The #ChangeStartsNow Historical Video Project is a series of five short videos which highlight the stories, struggles and triumphs of Black community members from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. These community members lived in Southwestern Ontario and helped build the Black community, but their stories are unknown to many. These videos will amplify their voices and root our experience and heritage within our shared understanding of local history.

Bud Fowler Story
Explore Bud Fowler’s path as a groundbreaking Black American baseball player, who was a
player with the Guelph Maple Leafs baseball team. John W Jackson (later known as Bud Fowler) was born in 1850, just 16 years after enslavement was abolished in the US. He lived in Fort Plain, where his father migrated after escaping enslavement. In 1881, Bud was recruited for the Professional League of Baseball. There he faced an enormous amount of discrimination and racism as The Color Line (a barrier that excluded players of African descent from all major sports) was still thriving within professional baseball at this time. Later in 1881, Bud was handpicked by George Sleeman and recruited to play on the Guelph Maple Leafs baseball team. Bud was not welcomed by his all-White teammates and they refused to play by his side. Bud’s career did not end in Guelph, he traveled back to the US where he played professional baseball for 14 years. To this day Bud Fowler is the earliest known Black man to play in an organized, professional baseball league and has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York.

The Littles Story
Learn about the Littles’ journey to Canada, and how they became two of the most well-known farmers of the Queen’s Bush Settlement. John Little was bought and sold by many slaveholders in his early life, each one claiming that he was “too strong to break”. He escaped enslavement many times over but was eventually caught and brought to Jackson, Tennessee where he met and married a woman named Eliza. Mr. and Mrs. John Little escaped enslavement together in 1841 and began their journey towards Canada. They made their way across the Ohio river where Mrs. Little sat in a log with their few possessions and Mr. Little swam alongside her. They found their way into Windsor, Ontario, Canada but there was little work or opportunity for them here. Mr. and Mrs. John Little began their journey towards Ontario after hearing about Queen’s Bush and the possibility of owning their own land. After arriving in Queen’s Bush (now known as Wellington County and Waterloo Region) Mr. and Mrs. John Little bought land and began farming. To this day, they are two of the best known farmers within the early settlers of Queen’s Bush, Ontario.

Henry Dangerfield Lawson Story
Get to know Henry Dangerfield Lawson, one of Wellington County’s earliest Black settlers, and his escape to Upper Canada. CONTENT WARNING – Video contains graphic violence towards the Black community. Henry Dangerfield Lawson was born in 1806 in Ghana, West Africa where he was captured and taken to Virginia as an enslaved person. At 16 years of age, Henry escaped from his slaveholder’s horse and wagon. He was chased down and whipped, but overpowered the man, strangling him with the whip and running away. Henry followed the North Star and met abolitionists who helped him escape via the Underground Railroad into Upper Canada, now known as Ontario. Henry was 24 when British Authorities sent him to work in Queen’s bush, now known as the Glen Allan area. In 1844, Henry moved to Peel township where he married Molly Ann Lawson. They had 3 children, Henry II, William and Elizabeth who later moved to Guelph,ON. Henry Dangerfield Lawson died in 1861 and is known as an early Black settler in Wellington County as well as a known ancestor of Ms Melba Jewell, an extremely influential person to what we know of Wellington County Black History.

Melissa Smith Hesson Story
Meet Melissa Smith Hesson, a pioneering Black woman who shattered gender barriers and amplified the voices and experiences of Guelph’s Black community and provided much-needed representation through her writings. Melissa Smith Hesson was born in Queen’s Bush, Ontario. Her family were early members of Guelph’s Black Methodist Epicoscal Church – founded on Market st in 1870, known today as Heritage Hall. In 1908, Melissa Smith married Samuel Hesson. They traveled between Canada and Detroit as Detroit was a hotspot for Black Canadian men to find work. Melissa was only 20 when she had distinguished herself as a correspondent for the Plaindealer, Detroit’s first Black newspaper. She wrote about the activities & happenings of the Guelph Black community as the Guelph newspaper did not cover any news about it’s Black community members. People of the Guelph Black community had to look to the Plain dealer to find proper representation of themselves in the media. Melissa Smith Hesson provided representation for her community in Guelph and broke gender barriers with her career. She died in her home surrounded by family and is buried in the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Guelph.

Anna Maria Weems Story
Discover the extraordinary story of Anna Maria Weems, a determined young woman born into enslavement in the United States, as she embarks on a courageous journey to reunite with her family in Canada. Ms. Anna Maria Weems was born into slavery in 1840, Maryland US. Ms Anna’s father was a free coloured man, but her mother was enslaved, meaning Ann Maria and her siblings were also enslaved people. Eventually, Ms Anna’s family was split up and her mother and sister bought their freedom, but Ms. Anna was refused hers for over 6 years. At the age of 13, Ms.
Anna made the choice to escape. Two years later, on Sept 23, 1855, she successfully escaped slavery and started her journey through the Underground Railroad. She made her way to Washington DC, where she assumed the role of a young, male carriage driver for a successful physician. On Nov 30, 1855, Ms. Anna traveled by train into Canada and was united with her aunt and uncle in Drayton, Ontario. By 1858, Ms. Anna’s entire family was emancipated due to
the Weems Ransom Fund – created to help enslaved people buy their freedom.

Black Lives Matter. A Guelph Protest- June 6, 2020

“Guelph has never seen this before. Guelph, we dont want to have to see this again!” -Marva Wisdom. Against the backdrop of George Floyd’s murder, community members of Guelph and Wellington County united to raise their voices against social injustices. This powerful gathering featured impassioned speakers and talented performers, reminding us that the fight for equality requires systemic changes in policy, education, and law enforcement.

Flora Blizzard Francis Memorial Library – John Leacock Interview

Learn more about Flora Blizzard Francis and her influence on the Black community in Guelph and Wellington County. Guelph Black Heritage Society founding member, Flora Blizzard Francis was a librarian and loved books which are culturally, historically, and socially significant to the Black community.

Flora Blizzard Francis Memorial Library – Natalie Innis Interview

Learn more about Flora Blizzard Francis and her influence on the Black community in Guelph and Wellington County. Guelph Black Heritage Society founding member, Flora Blizzard Francis was a librarian and loved books which are culturally, historically, and socially significant to the Black community.

Service Canada FSWEP & Student Apprenticeships & Grants Presentation

Service Canada and the Guelph Black Heritage Society partnered to bring you the Service Canada Series. Join us on the last Wednesday of each month for informative presentations on a variety of Service Canada related topics such as CRA accounts, student grants & loans, pensions and more. This video features The Federal Student
Work Experience Program (FSWEP); an equal employment opportunity program for university level students. Participants learned more about the program and all it has to offer.

Heritage Hall Virtual Tour – February 2021

Heritage Hall is located at 83 Essex Street in Guelph, Ontario. Formerly the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church, this historic stone structure was built in 1880 by formerly enslaved Black individuals and their descendants. Learn about the history of the building and watch a virtual tour of the newly renovated building including the new
“Freedom Project” which allows universal accessibility for all.

The AFTERSHOCK Art show 2021

The AFTERSHOCK Art show is a series of art pieces contributed by talented people and was on display from February 1 – 28, 2021. Aftershock was a multimedia art installation that showcased artwork created by young Black artists in the Guelph-Wellington area. It was co-created by students and GBHS and launched in 2020 at
Capacity 3 gallery as part of the “In Remembrance of Me” exhibit, which shared student work at the Boarding House Gallery to celebrate the refurbishment of Heritage Hall and recognize the site as one of important Black cultural significance for 150 years. Aftershock’s art was also available digitally in an online exhibition. This included digital
drawings, paintings, drawings, poetry, photographs, and short films that were created by young Black artists and creators. Selected pieces from AFTERSHOCK were on display at 10C, 42 Carden Street, Guelph. The virtual show can be viewed at:

#ChangeStartsNow Educational Campaign

The Guelph Black Heritage Society would like to show the community that matters are bigger than just us. In this watershed moment that will forever change the course of Black history, the GBHS has launched its educational campaign, “Change Starts Now”. The GBHS is building the resources to empower our community to connect to our Black history, present and future. #ChangeStartsNow will provide educational programming on Black history and culture as well as relevant resources on diversity, discrimination and anti-racism. At this historical crossroads, people are eager to learn, and we are up to the challenge – with your help! Connect. Learn. Grow. #ChangeStartsNow

Black Soldiers From Guelph In The Great War

Black soldiers from Guelph in the Great War takes you through history and shows you the experiences of Black soldiers who fought in the war. This film reminds us of the service and sacrifices of our people. This film is by Dr. Jade Ferguson and University of Guelph Students in English 2130 (Fall 2130). This is a collaboration between the
Guelph Black Heritage Society, College of Arts and Community Engaged Scholarship Institute.

#ChangeStartsNow — What Is It?

A moment that will forever change the course of Black history, the GBHS has launched its educational campaign, “Change Starts Now”. People can help with our Change Starts Now campaign through education which helps provide a better understanding. The initiative will provide people with a list of resources that they can use to learn about
our community. The resources will both be online and tangible. We are also starting our Black Literature Centre. By showing up and supporting our events, it helps in major ways. Please donate to our society, all of these initiatives do require funding and we appreciate the support of the community. At this historical crossroads, people are eager
to learn, and we are up to the challenge with your help.

GBHS Emancipation Day 2020

Emancipation Day commemorates the day on August 1, 1834, when the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was enacted throughout the British Empire, including Canada. For millions of African people and their descendants in Canada and other countries, slavery was finally abolished on this day.The Guelph Black Heritage Society held Emancipation
Day Jamboree on Saturday, August 1, 2020. To commemorate the emancipation of slaves of African heritage, the GBHS observes Emancipation Day. We observe August 1st as Emancipation Day in Ontario, which was formally proclaimed in 2008, and use this occasion to remember the tragedies that came before us and to honor the bravery
that allowed later generations to enjoy the freedom of which many others could only dream of.

Guelph Black Heritage Society Backstory

Aretha Franklin Tribute Trailer – February 2, 2019

GBHS presented RESPECT – A Guelph Tribute to Aretha Franklin at Royal City Church Life Centre. The event, presented by the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) as part of Black History Month featured performances by singers D’Eve Archer, Alanna Gurr, Nicolette Hoang, Scott Merritt, Joni NehRita, Tannis Slimmon, Jessy Bell Smith, Bry Webb & Steph Yates. Thanks to the band Dan Gooch, Emily Ferrell, Thomas Hammerton, Nathan Lawr, Karen Ng, Brent Rowan, Amadeo Ventura, Tyler Wagler & Nick Zubeck. Proceeds from this event supported the GBHS “Rampin’ It Up!”campaign. The aim of the campaign is to achieve wheelchair accessibility into Heritage Hall via the Freedom Ramp, foyer and accessible washroom.

GBHS Rampin it Up! Heritage Hall Accessibility