Chanon Oyeniran feels this year’s Emancipation Day feels different. Indeed, she feels it’s a momentous day in Canada coming to terms with its history with slavery.
“This year is very special,” Oyeniran said. “It’s a very important day. It signifies freedom and liberation.”
Oyeniran, the first vice-president of the Ontario Black History Society, said Emancipation Day has been part of Canada’s history.
“It is the time to celebrate being free from enslavement,” she said. “I am happy it is now federally recognized across Canada.”
Members of parliament in the House of Commons unanimously voted on March 24 to recognize Aug. 1, as Emancipation Day across the nation.
About 800,000 enslaved Africans and their descendants were freed after the abolition of slavery on Aug. 1, 1834, in areas of the Caribbean, Africa, South America, and Canada then under British rule.
It took about 13 years for Aug. 1 for Emancipation Day in Canada to be recognized across the country although the Act to proclaim Emancipation Day received Royal Assent on Dec. 10, 2008.
Oyeniran said Canada failed to recognize its significance for years.
“A lot of different people have really rallied to get this day to recognize in Canada,” she said. “Many organizations tried to get the government to understand the importance of this day, especially with Canada’s relationship with slavery.”
Oyeniran said Emancipation Day will educate Canadians about Canada’s history of slavery.
“A lot of Canadians do not know,” she said. “Generally, people do not know Canada had over 200 years of slavery.”
Onyeniran said the day provides Canadians with an understand the significance of Emancipation Day.
“It means that all the injustices and all that our ancestors went through are finally being recognized and acknowledged,” she said.
She said this year’s celebration also means accountability from the Canadian government.
“I think it signifies that the government is acknowledging the past, and the governments of the past role in the enslavement of African people,” Onyeniran said.
Onyeniran said celebrations will be quite different from previous years because of the pandemic.
“It was very much celebrated a lot in the past but people aren’t aware of the significance unless they know the history,” she said.
However, she said there will be several virtual ceremonies to celebrate the day.
“There are so many organizations that are putting on events and hosting different activities,” Onyeniran said. “We just want to encourage people to come and get involved and just be curious and open-minded, and do some research about the day and the significance.”
Onyeniran said the Ontario Black History Society is holding an Emancipation Day event to connect with Canadians across the nation.
“Our mandate is to celebrate, promote, and preserve black history in the province of Ontario, as well as Canada,” she said. “We’re being given a voice and a platform to share our history, and let people know where we’re coming from, and even why things are still happening today to our community.”