Heritage Hall & Black History

by Denise Francis

     The base stones of 83 Essex Street, former British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church, were set in June of 1880. Its cornerstone was set on September 18th, 1880, as recorded in Guelph newspapers: The Mercury and The Advertiser. The contents of the cornerstone were described in the same article, “Copy of the Holy Scriptures, Hymn Book of the BME Church, copy of the 

Missionary Messenger, the organ of the church, and copies of the Mercury and Herald. The roots of the BME Church were in the American Methodist Episcopal Church and the Underground Railroad. In 1783, after the American Revolution, slaves accompanied their Loyalist masters into Nova Scotia and other British colonies north of the border, some traveling to Upper Canada (Ontario). There had been slavery in Upper Canada as early as the French regime, as there were known slaves in the Windsor area in the mid 1700s.

In 1793, Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe, an Anglican, regarded slavery as anti-Christian. As a result, he ensured the passage of “An Act to prevent the further introduction of Slaves and to limit the term of contracts for servitude within this Province.” It was the first anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire, and while it was met with resistance from local slave owners, it abolished the lifelong enslavement of the children of slaves, and prevented further slaves from being brought into the colony.

Once news of Simcoe’s legislation reached slave states in the US, Upper Canada became the destination for many escapees, often with the help of the Native community on highland trails. It was upon those trails that the Underground Railroad was created in the late 1820s. The fugitive slave Railroad was originally a loose knit coalition of anti-slavers, most of whom were Hicksite Quakers, who began to aid and abet the movement of escaped slaves into non-slave states and Upper Canada. Once those slaves got beyond the reach of American law, they created communities in border towns like Windsor and Niagara, while others moved inland towards towns like Chatham and the Queen’s Bush Settlement (current day north Waterloo and Wellington counties) on a tributary of the Grand River.

Guelph was established as a village in 1827 and most former fugitives who came through or stayed in the town came north from Lake Ontario and the Niagara River crossings. Between 1793 and 1865, tens of thousands of African-American slaves entered Canada via the network of Native and white anti-slavery activists. President Lincoln ended the slave economy through an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1st, 1863. Although slavery was not formally abolished in the United States, until December 1865, when the 13th Amendment became law after the defeat of the South.

Guelph’s place in all that activity was at first no more than a stopping place for most on their way to the Queen’s Bush in north Wellington and Waterloo counties, the largest settlement of escaped slaves in the colony. By the 1850s that settlement was disbanded, and many of the families and individuals dispersed to various communities, some to Guelph, north to Owen Sound and Collingwood or west to Chatham and a myriad of other places throughout the province.

Although Black benevolent societies and fraternal organizations were significant players in helping former slaves in Canada adjust to freedom and the climate of the north, they had a great many allies including Quakers, Native Americans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Anglicans. Other allies included Anti-Slavery societies, of which George Brown’s Toronto newspaper, The Globe was a staunch supporter. There were a number of reformers in the Guelph area who played local roles.

The neighbourhood of Essex and Waterloo streets had first become home to Guelph’s English Methodist Community who named the streets, and then to black settlers who found the community welcoming. Some of the Blacks had Caribbean or Loyalist origins, but more were from Queen’s Bush families. In the 1881 census of the province, two thirds of the 107 Guelphites of African-American origins lived in the neighborhood.

The building at 83 Essex Street ceased to operate as a BME church for more than 20 years from the 1970s to 1994. In 1994 a congregation was reformed under a minister from the Caribbean. The minister and her congregation left the BME Church in 2009. The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) was formed after the BME Church was listed for sale in November 2011. The GBHS’s offer to purchase the BME Church was accepted and the sale was finalized in December 2012. The Guelph BME Church building has been renamed Heritage Hall.

In August 2013, 83 Essex Street was designated a cultural heritage property by the City of Guelph. The plaque outside the Heritage Hall reads:

“Built in 1880 of local limestone in gothic revival style, the B.M.E. church became the centre of Guelph’s Black community. The city’s early black community of fugitive slaves from the United States settled near Waterloo and Essex streets as workers in area stone quarries. After worshipping in a frame church nearby, this stone church was built as a meeting place and a safe haven.”

The mission of the Guelph Black Heritage Society is to restore and maintain the historical former British Methodist Episcopal Church building. 83 Essex Street, now known as the “Heritage Hall”, serves as a community cultural and spiritual gathering space and promotes Guelph and Wellington County’s distinctive place in Southwestern Ontario’s rich Black heritage.

GBHS activities include providing the community the opportunity to learn about our community’s Black heritage by staging presentations during Black History Month, Emancipation Day and throughout the year; providing space for events, workshops, meeting space for clubs and other community groups, and providing members of the community with rental space for live events (weddings, concerts, day camps, and more).

The Guelph Black Heritage Society is in the midst of the “Rampin’ It Up!” fundraising campaign.  The purpose of this campaign is to achieve wheelchair accessibility into Heritage Hall via the Freedom Ramp, foyer and accessible washroom.  The fundraising goal is $50,000 and we will accept donations of labour and materials to help off-set construction costs.  The Guelph Black Heritage Society is a registered charity. Registration # 80158 3907 RR0001. Tax receipts will be issued for donations.

To learn more about our campaign or to make a donation at our  GoFundMe. 

contact us via email: info@guelphblackheritage.ca

visit our website and facebook


Denise Francis
Denise was raised in Guelph and is a graduate of the University of Guelph. Denise is a long-term employee of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and works in the Human Resource Services Department. Denise is a founding board member of the Guelph Black Heritage Society and currently serves as President / Treasurer.

A History of Anti-Racist Organizing at the University of Guelph

by Mina Ramos

In the summer of 2017, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) – Guelph  launched the People’s History Project with the goal of creating a digital archive that holds the history of social movement building in Guelph, Ontario (Dish With One Spoon / Mississauga of the New Credit traditional territories). To start off the project, I decided to begin to document racial justice organizing carried out by and for racialized students at the University of Guelph, a predominantly white institution in a predominantly white community.

It comes as no surprise that the rich history of anti-racist student organizing is largely unacknowledged. 

Above: Protest in the UC for the National Day of Divestment in South Africa on March 21st, 1979

As an institution that ranks fourth on Maclean’s magazine’s list of top universities and boasts “Changing Lives, Improving Lives” as its slogan, it certainly doesn’t benefit the University for racialized students to know the history of ongoing racial discrimination and administration’s broken promises, or the successes of student organizing and the erosion of some of those gains over time. 

What follows is a timeline of racial justice organizing at the University of Guelph in recent decades. Though currently incomplete, it is my hope that this ongoing project can offer racialized students a resource that can inform future organizing.

It’s important to note that though I use the term “racialized students,” the majority of the organizing documented here has been led by or involved Black students. Additionally, I have yet to research or conduct interviews with regards to Indigenous students’ organizing, so that critically important history is missing from this timeline.


1977 – Michael Clarke, a white university student, returns from 3 years in Sierra Leone where he worked as a teacher through an NGO called CUSO. He is moved by his development work in Africa and is appalled by the South African Apartheid Regime and Canada’s involvement in this regime. Although South African Apartheid has been in legislation since 1948, organizing against South African Apartheid in Canada only begins to gain traction in the mid-1960’s.

Michael wants to demonstrate to Canadians how Canada is implicit in this regime. He also wants to organize to disrupt the Canadian and South African economy, who are both benefiting from South African Apartheid. He researches the concept of divestment and contacts the African National Congress (ANC).

Alongside his life partner Suzanne and a colleague at the university, they align themselves with the ideologies of the African National Congress and begin to organize an event in Peter Clark Hall, with speaker John Saul from York University, to talk about South African Apartheid. They make a sign at the event which reads “Guelph Campaign for Divestment in South Africa”, and have a sign-up sheet for people interested in getting involved.

November 11th thru 15th 1978 – The African Student Association (ASA) hosts a week long conference called “Africa Week” which highlights the resistance to South-African Apartheid amongst a series of other topics involving African empowerment, economics, autonomy and self-representation. The “Guelph Campaign for Divestment in South Africa” is officially formed after the conversations that come out of the conference. The newly founded organization is made up of white students, who work very closely with the African Student Association. This is largely attributed to the fact that all of the ASA students are international students who do not want to put their status at jeopardy, as well as the fact that the majority of these students are in mathematics or science and cannot contribute the same amount of time to the campaign. The campaign joins OPIRG Guelph as a working group and sets out the following goals:

  • Put on a series of events which raise awareness on the regime of apartheid
  • Educate Canadians on how they and the government of Canada are implicit in apartheid
  • Finding ways to assist in the process of change ie. raising funds, divestment…etc
  • Getting individuals to join the movement

A National Day of Action for divestment is set for March 21st which the campaign plans to take part in. Members of the campaign plan to call on students and organizations to withdraw from the 5 banks involved in lending money to the South African government ie. CIBC, TD Canada Trust, RBC, Scotiabank and BMO. The date of March 21st is chosen because it is symbolic to when the Sharpeville Massacre occurred in 1960 in South Africa.

From January leading up to the Day of Action, the campaign calls bank managers and trust company managers to get their positions regarding investment in South Africa, they create informational posters and pamphlets, begin circulating a petition for disinvestment of the university, hold information tables, show movie screenings, and host fundraisers.

During this time, Michael Clarke joins the Senate as a representative of the Graduate Students Association with the sole purpose and strategy to bring up a motion for the university to endorse divestment as a means to urge the Board of Governors of the university to divest.

March 20th 1979 – The University of Guelph  student senate passes a motion that endorses divestment and recommends to the Board of Governors that the university should divest. The amount of money held by the university in banks is around $85-$90 Million at this time.

March 21st 1979 – The National Day of Action for Divestment takes place. There is a march organized in the University Centre (UC) and student activist Ben Loevenstein chains himself to the front door of the CIBC located in the UC. Over 250 students withdraw funds, and organizations including the African Student Association, the Photo Arts Club, the Biological Science Student Council, CUSO, OPIRG, the politics club, and the West Indian Student Association all withdraw. In total $180,000 is divested on that day. The National day of Action is seen as a wide success.

April 26th and 27th, 1979 – The Board of Governors is set to vote on whether or not to divest the University of Guelph’s funds. The Board of Governors votes to not divest despite the huge amount of pressure from the campaign. Organizers are crushed. Many stop organizing, get back to school and/or graduate and the movement dies down.

Early 1980s – A new wave of students are on campus and after taking classes led by Professor Clarence J Munford on Black History, Precolonial Africa, African politics…etc,. They want to get involved in organizing in some way (1.)

 Among them is a student named Gayle Valeriote who approaches OPIRG and begins organizing against South African Apartheid as an OPIRG working group under a new name: the South African Interest Group (SAIJ). The new group is again a predominantly white group who continues to work very closely with the African Students Association. At this time the tactic of organizing changes. The group, who is taking action under the direction of the African National Congress (ANC) moves away from divestment and towards boycotting South African products instead; primarily wine. They host boycotts and pickets, and organize anti-apartheid awareness events and fundraisers.

1. Although this is the first time Clarence J Munford is mentioned, it is important to note that Munford is a bit of a legend at the university. At this time and until he leaves the University of Guelph, Clarence J Munford is widely regarded as the go-to for black students on campus to express concerns and to voice frustration about racism on campus. He is the only one at this time teaching classes relating to Black History and radical African politics.

Among them is a student named Gayle Valeriote who approaches OPIRG and begins organizing against South African Apartheid as an OPIRG working group under a new name: the South African Interest Group (SAIJ). The new group is again a predominantly white group who continues to work very closely with the African Students Association. At this time the tactic of organizing changes. The group, who is taking action under the direction of the African National Congress (ANC) moves away from divestment and towards boycotting South African products instead; primarily wine. They host boycotts and pickets, and organize anti-apartheid awareness events and fundraisers.

1981 – The Latin American Solidarity Group is formed as a working group of OPIRG by two chilean political refugees, Augustine Lobos and Goly Medina, who are living in Guelph. At the time, there are civil wars and dictatorships all across Latin America. They want to raise awareness about the human rights violations and repression occurring in Chile and in the rest of Latin America. They also want to fundraise and send donations to communities that need them. They operate for 13 years and in that time organize music shows, coffee houses, speaking panels, attend protests and also work in solidarity with other groups and raise many issues affecting other countries and communities through their group. They also work very closely with the African Students Association and the South African Interest Group.

1982 – Students from the of the South African Interest Group approach the administration asking to confer an honourary degree to Nelson Mandela for his work with the African National Congress in fighting against South African Apartheid. Although this is largely a symbolic gesture, they want the university to take a formal stance against South African Apartheid through this action. The university administration denies the request saying that they cannot confer an honourary degree to someone who is in prison.

June 4th 1986 – After a lack of support fro the university to confer an honourary degree to Nelson Mandela, SAIG takes matters into their own hands and organizes an alternative convocation which will take place the same day as the regular convocation on the other side of Johnston Green. They decide that they will create their own honourary degrees and give them to Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Nyembe and Ahmed Kathrada. Over 100 students attend the alternative convocation and members of the ANC accept the degrees on behalf of these individuals.

1990 – The Race Relations Association (formerly the multicultural club) is created by a faculty member named Leon Hall. The group is open to all racialized students, faculty members and administration who want to discuss and raise issues related to racism on campus, visibility, representation, policy and space. They try to bring attention to issues happening outside of campus as well and connect them to the racism occurring on campus and in Guelph generally. The Oka crisis and killing of Dudley George spurs conversation around colonization and racism against Indigenous people in Canada. They also begin acknowledging police brutality towards Black Canadians and anti-black racism occurring in different parts of Southwestern Ontario.

Members of the group also attend actions outside of Guelph. One former member recounts how members of the association attended the Yonge Street Riots in 1992 in Toronto, as well as the protests that came afterwards.

During this time Clarence J Munford is also working with the Race Relations Association, and independently to bring speakers to give lectures on campus. One of the biggest speakers Clarence J Munford brings is Stokely Carmichael, a Trinidadian born civil rights activist from the US.

It is important to note that during this time there is an exceptional amount of Trinidadian students studying at the University of Guelph, and as a result, this time is seen as the height of the West Indian Students Association. However, one past student that I interviewed highlighted the distinction that it was often students born in Canada who were engaging in critical discussions on race and racism in Canada, while international studen were more focused on hosting cultural events and parties and did not necessarily engage in this dialogue as much.

During this time the Black Women’s Society is also created and serves as an open space for black students to specifically talk about issues affecting black women in Canada.

March 6th 1990 – Students protest the speaking event of widely known white supremacist Paul Fromm, whose right wing organization C-FAR (Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform) booked the space called The Albion under false pretenses. They find out about the event after a student places an unclassified ad in the Ontarion the week before. The Albion denounces the event, but under the guidance of student activists, the Albion gives away all of the tickets so that student organizers can take up all of the seats during the event. As Fromm is speaking the students unanimously turn the chairs around and turn their backs on him. Things get heated but there is no physical violence. Students from OPIRG, the Race Relations Association and the Guelph International Resource Centre all attend and the protest is seen as a widespread success to curbing racism in the city. As a result, the Albion issues an official statement stating that they are against all forms of racial discrimination.

An Anti- Apartheid picket in Guelph in the 1980s

Above: An Anti- Apartheid picket in Guelph in the 1980s

June 1990 – Members of SAIJ travel to Toronto to meet with Nelson Mandela during his cross Canada speaking tour, after his release in February. During this month, community members and students at the University of Guelph also travel to Ottawa to protest South African Apartheid by calling for the closing of the South African embassy in solidarity with Black South Africans fighting for their right to vote.

1992 – A subcommittee of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Educational Equity begins discussing a race relations policy for the university. At this point, there is a Human Rights Advisor named Indira Ganase Lall working at the university, but no human rights policy exists at the university.

During this time, a Canadian Graduate Educational Equity Survey demonstrates that in Canadian universities 30% of students of colour are discriminated against based on their skin colour, 51% based on their race, and 46% based on their ethnicity.

Out of this growing awareness of racism on campuses across Canada, the Presidential Task Force on Human Rights is created in Guelph. Clarence J Munford is accredited to being one of the strongest backers of this policy and sits on the Task Force. There are also members of the Race Relations Association on the Task Force as well and old members of the South African Interest Group.

In 1993, the Task Force is renamed to the Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism and Race Relations. They meet once a week from January to May, and realize that is crucial to not only create a policy but release a report on the realities of racism on campus and to highlight the experiences of students of colour on campus. Many students are pushing for this taskforce and one former member jokes that they would have people knocking on the door wondering when it would be released. She adds that the process took such a long time because they wanted to make sure they had covered all of their tracks and created a useful document for the university to actually implement changes.

When the report is finished, it is dense and breaks down understandings of race, racism, and how it plays out in universities. It outlines that these issues are the result of systemic racism, white privilege, and eurocentrism at all levels of the university. It also gives a historical timeline that demonstrates the different racist laws that have shaped Canadian policies, economy, culture, society…etc. It is the first document ever created at the university that demonstrates how racism plays out in universities, and shares specifical in-depth examples of the racism students have experienced on the University of Guelph campus.

Many recommendations are made and go into great detail as to how these recommendations can be implemented. Some main recommendations are:

  • The formation of an overall human rights office
  • That at least one counsellor of colour is hired and one Indigenous counsellor is hired
  • That enrollment must reflect the racial diversity of the country and that the recruitment system is monitored to eliminate systemic barriers to accessing university
  • That the admissions Committee members be required to attend seminars on racism, systemic racism and inclusivity
  • That space and funding be allocated to the Race Relations Commission for the creation of a Student Resource Centre for racialized and Indigenous students and that funding should allow for a permanent paid employee to coordinate the Centre
  • That a core course be developed on human rights issues as soon as possible to become a permanent course offering
  • To assess the curriculum in different departments in regards to racism, as well as having the curriculum reviewed with input from students of colour and Indigenous students so that there is a wider range of racial and cultural issues covered in class.
  • That all course descriptions should be reviewed for accuracy. If the course doesn’t match its description it should be renamed ie. Topics in the History of Women should be renamed Topics in the History of Western white Women if it is only about white women to be consistent.
  • Creating a monitoring system to track employment equity and that the practices are actually being followed, evaluate the ability of candidates for faculty positions to teach courses on the basis on anti-racism and in a cross-cultural context
  • To ensure that representation of people of colour and Indigenous people does not fall below current levels; vacancies should be filled by a qualified person of colour or Indigenous person
  • That one full-time-equivalent Advisor be appointed to assist the current Human Rights Advisor in dealing with complaints of a racial nature
  • A guideline for a systemic review of all of the University’s services and programs and a ten year implementation plan
  • That the following groups attend an anti-racist training annually: President, Vice-President, Deans, Academic Advisors, Board of Governors, Academic Councils, Management Advisory Groups, Program Counsellors and Departmental Faculty Advisors, Graduate Coordinators, Student Housing Administration and University College Project

In order to have accountability with the report, the Task Force asserts that a follow up report be made in 1995 to assess the completion of the suggestions. 

They want this report to be made accessible to all students, faculty and administration (2.)

2. At this point in my own research I am unsure if this follow up report was made

July 1993 – The Anti-Racism and Race Relations Task Force report is published. It is printed in the Ontarion and individually, and is distributed all over campus. Many former students comment that this Task Force causes an uproar in dialogue and a denial of racism on campus from the campus administration, including the university president of the time, William Winegard.

1994 – As a result of the recommendations of the taskforce, the race relations association is given a space and is transformed into the CJ Munford Center (named after Clarence J Munford). However there is no paid employee for the space and instead a collective is formed for the center.

October 18th 1995 -University of Guelph Human Rights Advisor Indira Ganese Lall and Human Rights Assistant Sharon Harris, quit after only being offered month-to month-contracts instead of permanent position. Lall, who amassed most of the personal stories of racism on campus for the Taskforce, finds the offer offensive in light of her contributions. Both staff also leave as a result of their frustration with how human rights policies are being carried out/not being carried out on campus.

1996 – The Human Rights and Equity Office opens. Although students and faculty have been pushing for an office like this, they are outraged that an individual by the name of Ralph Agard has been hired following the departure of Indira Ganase Lall and Sharon Harris. Ralph Agard is widely known in Toronto as a perpetrator of sexual assault and students feel that it is an insult to what they have worked for to have him placed as the director of the office. A huge expose is written about Agard in the Ontarion and the ribbon cutting is protested by several racialized students. A sit-in at the Human Rights and Equity Office is planned but Ralph Agard is quietly dismissed before this ever happens. Ralph Agard is replaced by the current Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education, Patrick Case.

February 1997 – The President’s office is occupied for a week by students seeking justice for cutbacks to education. This action is part of a wave of student activism against cutbacks, and similar occupations occur at the University of Toronto and York University. At this time groups of colour get involved in the occupation and join up with other organizations that are predominantly white. Both groups address racism on campus and connect this to the cutbacks and how they affect people of colour.

Mid 2000’s to late 2000’s – Rose Mcleod is hired by counselling services to give counselling support for black students. She works out of the CJ Munford centre and provides informal counselling support. Her hiring is also a result of the Taskforce on anti-racism. One former student describes that Rose Mcleod was instrumental to the functioning of the CJ Munford Centre and its growth at that time. Not only did she provide counselling support, she helped to direct students to appropriate offices depending on what services they were seeking, set up weekly discussions at the Centre and helped to facilitate collective meetings.

Despite being the heart of the Centre, the university does not take appropriate steps to secure funding for her position and organizations like GRCGED, the CJ Munford Centre and counselling services are left to seek out grants to pay for her position. Eventually the university administration decides that her position is not justified because of the informality of her work. Students at the CJ Munford centre organize to keep her position and go through all of the official channels including setting up a meeting with student affairs and more specifically the Associate Vice President Brenda Whiteside to convince the administration to find funding for her position to continue. There is also talk about reviving the Taskforce and creating an up to date report; however this is not followed through with. Despite their countless meetings and efforts, Rose’s contract is not renewed and in 2013 she leaves the university and the CJ Munford Center is again functioning without a paid staff.

Black On Campus march across campus on 2015
Black On Campus banner drop in the UC, 2015

Above: Black On Campus march across campus and banner drop in the UC, 2015 

Nov.18th 2015 – Along with 3 other universities, Black students at the University of Guelph hold an action in solidarity with Black students protesting at the University of Missouri and Yale University in the United States. With less than 24 hours’ notice, student organizers Galme Mumed, Savannah Clarke and George Umeh bring together over 100 students to stage a campus wide march. This is the first time in the history of the university that a march organized and attended by mainly Black students addressing anti-black racism has ever taken place. The majority of the Black students in attendance are from the CJ Munford Centre. Black students are encouraged to write out their experiences of racism on placards and share their ,m before the march. The march takes place through the entire campus and ends in the Office of Student Affairs where protestors confront Brenda Whiteside for her complacency in dealing with systemic anti-black racism at the university. Although the action is initially seen as a solidarity event, organizers realize that the demands put forth by students in Missouri are similar to what is needed at the University of Guelph.

Overnight this action becomes the talk of the entire university. Extreme racist backlash is received online through facebook pages like “Overheard Guelph”. The students who organized the initial action secure funds from on-campus organizations and hire an informal counsellor to help with the stress that Black students are dealing with post-action. In the midst of this, organizers also roll out their own set of demands which they present to the University president Franco Vaccarino, Brenda Whiteside and the assistant vice-president Jane Ngobia. The demands are as follows:

  1. Discuss and change the underrepresentation of Black administrators, faculty and teaching staff with the goal of increasing the percentage of black faculty and staff members.
  2. Address the underrepresentation of Black students in all programs.
  3. Establish mandatory equity training for all faculties, students, governors, and all other administrative bodies. This entails mandatory anti-oppression training for all persons employed by the University, and an equity breadth requirement for all students.
  4. Increase the number of scholarships and funding resources available to black and Indigenous students.
  5. Establish counseling and mental health services on the U of G campus that are culturally appropriate and representative for addressing the mental, emotional, and psychological needs of black students. At the U of G, there is only one Black counselor available that understands the mental health needs of Black students.
  6. That the administration take leadership under the CJ Munford Centre in order to properly support them in implementing the anti-racism taskforce. In addition funding a full time position under the taskforce that is created and overseen by the CJ Munford Centre students.
  7. Develop a plan to establish, adequately fund and support a standalone Black, African & Caribbean Studies Department.
  8. Implement free education for Black and Indigenous students.

The demands set out in 2015 are strikingly similar to those of the anti-racism taskforce which the University administration itself asked for yet did very little to implement any of the recommendations.

Instead of addressing these demands head on or revisiting the taskforce (which goes into great details as to how the administration can implement changes), the university administration decides to have their own discussions with Black students and holds 40 interviews with Black identified students. Through this, they create their own report which highlights what students organizers have already said and come up with broad strategic plans with lots of fluff to make the university more inclusive. There are very little tangible goals. Most of the demands initially set out by Black students are not acknowledged at all, including those centered on more scholarships, mandatory anti-oppression training, free education and actually paying someone to implement the anti-racism taskforce of the 1990’s. Instead, they create a full-time position in support of cultural diversity which will be held within the Office of Intercultural Affairs in Student Life. It is interesting to note that there was never funding made available for Rose Mcleod during her stay at the university but funding is immediately made available for another administrative staff outside of the CJ Munford Centre.

During this time the CJ Munford Centre change their name to the Guelph Black Students Association to be more visible on campus.

This is presently where the timeline ends. However there is so much work to be done to not only fill in the blanks on the resilience and organizing of racialized students as well as the intricacies of how the administration has managed to escape responsibilities.

Currently, the funding has run dry for this project; however the aim is for it to be an accessible multi-media digital archive that will serve as a tool and guide for future generations of racialized students looking to organize at the University of Guelph.

Mina Ramos
Mina is a mixed race queer who is based out of Brampton ON. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues grounded in resistance movements of all kinds and the intricate connection to spirituality but specifically organizes in the realm of migrant justice.

What’s inside the Box?

by Janine Carrington

So the question has been put out there: What do we do to honour those who have gone before us?

August 16th 2017: Enter me.

I am what I call a Comicographer or a comic biographer. A comicographer is an artist that illustrates people’s lives by way of comics. So when I read this question I took it to mean what do we, in the year 2017, do differently in this regard with a special emphasis on the words 2017 and differently. I am fascinated by life stories and I believe every life is phenomenal and everyone has a story. When this topic came up I was on the brink of answering this very question. My father, Martin Daniel Carrington, died almost exactly two years before the call for submissions for this issue. When I heard about this call I was just about finished working on the first of many projects designed to honour the deceased. So my response was easy. To honour the one who had gone before me, I had created a thirty page graphic novel called Carrington.

My fourth task was to get his message across. In writing the story I sought to explain his point of view in that special way specific to comics using the mighty thought bubble. Thought bubbles expose readers to the logic that is often be obscured by action. And in this case, in a way that wasn’t possible when my father was alive

And my last task was to make Carrington into a platform for documenting his life. This of course involved creating a timeline and collecting photos. It also involved unearthing surprising facts.

Being able to illustrate his experiences in chronological order gives us readers insight into what he had to deal with. Through this we also learn how to deal with certain situations and how we have it better or worse.

All valuable information

Once all that was done, I was left with this great true story. Now what was I supposed to do with it? Of course it was time to call upon our good old friend technology. We are lucky enough to live in a world that has made the miracle of self publishing a reality. Specifically for the comicographer it means joyfully roger rabbiting through a magical land where producing any number big or small of professionally bound books is a reality. For People of Colour it means no longer needing to rely on large white owned publishing companies for the content that we consume and suffering the indignities of poor, mis and non representation. It means access to content that includes the truth!

 So Carrington, a true to life tale of adventure, love, happiness, conflict, integrity, passion, miracles, struggle, joy and all of that stuff was taken to the printers.

Be Happy, the introduction to Carrington, was actually a printed card and that we gave away to touched memorial service attendees, sympathetic neighbours and everyone who offered condolences.

Carrington the new version is currently being re-written to incorporate some interesting facts that surfaced after the original edition was created. It will be printed and distributed and will be available on Amazon.com shortly. All proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Society Canada.

Next up was the digital realm. A tiny silver 16gb standard and micro usb keychain houses the following files: Images sized for Facebook and Instagram, A PDF version of Carrington and a PDF of Be Happy and hangs jauntily beside my keys and lucky mermaid charm.

Now with the quasi superhero Carrington soaring out into the world via print and social media, it was time for his memory to find a prominent place in my home. It was my duty to invest time and thought into creating something beautiful that would be his new physical representation. So, as is the practice of serious comic collectors everywhere, I put my new comic in a box. Not a morbid box, like a coffin or an urn. I set about creating a box you’re not afraid of. A magical box that’s full of wonder. A box that you could imagine a cool benevolent spirit coming out of when you open it. And when the box is opened you share what’s inside. You say things like “Here, take a comic home you can read it on bus” or “Here’s a card, give it to your mom for me” For Carrington I made a simple box that fit his spirit. I called this box in homage of the language of the country where it was made “La Caja” (spanish for “The Box”).

So now with the legacy of Martin Carrington, artist, athlete and entrepreneur cheering me on from a prominent place in my home, I’ve taken to the metaphorical streets with the aim of making a living creating this box and story for anyone who is game. In the future, I see a society where every home has a version of “La Caja” in the same way they might have a family portrait.

I also envision a society with “La Caja” files on every device. Where anniversaries of deaths are commemorated by posting comic illustrations on social media platforms. Where the unveiling of “La Caja” is a reason for families to come together. I see little children who know and like the story of their ancestors as much as they do the characters of their favourite YouTube heroes.

The lives of our dead have never been better.

To support, donate on the La Caja Comics fundraising campaign !

Janine Carrington
Janine Carrington is an artist born in To-ronto, Ontario who specializes in illustra-tion. Taught the basics of drawing at anearly age by her father and continued herartistic education at the Etobicoke Schoolof the Arts. For the moment she is basedin Costa Rica updating her portfolio withpieces inspired by travel, beauty, love, work and family.

Community Archiving: Leaving Evidence, Recording Our Stories

by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Above: Illustration by Janine Carrington

I’m obsessed with archives and archiving. I’m obsessed with them for a lot of reasons: because I’m an immigrant and a diasporic person, the daughter of a Sri Lankan who had to move across the world and lost a lot of objects along the way, a survivor of violence estranged from her given family who knows how easily stories and family and cultural objects can get lost. Because I believe in the importance of leaving records and track marks for each other so we can refuse to be erased and leave our future descendents our stories.

This past year when I went to the Allied Media Conference, I went to a ton of workshops in their Community Based Archiving track and I learned a lot.

I went out of a desire to figure out how to archive the records of a QTPOC arts project I worked on for almost a decade, and because I have been saving photos, zines, posters and other objects for the past 20 plus years from the movements and projects- student of colour, prison justice, psych survivor, QTPOC and disability justice- that I am involved in. I wanted to figure out how to move them to someplace more accessible than the boxes and shopping bags in my closet where they currently reside.

I was expecting to receive a lot of dos and don’ts and concrete tips for, for example, digitizing analog material, and I did get some of that. But the main thing I learned was a series of questions and principles community based radical archivists have evolved to guide their work. I learned that there is no one right way to archive, but exploring these questions and principles might guide me- and you- to finding the right way for you.

Before you begin, ask yourself:

What do you want to archive? A collection of zines? Of photographs? Of banners, notes and promotional material for a group you were part of? Stories from elders? You might jump to thinking that an archive just contains posters, videotapes and banners but it could also contain: memories, field recordings, stories, costumes, pressed wildflowers, seeds.

Do you want the archive to be static– like, hello, here is this zine collection/ personal records of an organization, please read and enjoy? Or do you also want to have an interactive component, where folks can add-in/ upload their memories, experiences and materials of a protest movement, a community or an organization or cafe? There’s archiving sites and software that can help you do this, like Omeka, Historypin.org, Digital Timeline, archive.org and the Community Oral History Toolkit, which has downloadable release forms with different options of restrictions. There are so many ways to archive.

Young Women’s Empowerment Project, a revolutionary organization by and for Chicago based young women (cis and trans) and nonbinary folks in the sex trade and street economies, had a “community listening post” when their organization was forced to close after 12 years. They set up a voicemail, where folks who had been a part of YWEP, being influenced by YWEP and adult allies could leave their stories and memories. These stories have been woven into an audio documentary, which you can access here.

How have folks in your communities preserved memories, stories and records before? Do some research

Why do you want to archive? To preserve history? To pass on knowledge? To showcase beautiful costumes

Who needs to hear those stories/ appreciate and access these records? Make a list. Then think: what format will allow them to do that? An online website where they can click on links telling stories? A zine library inside a local library? A whole bunch of artifacts in boxes at the local queer archive? A compilation of stories, oral and transcribed, online or in a community center, or both?

 Think about access. Do you have a ton of video and audio material that is uncaptioned/ transcribed? You can learn to caption videos easily and for free using Amara (amara.org.) You can also ask around- often in local Deaf, HOH, disabled and autistic community, people are doing transcription work, and you can have word processing files up with the words of what people said.

 After you’ve started to ask these questions, ask yourselves:

 How much time/ energy/ money do you need to budget to do this? Think about your time, materials you need to store things, the services of someone to transfer files from one format to another or cut hours of video into 3 to 5 minute chunks for youtube, access services like transcription.

Who do you want to have access to what material? When you sit down with your huge archive of your political organization, you might realize that some material is more sensitive and private than others. Maybe that ex-collective member doesn’t want everyone to see the decade-old video of them talking about a sex party or the ex-lover they’re mad at!! Is some material stuff you just want certain people (core collective members, members of a certain community, close family members) to be able to access? Think about whether you want several layers of archiving- some that is public and accessible to anyone, some that is more private.

Consent is crucial. Depending on what you’re archiving, you might have material that is personal or sensitive. Take that member of your collective who maybe doesn’t want to have their decade-old video of them talking about their ex posted online? You might need to make a list of people whose names are in the meeting notes, etc, and see if they’re ok with those notes being posted publicaly. You can use release forms to ask folks to give permission to have their stuff or stories included in an archive.

Getting consent about what historical records to release and how can also  be complex. One woman in a workshop I attended talked about how, in her work archiving Black liberation organizing from her community that took place in the 1960s, some people who were radical back then were now right wing, fundamentalist Christians who didn’t want to be included in her project. Yet, the truth was they had been part of the movement in the past.  Her story prompted a vibrant discussion in the workshop about the complex nature of truth and the tension between getting everyone’s easeful consent and a responsibility to document the totality of what happened in a movement or gorup.  What I left with was that there are no easy answers, and you do the best you can, working towards the goal of doing no harm.

Principles of activist archiving (that I learned from the Freedom Archive folks):

Accountability/ self determination: How do we create spaces that are responsive, not claiming people’s voices/ or speaking for them? How are our collections liberating/ transforming how we see the world? Freedom Archives members said you have to be open to building relationships with people who might want you to take it down/ take it back, and be responsive to that.

They also talked about the importance of media release forms- getting in touch with folks whose stuff is in the archives and getting their written consent to being included. They also talked about safety planning/ anonymizing people’s submissions if it would not be safe for their names to be attached.

Commitment to non neutrality: The mainstream principles of library archives is “We’re all neutral–we’re just the conservers of any knowledge that comes through, we store everything.” But no archive is neutral; everyone brings our own perspective into the work we do. you can be transparent but you can also be “look, I’m committed to these social justice principles, this is why I am recording this history”

Flexibility: making do with what we had. Some records might be destroyed, incomplete or confusing, or on really dirty old casette tapes.  You might not have a ton of money or  unlimited time and energy or the perfect space. But, what can you do with what you have

Collectivity: working together and building community through materials and stories being preserved and shared.  Can collecting stories, memories and records help bring a community together or build/re build itself, even (or especially) when there is or has been conflict, when people don’t agree on one version of the story of the group, project, etc, or when there has been grief or trauma?  How can many people, not just one archivist, contribute to a gathering of stories?

Accessibility: What’s our entitlement to certain materials? Who can access certain things or not (in terms of disability, literacy, physical proximity to where it is, being in prison, being a parent?) Think about making some things available online, about captioning and visual and/ or audio descriptions, about making sure that the things are not just accessible to academics with all the right papers, or people who can pay $40 to enter a museum and never raise their voices.

Nuts and bolts:

Archiving is hard work. A facilitator estimated that going through each box full of stuff you have can take from 10 to 20 hours. If you are feeling stuck around the enormity of the task, know you are not alone! There are grants available to fund your archiving work; if you are thinking about working with a community archive, some of them have archivists who will help you. Think about doing fundraisers (community dinners, crowdsourcing, whatever you’ve got that makes sense). Do it bit by bit; enlist help; think about what wildly creative structure will be the most accessible for you; have an archiving party.

Start by making a list or spreadsheet of the papers, posters, zines, tapes and all other material you have. Make notes about the date/time/place it’s from Organizing can show you what you have, what the story you are trying to preserve is, and what things you swore you had in a shoebox that have gone missing.

Dust, water, smoke and sunlight are enemies of all kinds of archival material- find places to store archival material that are protected from those things!

Many people will rush to digitize and upload everything to the cloud, but digital is not the only, best option. Having stuff online can make it accessible to anyone who has an internet connection, but that is only one way of access. Being about to touch, read and look at objects, garments and notes is just as important. A lot of community archivists talk about “three site access” and “one is none”- having backups and multiple copies of archived material so if something destroys one version of it, all is not lost.

Some more things to consider:

Professional archives- often in universities, libraries, or museums – can be the first place people think of as “here’s where we’ll bring the stuff.” They have dedicated space and staff, but they also can also be gatekeepers that cut off the people you most want to be able to access your files. I recently read a brown parenting femme’s experience trying to access Octavia Butler’s exhibit at the Huntington Library–how her academic request to view Butler’s archives for free was turned down, how the library was located in a white, upper middle class part of town and was expensive to access, and how she was asked to leave the library because her brown kid was playing in a corner in a way deemed to be “too loud.” Black trans filmmaker and activist Reina Gossett has written about her struggles to access archival material about Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s archives at the New York Public Library, how racist and transmisogynist security guards asked her to leave.

Not all archives are like that, however. Some community based archives have been created by Black and brown, queer and trans and  disabled communities, to archive our movements work.  There are inspiring stories out there, like the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a working-class queer women’s archive that began at femme writer Joan Nestle’s kitchen table and moved to a wheelchair accessible Brooklyn building which, through grassroots fundraising, the archivist collective bought, so they would never be at the mercy of landlords evicting them from a rented space.  The Lesbian Herstory Archives is open to everyone, no credentials required.  When I visited, I and everyone else was allowed to touch and rummage through archives as varied as the pasties of a femme stripper from the 1950s to the typewritten manuscript of Dorothy Allison’s first uppublished manuscript.

Some archives that you can check out for inspiration and to see how they work include:

Toronto Psychiatric Survivor Archives

Lesbian Herstory Archives

African Activist Archive Project

Freedom Archives

Interference Archive

For lots more information about community archiving, check out:


look up the Community Archiving Workshop online for a ton of resources and information.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer femme Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan, Irish and Roma disabled writer, performer and organizer. The Lambda award winning author of Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Bodymap, Love Cake, Concensual Genocide and co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Comfronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities, she is a lead artist with disability justice performance troupe Sins Invalid and is currently nishing her new book of essays, Care Work: Dream- ing Disability Justice Culture and book of poetry, Tonguebreaker.