Canada honours slaves

People from all over North America honour slaves who escaped to Canada and those who helped them ...

    Top level politicians, historians and civic leaders gathered in Washington DC on Wednesday to honour an African American woman who helped lead thousands of U.S. slaves to freedom in the nineteenth century.
    Harriet Tubman was known as the conductor of the Underground Railroad along which escaping slaves were passed to freedom via a network of sympathetic people and safe houses.
    The Washington meeting was aimed at setting-up at least two U.S. national historical parks in memory of Tubman.
    It came just days after the great, great grand children of former slaves gathered in their hundreds in a small Canadian town near the U.S. border close to Detroit.
    The eighty seventh annual Buxton Homecoming was a commemoration and celebration of the flight to freedom that frequently stretched north of the border into Canada.
    When I went to Buxton I arrived just in time to hear a roll-call of family members preparing to play each other in what's become somewhat of a tradition at Buxton homecomings - a game of baseball.  What could be more American?
    "John, Jackie, Alex ... and that's the whole family clan."  That was patriarch Bryan Prince. The Princes, in white, were taking on the Brooks, wearing orange, in the sweltering Ontario late summer Saturday afternoon heat.
    "Go Jackie, go, go, go!" Bryan's wife Shannon was shouting encouragement from the sidelines.  Being descended from slaves is a legacy she says she wears with pride.
    "I'm honoured and proud to continue a wonderful chapter in the underground railroad legacy that they have started."
    The Underground Railroad is the name for a network of people and safe houses that helped slaves get to freedom - it stretched from the deep south to the northern US states and on into Canada.
    Buxton was started by an Irish clergyman who once owned slaves himself. The Rev William King's seen as a visionary for the way he helped slaves integrate among sometimes sceptical Canadians.
    Historian Irene Moore Davis, told me more.
    "They had to have so much crops a year, they had to have a garden, they had to have a house that fit a certain standard and they had to send their children to school and really he was trying to establish a strong community."
    The escaping slaves knew they were safe when they saw the Union Flag flying above Canada ... a British territory where slavery was already abolished.
    The numbers vary as to how many made it all the way up to Canada but the official government estimate is that at least thirty thousand people crossed over the border from the United States to find freedom here.
    The annual Buxton Homecoming attracts people from all over the continent.
    I met a group of Florida school children who had read a book in class about Buxton and wanted to see it for themselves.
    Carmon: "I think it's great to know that people could get free by some way and not just stay in slavery forever.
    Alex: "I think it was a blessing that Canada helped the slaves get over to Canada - Buxton - and just be free from all the slavery and all the beatings."
    After a church service on Sunday morning I took a stroll through Buxton, past the houses, the school, the modern day museum and an ancient Pear Tree, around which the settlement was built.
    It became clear that, although a lot of people would like to forget about the history of slavery - and though life has seldom been a bed of roses for African Americans living in Canada - Buxton was born because of the vile practice and now the town's showing it has over come and moved on.



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