Janie Cooper-Wilson wins Ontario Black History Society award

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Janie Cooper-Wilson was presented the Harriet Tubman Award at the Ontario Black History Society’s 2018 Black History Month kick-off reception, for her commitment to raising awareness and preserving black history.

The event, held Jan. 28 at the Toronto Convention Center, was attended by about 700 people. Cooper-Wilson, founder and executive director of SilverShoe Historical Society, said it was a great honour to be recognized for her efforts to promote black history and the collective history of the area.

The kick-off brunch is the social event of the season for the black community, said Cooper-Wilson, adding that it was the 40th anniversary of the Ontario Black History Society, making the event even more significant.

The award given to Cooper-Wilson is named for Harriett Tubman, an American abolitionist who led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad.

Cooper-Wilson said the event was like a reunion for fellow historians, activists and family.

Cooper-Wilson was nominated by OBHS secretary Dorothy Abbott. They worked together for many years at the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival.

She said she had no idea that she had been nominated and was very surprised to learn she was the winner. She also learned that both she and Abbott will be included in the 2018 edition of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women, launching at a September gala.

In addition to her other work, Cooper-Wilson has spent 20 years working with a group of volunteers to restore Bethel Union Pioneer Cemetery in New Lowell and she was successful in having it designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, for its cultural heritage and historical significance.

For her next project, SilverShoe Historical Society has been allotted $2,750 in grants to begin restoration work at the Old Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery (also known as the Sunnidale Pioneer Cemetery), on Highway 26. (The money comes from Clearview Township – $750 through the municipal community grant and $2,000 from the municipality’s newly established fund specifically for cemetery restoration and work is to begin in the spring).

“This is the first established cemetery in Clearview… so it’s very important,” said Cooper-Wilson. “It’s the first one people see when they are coming in on Highway 26.”

The full scope of the project includes repairing the obelisk, commemorative arch and limestone tombstones.

“It’s a very expensive project, to repair tombstones, and because it is so overwhelming for the municipality. Municipalities have sort of been sliding through, just cutting the grass and filling in sunken graves, that sort of thing, but they haven’t maintained the stones themselves and this is all over Ontario. Clearview really is a groundbreaker… They are like pioneers themselves,” said Cooper-Wilson.

Contributed photo: Janie Cooper-Wilson (centre) with Dr. Jean Augustine (right), Canada’s first Black female MP and cousin Lyle Kersey, who was presented a lifetime achievement award, at the Ontario Black History Society’s 2018 Black History Month kick-off reception in Toronto.

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