The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) was formed after the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church was listed for sale in November 2011. This historical stone church was built in 1880 by formerly enslaved Black individuals and their descendants who reached Canada, via the famed Underground Railroad. The building has been renamed Heritage Hall (HH) and is the only Black-focused and Black-owned cultural centre in Wellington County. Heritage Hall is home to many events per year including cultural and educational programming, concerts, workshops, dramatic presentations, while also providing meeting space for community groups.
The mandate of the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) is to preserve the Heritage Hall as a cultural heritage building representing the historical, present, and continued influence of the Black community on the quality of life in Guelph, Wellington County and across the country. The GBHS raises awareness in Guelph of both local (Guelph and Wellington County) and national Black heritage as well as addressing social issues of importance to Black Canadian communities.
In 2013, Heritage Hall was designated as a Cultural Heritage Property by the City of Guelph. Built in 1880 of local limestone in gothic revival style, the BME church became the centre of Guelph’s Black community. The city’s early Black community of fugitive slaves from the United States settled near Waterloo and Essex streets as workers in area stone quarries. After worshiping in a frame church nearby, this stone church was built as a meeting place and safe haven. By fulfilling our mandate to preserve Heritage Hall, the GBHS continues to provide an essential open and diverse community space for underserved communities and visible minorities to host cultural and artistic events.
GBHS Executive Director Kween was the lead organizer of a peaceful march and protest which was held on June 6, 2020 in downtown Guelph. The peaceful march and protest raised awareness of the Black lives lost in violence and to show solidarity for the families and communities most impacted. This historic event attracted over 8,000 people to downtown Guelph. The GBHS recognizes that although racism is frequently denied in Canada, it is evident in our institutions, structures, and lived experience.
The protest on June 6, 2020 was a starting place for the work that needs to occur to change policy and create opportunities for Black voices to be heard. In this watershed moment that will forever change the course of Black history, the GBHS launched its educational campaign, “Change Starts Now”.
#ChangeStartsNow provides 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.
The following educational projects have been identified as priorities by the GBHS:
- GBHS Top 100 Educational Resources
- “Our Stories. Our History. Our Heritage”. A booklet on the history of the BME Church Guelph
- Flora Blizzard Francis Library of Black Literature
- Viola Desmond BIPOC Business Directory
- Dream Makers Youth Programming
- Phoenix Seniors Social Club