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Sharing Prince Edward Island's black history


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As celebrations continue to mark the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, another lesser-known part of the Island’s past is playing out in Charlottetown.

It’s a stage production called Tales from the Old Stock: Stories and Songs of P.E.I Black History, and it

is being performed at the 2014 Celebration Zone until Sept. 7.

“It’s an important story to tell because it’s part of P.E.I. history that has been previously ignored,” says Scott Parsons who composed original music for the show that he co-created with writer Ron Irving.

The show is brought to life by the storytelling of Anansi, played by Tony Migiro, along with his

sidekick, Kendi, played by Nancy McLure, and Marley, a troubadour, played by Parsons.

In one scene, for example, Anansi tells the story of Dembo Suckles, an African man who was captured by slave traders, dragged from his hiding place in a hollow log with an iron hook, leaving him scarred for life. Whipped and shackled, he was loaded onto a ship, with many others, sold into slavery in Rhode Island and arrived on P.E.I. after his master fled the American Revolution.

In another vignette, audience members hear about black Islander Jupiter Wise, who had an argument with a slave owner that landed him in court.

And while he escaped the death penalty, he was sentenced to deportation to the West Indies. Luckily, he escaped jail before the ship arrived.

In still another, they are told about The Bog, a black community that developed around Euston and Rochford streets in Charlottetown, near Government Pond, in the 1800s. It was home to Black Sam, a chimney sweep, who supplemented his family’s income by bootlegging.

These scenes — and the others in this production — provide a missing chapter in Island history.

“Most of the descendants of these black Islanders are no longer a visible minority. They have been assimilated into the population,” says Irving.

In fact, many people aren’t aware that there were black people on Prince Edward Island in the 19th century.

“Yet, there are black people in thousands of families, from one end of the Island to the other. So it’s nice to recognize them and make present day people aware of the stories,” says Parsons.

For Migiro, it’s an honour to be in the show and share this chapter of history.

“It’s a privilege to be part of the process while it’s in its infancy stage. And it’s also important because black Island history is equally as important as Acadian Island history or the stories of the Scottish and the Irish,” he says.

McLure agrees.

“I love history and I have relatives of many different nationalities, so I am thrilled to do a multicultural (show). Welcoming diversity is an important part of being Canadian,” she says.

When its run at the Charlottetown waterfront is over, the show will begin a tour of Island schools. It will be presented to Grade 6 students along with course materials specifically developed for P.E.I.

“It’s a great resource for students of Island history because it gives them an introduction to a segment of Island history that isn’t in the textbook,” says Irving.

For Parsons, the thrill is sharing the show with Island students.

“Going into the schools is great. The kids love the music. They like the costumes. And they get something nice from the experience.”

As celebrations continue to mark the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, another lesser-known part of the Island’s past is playing out in Charlottetown.

It’s a stage production called Tales from the Old Stock: Stories and Songs of P.E.I Black History, and it

is being performed at the 2014 Celebration Zone until Sept. 7.

“It’s an important story to tell because it’s part of P.E.I. history that has been previously ignored,” says Scott Parsons who composed original music for the show that he co-created with writer Ron Irving.

The show is brought to life by the storytelling of Anansi, played by Tony Migiro, along with his

sidekick, Kendi, played by Nancy McLure, and Marley, a troubadour, played by Parsons.

In one scene, for example, Anansi tells the story of Dembo Suckles, an African man who was captured by slave traders, dragged from his hiding place in a hollow log with an iron hook, leaving him scarred for life. Whipped and shackled, he was loaded onto a ship, with many others, sold into slavery in Rhode Island and arrived on P.E.I. after his master fled the American Revolution.

In another vignette, audience members hear about black Islander Jupiter Wise, who had an argument with a slave owner that landed him in court.

And while he escaped the death penalty, he was sentenced to deportation to the West Indies. Luckily, he escaped jail before the ship arrived.

In still another, they are told about The Bog, a black community that developed around Euston and Rochford streets in Charlottetown, near Government Pond, in the 1800s. It was home to Black Sam, a chimney sweep, who supplemented his family’s income by bootlegging.

These scenes — and the others in this production — provide a missing chapter in Island history.

“Most of the descendants of these black Islanders are no longer a visible minority. They have been assimilated into the population,” says Irving.

In fact, many people aren’t aware that there were black people on Prince Edward Island in the 19th century.

“Yet, there are black people in thousands of families, from one end of the Island to the other. So it’s nice to recognize them and make present day people aware of the stories,” says Parsons.

For Migiro, it’s an honour to be in the show and share this chapter of history.

“It’s a privilege to be part of the process while it’s in its infancy stage. And it’s also important because black Island history is equally as important as Acadian Island history or the stories of the Scottish and the Irish,” he says.

McLure agrees.

“I love history and I have relatives of many different nationalities, so I am thrilled to do a multicultural (show). Welcoming diversity is an important part of being Canadian,” she says.

When its run at the Charlottetown waterfront is over, the show will begin a tour of Island schools. It will be presented to Grade 6 students along with course materials specifically developed for P.E.I.

“It’s a great resource for students of Island history because it gives them an introduction to a segment of Island history that isn’t in the textbook,” says Irving.

For Parsons, the thrill is sharing the show with Island students.

“Going into the schools is great. The kids love the music. They like the costumes. And they get something nice from the experience.”

Anansi, left, (Tony Migiro), his sidekick, Kendi (Nancy McLure), and Marley, a troubadour (Scott Parsons), appear in a scene from Tales from the Old Stock: Stories and Songs of P.E.I. Black History. Co-created by Parsons and Ron Irving, the show continues at the 2014 Celebration Zone in Charlottetown until Sept. 7. It’s based on original research done by Harry Baglole, Sean McQuaid, Irving and Parsons. 

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