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Inglenook HS art show features school link to Underground Railroad

Inglenook HS art show features school link to Underground Railroad

Friday, February 13, 2015
Categories: Great Things, Happenings @ TDSB, School Web Stories

Students at Inglenook Community High School have a unique perspective on the contributions of Black Canadians and people of the African Diaspora who have helped shape our city and our country. Those contributions especially resonate during African Heritage Month but are part of everyday life at Inglenook. That’s because the school is situated on the site of the former residence of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, escaped slaves from Kentucky who made their way to Toronto where they settled and established the city’s first cab company. From their new home, they continued to work for abolition and helped others who had made their way to freedom via the Underground Railroad. 

The Blackburn story is highlighted in a school art show titled Trouble In Mind, which opens February 17. Work from current and past students is featured, including a communal quilt based on Underground Railroad history and portraits of prominent Black figures such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Stephen Biko, Bob Marley, Paul Robeson, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou and more. The centrepiece of the show is a striking new work by this year’s students focusing on the Blackburns’ contribution to the history of Toronto. 

Art teacher Athina Goldberg said a number of students contributed to the communal art piece, which includes an image of the Blackburns’ cab surrounded by a grid of Toronto streets. “We wanted to honour that particular aspect of their lives,” she said. “I’m really pleased with how it turned out.”
Tysean Peterson said he was inspired and motivated by the project and by the Blackburns. “They did what a lot of people in that time would have deemed impossible and…it makes me want to achieve my goals.” 

On February 12, Inglenook students heard a presentation by author Karolyn Smardz Frost. The researcher and historian wrote about the Blackburn story in her book I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad, which won the 2007 Governor General's Award for English-language non-fiction. Smardz Frost is a former Toronto Board of Education staffer who 30 years ago this month led the excavation of the site of the Blackburn home. The site is marked by a plaque, which, along with a similar plaque in Louisville, Kentucky, forms the first Can-Am commemoration of an Underground Railroad journey.

Students were riveted by the account, some moved to tears by the courage of the Blackburns. Student council president Kaya DaCosta said she was familiar with the Blackburns because she passes the plaque frequently but not with some of the details of their story. “After all he’d been through, he went back and rescued his mom—that’s so beautiful,” she said. “[Their story] is such an important part of the history of Toronto and Canada, not just Black history,” she added.

The Inglenook HS Trouble in Mind art show officially opens February 17 from 4 pm to 6 pm. Parking for the opening is accessed via the school’s Sumach Street entrance. Refreshments and snacks will be available. The show continues through to February 27 during regular school hours, 9 am to 4 pm. 

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