In the winter of 2016, internationally renowned photographer Yuri Dojc had an idea for an exhibit to capture the portraits of individuals whose formerly enslaved ancestors had escaped north to find freedom in some of the US free states that bordered Canada. Ultimately many chose to cross over into Canada, especially after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act spurred many bounty hunters to travel north to recapture them. These early refugees settled in towns such as Windsor, Chatham, St. Catharines, Toronto and Owen Sound which became known as one of the northernmost outposts on the UGRR. Dojc, with the assistance of various historical groups such as the Ontario Black History Society and Uncle Tom’s Cabin Museum, was able to locate many descendants in Ontario and Nova Scotia to document their histories. These images and stories formed the basis for the exhibit North Is Freedom, which was first viewed in the fall of 2016 at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC.
Dojc can personally relate to the stories of these descendants as he is also a refugee, escaping from the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia which resulted in his settling in Toronto. His experience with displaced persons is deep, having previously created an exhibit and documentary entitled Last Folio based on portraits of survivors of the Holocaust and records and books from a school in eastern Slovakia which was abandoned in 1942 as all attendees were deported to the concentration camps.
Fast forward to February 2022, the narrative behind North is Freedom is more relevant than ever as an element of the quest to educate Canadians about Black history as part of Canadian history. Yuri would like to expand this exhibit to capture more images and stories and is reaching out to the York Region community to locate individuals with UGRR ancestry to share their history. Please contact him directly to express your interest at: on his personal website.
We will be following up with Yuri periodically over the next year to keep you up to date on this project.
Main photo: Portrait of Darryl Hogan.
Photo row, from left: Harper Lockwood, Barbara Carter, Katharine Jenkins; Arlene Duncan; Jay Jackson and Cindee Courtney.