All aboard! TCHC hops on Underground Freedom Train Ride

TCHC employees join hundreds of people to participate in the Underground Freedom Train ride to celebrate the abolishment of slavery.

To mark the start of Emancipation Month celebrations in the city, Toronto Community Housing staff joined hundreds of people and boarded the TTC train cars to participate in the Emancipation Day Underground Freedom Train on July 31.  

“Coming together for the Underground Freedom Train, collaborating with other Black people [and] allies allow a refreshing moment to be,” said Special Constable Sylas Ewan. “To be heard, be seen, be respected, be empowered, be reminded and celebrated, be affirmed, and informed – to just be.” 

Hosted by the Blackhurst Cultural Centre and supported by Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the Underground Freedom Train Ride symbolizes the legacy of the Underground Railroad – particularly the movement of enslaved people coming to Canada from the United States. It also serves as a reflection and teachable moment about Black history in Canada. 

TCHC staff member taking a selfie with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Special Constable Sylas Ewan taking a photo with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

TCHC's Black Staff Caucus’ co-chair and Relationship Manager, Kwesi Johnson, shared how he recognizes the importance of the community coming together to commemorate the role the abolishment of slavery had on Canadian history.   

“The community gathering at the Underground Freedom Train Ride has a particular historical context to it,” said Kwesi. “It is a moment of re-living and re-imagining a painful and liberating story central to this continent. It was a moment to heal as a community.” 

Hub Clerk Kayla Mccalla decided to board the Underground Freedom Train Ride as a pathway to learn more about Black history and its connection to emancipation. 

“Emancipation to me means freedom,” said Kayla. “Attending this event has given me an opportunity to learn more about Black history, meet new people and to reflect on the meaning of emancipation.”  

Barry Thomas, the Director for The Centre for Advancing the Interests of Black People, grew up in South Africa during the apartheid. He noted how significant it is for him to participate in the ride.   

“As a South African who lived under apartheid and experienced institutional and systemic racism, remembering emancipation means looking at how far we have come since the 1830s when slavery was abolished, to 1994 when South Africa finally ended apartheid,” said Barry. “I chose to participate in the Underground Train Ride to honour the bravery, tenacity, resilience and history of all the Black people who made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad and who are now who are making an impact in Toronto and Canada.”

On the left, three musicians playing the trombone, the saxophone and the trumpet perform on a stage; on the right, a choir performs on stairs in the TTC underground.

Performances at the Underground Freedom Train Ride event.

The event started at 10:30 p.m. with a ceremony at Union Station. Throughout the night, attendees heard spoken word performances, drumming, singing and remarks from organizers and dignitaries, including Toronto’s Mayor Olivia Chow and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Once they boarded the train, songs and speeches of freedom continued as they travelled non-stop to Downsview Park Station.  

Connections to the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Strategy 

The Underground Freedom Train Ride signifies the City’s ongoing efforts to address anti-Black racism.  

“Black history is part of Canadian history,” said Black Staff Caucus’ co-chair and Communications Consultant Brianna Plummer. “Allowing TCHC staff to learn more about the Black experience in Canadian history, we can start imagining how we can begin to repair some of the harms anti-Black racism has inflicted on our organization.”  

TCHC approved the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Strategy (CABR) Strategy in 2021. The CABR Strategy is a unique document to help us identify systemic barriers and provide recommendations to address anti-Black racism issues embedded in TCHC’s policies, programs, and service delivery.  

“Emancipation Month reflects the challenges we are engaged in every day in our work on behalf of TCHC, where Blacks are 8 per cent of the City population but comprise 40 per cent of TCHC’s population,” said Barry. Participating in the Emancipation Train Ride is a moment for me to reflect on much more work we need to do before commemorating the end of racism and civil equity in Toronto.”  

If you want to learn more about The Centre team and the CABR Strategy, you can visit The Centre team on our website.