Rosie Awori (LJI)
The history of Little Burgundy is colored by the story of Quebec’s Black community. It’s a story of belonging, survival and resilience, one that reaches back to the founding of a nation that for long chose to ignore the role that people of African descent have played in helping to build its foundation.
They came among the first group of explorers helping to chart the lay of the land that was to become Canada then they were brought here as chattel slaves working to build and support a fledgling economy of a new nation and elevated to become a symbol of belonging, survival and resilience.
So, the story of Little Burgundy is highlighted by the coming-together of the descendants of slaves who flocked here from the USA, Nova Scotia, the Caribbean to become the building blocks of a community that continues to add to the dynamism of Montreal, Quebec and Canada through their achievements and contributions.
According to Dr. Dorothy Williams, Little Burgundy in the early 1900s Little Burgundy was the “lifeblood of all Black life in Montreal….” where they were able to find housing, build businesses, shop and raise families.
For several decades she says, the neighborhood, located in the south-west sector of the city with borders at Atwater to the west, St Antoine to the north, Guy Street to the east, and Lachine Canal to the south, was home to between 80 % to 90 % off all Blacks in the city.
It was also the spawning ground for the institutions that were to be of service to the community, including the Colored Women’s Club, The Union United Church, The Negro Community Centre and The United Negro Improvement Association.
Dr. Williams was one of several voices featured in BLK: An Origin Story, a four-part the documentary series that highlight “the legacy of Black contributions to the larger story of Canada itself, dating back to when explorer Mathieu de Costa first set foot on shore, more than 400 years ago.”
Other long-standing Montrealers featured in the 60-minute episode Little Burgundy- Montreal were Marlene Jennings, Quebec’s first-elected Black parliamentarian, world renowned jazz pianist Oliver Jones, Anne Rockheads and her sons descendants of the iconic entrepreneur and impresario who owned the famous night club.
BLK: An Origin Story, which was produced by noted Canadian filmmakers David Sudz Sutherland and his wife Jen Holness of Hungry Eyes Film & Television, is described as shining “a spotlight on the origins of diverse and deeply entrenched Black Canadian experiences, which range from being transported, escaped, or freely traveled
Sutherland whose many film credits include Doomstown, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones and Guns put the series in historical perspective: “Black people are entitled to know how they have taken up space in Canada, going back to the beginning of how the country’s identity has been shaped. The historic learnings that we share in this documentary series are vitally important for our communities since we cannot move forward without acknowledging our tremendous contributions to Canada’s past.
In shedding these lights, the series contributes to the larger societal conversation toward dismantling systemic racism.”
Among the many luminaries also featured in the series are, poet and professor, George Elliot Clarke, novelist and essayist Lawrence Hill and Dr. Charmaine Nelson, a professor of art history and a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The four-part docu-series include:
Episode 1: Three Epic Migrations, One People (NS)
Descendants of The Black Loyalists, Jamaican Maroons and The Black Refugees represent Canada’s largest Black population today. Their incredible story begins in Nova Scotia in the 1700s and challenges our understanding of what should be considered a distinct society.
Episode 2: John “Daddy” Hall (Owen Sound, ON)
Born free of an Ojibwe father and an escaped-slave mother in Upper Canada, John “Daddy” Hall fought in the war of 1812, was captured and sold into slavery. Thirteen years later he makes a daring escape and finds his way back to Canada.
Episode 3: Hogan’s Alley (Vancouver, BC)
Before Urban Renewal, before displacement, and before dispersal, there was life. For many years Hogan’s Alley was the heart of Vancouver’s Black community. But that community began in the 1850s, when James Douglas, (the father of British Columbia) invited Blacks to settle Vancouver Island in an effort to stave off American annexation.
Episode 4: Little Burgundy (Montreal, QC)
Tucked between Griffintown and St. Henri in Montreal’s Sud Ouest is Little Burgundy, home to a Black population led by Black men who worked in Canada’s railway industry as sleeping car porters. They were the first Black trade union to organize in North America and were among the leaders in the struggle for civil rights.
The four-part limited documentary series BLK: An Origin Story can be streamed anytime on STACKTV or the Global TV App