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African Canadian Experience in the War of 1812

Updated on May 21, 2012
Harriet Tubman Institute, York University
Harriet Tubman Institute, York University | Source

Conference - We Stand on Guard for Thee: The African Canadian Experience in The War of 1812

On May 10-11, 2012, the Harriet Tubman Institute, York University in collaboration with Brock University hosted a conference entitled, "We Stand On Guard for Thee: The African Canadian Experience in the War of 1812." Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the conference was held at Brock University in St Catherines, Ontario, Canada. The conference chair, Michele Johnson, a professor in the History Department at York University, Ontario, Canada introduced the forum which featured presentations from historians, scholars, politicians, educators, students and the public. The conference explored the important role that African Canadians played in "the last war fought on Canadian soil." In attendance and making the opening remarks was Professor Lovejoy who is the director of the Harriet Tubman Institute, Canadian Research Chair in African Diaspora History and Distinguished Research Professor at York University. The Honourable Wilma Morrison, Order of Ontario and Honorary Doctorate, Brock University was named Honorary Patron of the workshop.

During the first day of the conference, presenters included MPP St. Catherines, Hon. Jim Bradley, the Mayor of St. Catherines, Hon. Brian McMullen, Mayor of Niagara Falls, New York, Hon. Paul Dyster, CEO, War of 1812 Legacy Council, Niagara, Brian Merrett and Executive Vice-President, Niagara University (US) Chair, Education Committee, Niagara War of 1812 Legacy Council were slated to participate in the afternoon events. Gareth Newfield, scholar and author, Canadian War Museum presentation of 'Free Men of Colour': The Coloured Corps during the War of 1812 was highlighted. According to the conference program, the coloured corps was a small unit of African Canadian militia who served on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812, including the Battles of Queenston Heights and Fort George. The conference program also identifies that this presentation examines the military history and myths of coloured corps and presents a compelling yet accurate account of this unique unit's service during the war of 1812. It is anticipated that during the bicentennial the experience of African Canadians will gain recognition for its contribution to the security of Canada even before confederation and the birth of the nation. Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley concluded the first evening with a musical presentation of "Sugar and Gold: The URR [Underground Railroad] in Canada" . The film Conestogo Bound: The Black Pioneers of Wellington County by writer/producer/director, Diana Braithwaite presents a new narrative of Canada's role in the Underground Railroad and is a project of York University Harriet Tubman Institute and the Augmented Reality Lab, Faculty of Fine Arts, with community partners from across Ontario and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

I attended the second day of the conference on Friday May 11th. In addition to some of the delegates from the previous day, there were presentations from Murray Wicket, Chair of Brock University, Karolyn Smardz Frost, Senior Research Fellow, Harriet Tubman Institute, York University, the Honourable Jean Augustine, Privy Council of Canada, Fairness Commissioner of Ontario and many other noteworthy presenters.

Panel 1 entitled, The African Canadian Experience during the War of 1812 introduced presenters such as Wayne Kelly, manager of Public Education and Community Development, Ontario Heritage Trust, whose presentation about "A Rallying Point: Black Troops in Early Ontario" addressed the inclusion and contribution of black militia in Ontario. Ronald J.Dale, of the War of 1812 Bicentennial Project Manager, Parks Canada Agency presentation, "For Freedom, Home and Loved Ones Dear: The Battle of Queenston Height, October 13, 1812" also highlighted the efforts of black Canadians during this integral period of our history. Peter Meyler, historian and author presented on "Partners on Obscurity" the Coloured Corps and the First nations" which informed us about collaboration between Blacks and Native peoples, a part of our history that is lacking in scholarship.

These were interesting and informative presentations about a part of our history that is less known- the involvement of black soldiers in the defence and security of Canada even before Confederation. Historical figures like Richard Pierpoint and John Daddy Hall were discussed. Most interestingly to me was the collaboration between Native peoples and African Americans and African Canadian. For more details check out

Panel 2 entitled People, Places and the African Canadian Wartime Experience introduced presenters such as David States, Guylaine Petrin and Karolyn Smardz Frost. States and Petrin are genealogists and demonstrated archival research in the search for evidence of black engagement in the war of 1812. This portion of the conference was particularly interesting to students who are thinking of pursuing historicalresearch. Presenters offered some innovative ways to utilize archival materials, looking at muster charts and comparing with other forms of archival materials to present new narratives about the past.

During the lunch time, the Honourable Jean Augustin introduced the "Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada's Role in the Underground Railroad" initiative. Caitlin Fisher,Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture, faculty of fine Arts, Andrew Roth of Augmented Reality Lab, York University and Natasha Henry of Harriet Tubman Institute, York University demonstrated the use of augmented technology to teach history to primary and high school students. This innovative technique is a long awaited initiative to teach history in an interactive and interesting way to children in the school system.

Panel 3 entitled, Teaching and Leaning the African Canadian experience in the war of 1812, here the presenters highlighted areas of scholarship in Black history that require attention, ideas on methodology for doing archival research, practical application of public history and its inclusiveness and pedagogy considerations in teaching history in the Canadian school system. Speakers include Professor Michele Johnson, History Department York University, Director of Spotlighting and Promoting African Canadian Experiences - SPACE; Adriene Shadd, historian, curator and author presented on Future Directions for Researching the Black Experience in the War of 1812; Kathleen Powell, Supervisor, Museum Operations and Curator, St Catherines Museum addressed The Presented Past: Public History and Inclusive Museums and Natasha Henry, educator, historian and author, Harriet Tubman Institute, York University presented on Teaching and Learning the African Canadian Experience in the War of 1812.

Overall my experience at the conference was great. The conference was informative, interesting and offered some innovative methodologies to improve the teaching and learning of history. The conference also presented insightful information about the contribution of black soldiers in the defence of this wonderful country, Canada. For those who do not know the war of 1812 was fought between the British Empire and the United States of America. Battles such as the battles of Queenston Height and the Battle of Crysler's Farm became significant to Canadians. I came away from the conference with renewed enthusiasm and reaffirmed commitment that there are many narratives about our history that are yet to be explored. The conference is aptly named and quotes a line from the Canadian National Anthem (see which demonstrates that African Canadians can sing with pride in knowing that their fore-fathers fought to protect this wonderful country. Quoted by Professor Michele Johnson and other delegates in the words of Marcus M. Garvey, "Onward and Upward" we keep the legacy alive.


Program of the Conference on We Stand On Guard for Thee: The African Canadian Experience in the war of 1812, The Pond Inlet, Mackenzie Chown Complex, Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, May 10-11, 2012,


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    • Anil and Honey profile image


      5 years ago from Kerala

      Nice , I like historical articles, thanks for sharing.


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