'Freedom Train' marking end of slavery in Canada departs Union Station

Hundreds of people will board a special midnight train at Union Station Wednesday night, honouring those who travelled the Underground Railroad seeking freedom from slavery.

Annual ride honours those who travelled Underground Railroad in search of freedom

An image from the Freedom Train opening ceremonies last year at Union Station. The 2019 opening ceremonies start Wednesday at 10:45 p.m. (Submitted)

Hundreds of people will board a special midnight train at Union Station Wednesday night, honouring those who travelled the Underground Railroad seeking freedom from slavery.

This is the seventh year for Toronto's Underground Freedom Train — a ride filled with song, drumming and spoken word that rolls non-stop to Sheppard West station.

The ride marks the 185th anniversary of Emancipation Day on August 1, when the British Empire abolished slavery in 1834.

It was "amazing" to be with other Canadians who were honouring their ancestors' fight for freedom on last year's train," said senator and Dalhousie social work professor Wanda Thomas Bernard. Bermard will serve as the honorary conductor of this year's freedom train.

Acknowledging that history "gives us strength" for continuing the struggle against racism today is important, she said.

"When I think about all of the acts of violence, of anti-black racism, the history that's been not acknowledged for generations —  we make a public statement boarding that train and saying, 'we remember.'"

Pushing for federal recognition

Thomas Bernard has introduced a bill to formally acknowledge August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada.

It's just one way Canada can make vitally-needed reparations for racism and slavery, she said, and move toward healing.

"We need to formally acknowledge that slavery did exist in this country," she said.

Wanda Thomas Bernard, a senator from Nova Scotia and professor of social work at Dalhousie University, is the conductor of this year's Freedom Train in Toronto. (CBC)

Thomas Bernard has done research on how racism affects well-being. Racism is a form of violence that can inflict trauma, she said. 

She hopes to talk to people on the train Wednesday night about action they're currently involved in.

"A lot of the work that people do to address anti-black racism and to build resiliency in our communities goes unrecognized," she said.

"But I know that work is happening."

She was glad to see people of many generations, faiths and races on the train last year, Thomas Bernard said, much like those that helped form and maintain the Underground Railway.

Opening ceremonies start at 10:45 p.m.

Opening ceremonies start at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday night, with boarding at 11:30 p.m.  It will arrive at Sheppard West Station around 12:15 a.m.

All are welcome and people need a regular TTC fare for admission. This year's theme is "Resilience despite the odds," organizers say.

Other guests on the train will include poet and playwright George Elliott Clarke, jazz pianist Tiki Mercury Clarke, Coun. Michael Thompson and Adisa S. Oji, who has received the Community Resilience award, organizers say.

With files from Metro Morning


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