Unearth Uncover

"Since much of the Black past has been deliberately buried, covered over, and demolished, it is our task to unearth, uncover, and piece it together again." - Dr. Afua Cooper

The Unearth Uncover Historical Plaque Project began as an act of protest. In the summer and fall of 2021, signs similar to Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) provincial plaques appeared throughout Toronto and Brampton. The signs commemorated significant people, places and events in Black Canadian history. They looked like the OHT plaques, but the logo was different. Who was putting up these signs?

A passionate group of teachers and students created the signs to shine a light on Black Canadian history. Specifically, the group wanted to bring attention to lesser known histories not being taught in schools, and to the Black scholars and activists who, for decades, have been working to elevate Black history. 

The first plaques were installed in Toronto in the summer of 2020. It was expected the signs might be vandalized, but they were celebrated in the news and on social media. The signs brought attention to the work of Black scholars such as Irene Moore Davis, who reached out to the group to congratulate them.

Due to their success, the teachers decided to turn the project into a social justice program for students in the Peel District School Board. Over the 2020-2021 school year, students in the Black Student Association and Social Justice classes at Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga worked to amplify the #BlackedOutHistory campaign of the Ontario Black History Society. Cawthra Park students worked together with students from across Peel to research and create more signs featuring stories of Black community resistance, advocacy, and strength.

In late 2021 a team of students, teachers, and family members installed the signs around Queen's Park Circle, Front Street and Yonge Street in Toronto, and in Brampton at PAMA, Gage Park, and along Main Street.

Read the Unearth Uncover signs

Unearth Uncover Envision

Students at Cawthra Park were asked to create a visual art response to the Unearth Uncover project. They were encouraged to research histories, then consider and envision a future inspired by the themes and ideas in the stories. Guiding principles for the students included:

  • Focusing on change, not blame or shame. Acknowledging feelings of discomfort as part of the learning process.
  • Questioning who and what makes up Canadian history, looking critically at what is taught in schools about our spaces, land, and landscape.
  • Unlearning inaccurate history and stereotypes.
  • Practising different ways of listening to, and working with, people from different backgrounds.

PAMA staff reached out to the teachers and students who created the Unearth, Uncover signs and formed a partnership to further the project through exhibitions and programs.