As a Black woman in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Jan King-Watson is doing what she can to help educate the community on Black history and culture – including crucial historical moments that happened in the early days of this town.
A celebration of the 230th anniversary of the Act to Limit Slavery, the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade, happening this Sunday is part of that education.
The NOTL Museum will lead the commemoration at the Voices of Freedom Park, and King-Watson will be there to share a few words.
Also taking part in the tribute are tribute are Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, Rochelle Bush, Wayne Moore and performers Jeremiah Sparks, Tamiya Cox and local musician Aaron Berger.
Artist Wayne Moore will be unveiling an original commissioned piece of art, inspired by Chloe Cooley’s story, to be installed at the museum and joining its permanent collection.
The Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, enacted in 1793, prohibited the importation of new slaves into Upper Canada.
The catalyst for the act’s formation was Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman who, in March 1793, was taken across the Niagara River by her enslaver to be sold in the United States.
However, Cooley screamed and fought to get away, alerting multiple witnesses to her abduction, including Black loyalist Peter Martin, who reported the incident.
Rochelle Bush, one of the speakers at Sunday’s event and owner of Tubman Tours Niagara, said that the Act to Limit Slavery and Chloe Cooley’s story are essential pieces of Black history in our area.
“There’s so much history here: that’s why I focus on the lower end of the Freedom Trail, which would be Niagara-on-the-Lake,” she said.
When it comes to the general public’s understanding of Black history, King-Watson said, “We still have a lot of work to do here in Niagara, certainly in Canada as a whole.”
That being said, she expressed her pride in the museum and all they have done to commemorate stories of Black history.
“I’m so proud of the work they’ve decided to do on this whole topic, really recognizing the Black and Indigenous and other people of colour,” she said.
King-Watson especially thanked the museum’s director of community engagement, Barbara Worthy, who she said has done plenty of work moving education on Black history forward.
Sarah Kaufman, the managing director and curator at the NOTL Museum said that this milestone anniversary marks the museum’s first celebration of the Act to Limit Slavery.
“It’s a significant event for the community,” she said.
The anniversary celebration is free to all and will run from 11 a.m. to noon.