Museum still searching for new digs

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By Angie Damianidis

The president of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) is scouring the city for a building to house an African-Canadian History/Underground Railroad Museum.

Rosemary Sadlier, author of Leading the Way: Black Women in Canada, says the museum was proposed in October 1997.

“Things are moving slowly,” she says. “We have the guts, but we don’t have the skeleton.”

Sadlier was hoping to house the museum in the Methodist Episcopal church near Soho and Queen Streets, but the church was torn down by developers to build a condominium complex.

Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae has also been working on the project.
“We are looking forward to establishing a home for the museum,” he says. He envisions Old City Hall, the current home of the Ontario provincial courts, as the ideal place for such a cultural exhibit. He would also like the building to house a Toronto historical museum.

He says the provincial courts will be out of Old City Hall once its five-year lease expires in 2002. Rae hopes to flood the space with both African-Canadian and Toronto history.

“But if the OBHS comes up with another site,” he says. “We are happy to work with them.”

“It’s not certainly the first location I would have chosen,” says Sadlier. “[But] I think any location is a good location. The bottom line is that having a museum of African-Canadian history need to happen.”

The Ontario Museum Association (OMA) has included the The Underground Railroad Museum in its bilingual Guide to Ontario Museums even though it hasn’t been built yet.

Although the OMA is supporting the OBHS’ plans for a museum, it will not provide financial backing. “All of our museums need funding,” says Marie Lalonde, executive director of the OMA.

Lalonde says the OMA is giving the OBHS the support they need by publishing information about the Underground Railroad Museum in the guide.

The OBHS is also working with Parks Canada to develop an African-Canadian exhibit, scheduled to be completed by next year. The exhibit will highlight mid-19th century African-Canadian art and history.

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