground and those buried there, Webber addressed audience questions, including one about the changing of the site’s name.

Before last year, the site was largely referred to as the Negro Burial Ground.

“I’ve got bigger problems,” joked Webber.

“If they wanted to change it they would have consulted folks like Natasha Henry and other leaders within the Black community and my guess is, that is what they would have wanted,” he told The Lake Report. 

For more information on the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground and how you can donate, visit the Friends of the Forgotten website at friendsoftheforgotten.ca.

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