Tonight, I’m a long way from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, but I still feel a huge support for Jim Hornby and I’m disappointed in the recent rejection of his application for P.E.I. 2014, 1864 legacy funds. I’ve written about his huge contribution to black islander historical research in the past. I want to include his letter written to the editor of the Charlottetown Guardian dated February 5, 2014.
‘The Bog’ legacy
Black community deserves permanent recognition by P.E.I. 2014 Inc.
After reading a P.E.I. 2014 Inc. press release that described their theme song “Forever Strong” as a “musical legacy,” I have had enough already of this phony-baloney outfit. Let me share a few thoughts about a “legacy” for this city during our celebration of 1864.
In reliance on their published criteria for funding 2014 events, early this year I invested considerable effort in leading applications for three medium (maximum funding $25,000) grants to celebrate the legacy of Charlottetown’s West-End mixed-race black community known as “the Bog.” This community was at its peak in 1864, close to 100 people lived in the area extending from Black Sam’s Bridge (linking Euston Street and Brighton Road), down Rochford Street roughly to Richmond Street.
The separate applications were for: “Back To The Bog,” an approximately 48-page history of the area in 1864, its people and its relation to the city generally; “Festival in the Bog,” a celebration of the area in words and music that would have featured a commissioned piece of music in tribute to the Bog, performed by the Charlottetown Jazz Ensemble; “Memorial in the Bog,” a modest permanent memorial — a bronze plaque on a frame — recognizing the area and its people.
As was pointed out in a recent editorial in this newspaper, what is being observed in 2014 is the “Charlottetown” conference. Just across Government Pond, the Bog was close to Government House grounds, its residents screened from the visiting Charlottetown Conference delegates by a line of trees. Thanks to P.E.I. 2014, they are still being shut out.
All that our three modest, Charlottetown-based, 1864-related and legacy-focussed projects received from P.E.I. 2014 was a verbal dismissal by telephone. Was the thought that slavery and racism might be mentioned too scary for happy-talkin’ P.E.I. 2014?
I personally feel that these proposed activities, most especially the memorial, would provide healing for the many descendants from this population in Charlottetown and beyond, and would show Islanders and tourists more historical diversity than we now display.
Never mind 150 years, what about 230 years since black slaves began arriving on this Island under British rule, what about over 200 years since “Black Sam” Martin relentlessly founded a small community of former slaves on the worst piece of land in Charlottetown? Are we going to finally recognize them, or do we stay “Forever Shallow”? If the most-diverse neighbourhood on the Island in 1864 can’t get recognition, how can we take seriously P.E.I. 2014’s published “goals,” which included “to acknowledge all voices,” “to celebrate the creativity of diverse communities,” and “to foster dialogue that recognizes Prince Edward Island’s and Canada’s heritage”?
I attended the hearing of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts a few weeks ago, when P.E.I. 2014 officials advised the committee that the original application for “Canada Rocks” was rejected. Based on the published funding criteria, I believe it clearly could not be eligible for funding.
So: nothing for the Bog’s legacy, the totally undeserving “Canada Rocks” gets $100,000, and — it gets better! — P.E.I. 2014 gets to keep the other $140,000 that it wrongly allocated according to its own rules! There’s no way now that they can distribute that money to deserving applicants!
With all due respect to the musicians who have created and will perform “Forever Strong,” it is no legacy, musical or otherwise. With their over-scripted rules for songwriters, P.E.I. 2014 set up a 2014 theme-song contest — and got the paint-by-numbers composition that was sought. Let’s be honest about this “legacy”: it is widely admitted that no one will ever perform this song without being handsomely paid, and that no one will listen to it twice by choice. On Jan. 1, 2015, it will have less shelf-life than the ends of New Year’s Eve’s champagne bottles. It will have all the legacy value of “Canada Rocks 2014.” Yep: zero. P.E.I. 2014 has the arrogance, and perhaps naivete, to think they can turn their marketing points into art simply by running them through the digestive systems of a few artists.
With its work-product to date, P.E.I. 2014 has shown a clear preference for surface over substance. While no doubt many worthy projects are being funded, P.E.I. 2014 has failed miserably on integrity. I therefore call upon the Minister of Tourism and Culture (alas for that order of priority!), Robert Henderson, to show some leadership, and understanding of the meaning of the word “legacy,” and authorize funding for a permanent memorial to Charlottetown’s West End black community to be constructed and installed in the Bog area during next year’s celebrations. You might ask P.E.I. 2014 to disgorge some of their ill-gotten gains for the purpose, but the main thing is to do it. Otherwise, such a failure, in the face of the questionable uses of public money intended for 1864 celebration, may feature prominently in the legacy of 2014.
By Jim Hornby
Jim Hornby, of Charlottetown, is a folklorist, fiddle player, historian, and lawyer.
I’m also disappointed tonight to find that the Black Islander’s website is down…don’t know if these two stories are related. The following schematic is borrowed from Slave Life and Slave Law in Colonial Prince Edward Island, 1769 – 1825.
I have leaned heavily on Hornby’s research about black islanders, particularly the information related to Lieutenant Governor Fanning’s slave, David Sheppard, and so this current issue is of tremendous interest to me. The narratives for these ancestors coming out of Prince Edward Island and other Atlantic Provinces was so extremely difficult that I am a strong advocate that this history be acknowledged in a truly ‘classy’ way through the support of both a book about The Bog and a monument that appropriately regards this moment in history. It is important that the money that is made available through these sorts of grants be respectfully allocated as legacy and not exclusively for the additional tourist dollars it might provide as a spin-off.