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North is Freedom: Descendants of Freedom-Seekers on the Underground Railroad

November 21, 2024 - June 22, 2025

Third Floor

This evocative photographic essay celebrates the descendants of freedom-seekers who escaped slavery in the United States in the years before the American Civil War.  Some came entirely alone and unaided; others found their way to Canada with the help of a clandestine network of “conductors” and “stations” called the “Underground Railroad.”  Approximately 30,000 men, women and children fled north to freedom, settling from the Maritimes as far west as the Manitoba border.  Most came to what is now Ontario, to places such as Windsor, Chatham, Buxton, the Niagara Peninsula, Owen Sound, and larger cities like Hamilton and Toronto.

Some 150 years later, starting in 2016, Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc began exploring the northern end of the “Underground Railroad,” presenting 30 images of descendants.  Black and white, young and old, these are the grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren of once-enslaved African Americans who have contributed to the growth of this great nation.

Irene Moore Davis – Windsor, Ontario
Descendant of Susan & Charles Christian – Macon County, Kentucky and George Braxton Dunn – Cleveland, Ohio
“It’s important to utilize every opportunity to tell people that our ancestors made it to Canada despite the odds and, further, that generations of people of African descent have remained here in Canada, an integral part of Canadian society.”

Dr. Bryan Walls, C.M., O.Ont., DDS – Essex, Ontario
Descendant of John Freeman Walls & Jane King Walls – Rockingham County, North Carolina
“The Underground Railroad was the first great freedom movement in the Americas.”

Darryl Hogan – Windsor, Ontario
Descendant of Sam & Jane Harper – Kansas
“My ancestors’ story provides examples of both the worst and best in humanity. It also proves that oppression can be overcome. People can decide to overcome a bad situation and declare that they will find a better life.”

Steven Cook – Dresden, Ontario
Descendant of Robert Dudley – Kentucky
“The stories of our ancestors are often filled with hardships and adversity, but from this struggle a flame was ignited that drives our ambition to succeed and honour their memory.”

Shannon Prince – North Buxton, Ontario
Descendant of Dennis Calico Robbins – Raleigh, North Carolina
“Even though they shackled my ancestors’ hands and feet, they could not shackle their spirit or their hearts or passion to survive, and survive they did.”

Spencer Alexander – North Buxton, Ontario
Descendant of Thomas & Catherine Alexander – Kentucky
“My heart and soul feel their suffering, but I also burn with pride over their strength, determination and accomplishments.”

Susan Johnson Washington – Windsor, Ontario
Descendant of Elias Earl – Kentucky & Louisa Douglas – Baltimore, Maryland
“To be included in this project is to finally pay homage to each of our ancestors. They may have had to follow the “North Star”, but we can say to the world, we are here, and we remain here.”

Wilma Morrison, O.Ont. – Niagara Falls, Ontario (1929-2020)
Descendant of the Miller Family
“During my early years, no one spoke of family history. All older friends or relatives were referred to as aunt or uncle, and now that family has passed, the story has gone as well.”

Featured Image Credit:
Yuri Dojc
Irene Moore Davis, 2016
digital photograph on metal aluminum backing, 30 x 40”
Courtesy of the artist

 

About the Curator:
Dorothy Abbott has served as a volunteer Director of three NFP organizations in Ontario; the Ontario Black History Society; the Grey County Black Heritage Society, which was launched in March 2021; and the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival.  She also acted as the Social Director at the Etobicoke Yacht Club.  Family ties have kept her firmly rooted to the Grey County community since birth and she will continue to support the study of the areas’ rich Black History despite the distance between Owen Sound and her hometown of Toronto.  After a decades long career in the financial sector, she took on the role in 2018 as Producer of the North is Freedom photo exhibit by Yuri Dojc which features the photos and stories of descendants of former enslaved families who came north on the UGRR and settled in Ontario and the east coast.  She is a mother and grandmother who has performed BHM presentations at her grandson’s schools to help educate young children about some of Canada’s missing history.
What started out as a hobby, an interest in genealogy and her family origins, developed into a passion to recognize and promote Black Canadian history as it is influenced and affected by our original African roots right through to the slave trade in the US, Caribbean and Central and South America. This has resulted in several exploratory trips to the southern USA and onward to islands such as St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Grenada and others to trace her family tree.

 

About the Artist:
Yuri Dojc is a talented photographer and artist who has dedicated his career to capturing historical narratives. His journey began in commercial photography, which later evolved into a passionate pursuit of documenting historical remnants. In 1968, he found himself displaced as a result of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russian tanks, ultimately seeking refuge and settling in Canada.

His series “North is Freedom: The Legacy of the Underground Railroad” stands as a testament to his ability to convey powerful narratives through art.

Additionally, he has focused on capturing the last living Holocaust survivors in Slovakia and documenting various cultural remnants through his internationally exhibited series, “Last Folio.” Furthermore, his most recent project, “Last Salute,” pays tribute to World War II veterans of the “Greatest Generation” who have surpassed 100 years of age and people who live in Canada because the war ended by the efforts of these veterans. He was awarded the Order of Slovakia by the President of the country, Zuzana Caputova, in 2023.

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