A black slave was taken to Hamilton by force. This Dundas man was fined for honoring her.

Andrew Hunter woke up on July 1 ready to start a long-planned passion project – erecting signs around Dundas that remind residents of the city’s past ties to slavery and racism.

He started with four of them, custom made and 12 by 120 centimeters, and placed them under the boundary marks in the high-traffic areas bordering Dundas. Each was crowned with the name of Sophia Burthen Pooley, a black woman who was brought to Hamilton against her will in the early 1800s and enslaved by Joseph Brant and later Samuel Hatt.

“I felt strongly that Sophia’s story deserved to be told,” said Hunter, a local author and artist who recently wrote a book about Pooley’s life. “I wanted to do something very specific to Dundas that would work with public history.”

In one day, two of the signs disappeared.

Hunter replaced them.

Then they disappeared again.

And again. And again.

Again and again this round trip was, and still continues. Of the 90 signs Hunter has put up around Dundas in the past four months, paid out of pocket between $ 10 and $ 15 a piece, he said there are only five left. The rest are destroyed or missing.

“I don’t know where they went or who took them.”

One clue resides in the city.

Public works personnel remote two of Hunter’s signs, one on Osler Drive, the other on Cootes Drive, in early November due to a violation of sign statutes.

Hunter was fined $ 200 each, charges he recently appealed for reasons beyond a financial hit.

He said his goal is not to make the signs “official,” but to provoke discussions about how we perceive historical figures in local communities.

“I know that putting up a sign without permission is illegal. I’m not arguing that, ”Hunter said. “What bothers me is the content and they don’t talk about what I’m talking about.

“The only reason I keep putting up posters and putting up posters is because of the lack of a considerate, empathetic and thoughtful response to this problem.”

A city spokesman could not confirm whether the signs were removed due to a complaint.

“Staff cannot release further information as it is currently an active investigation,” said Michelle Shantz.

Part of that investigation was developed during a meeting of the city’s heritage committee on Sept. 24, where members discussed the placement of a Hunter sign on a 217-year-old heritage building at 2 Hatt St.

A committee member, Tim Ritchie, said the question of removing the sign warrants “a softer approach” that acknowledges Pooley’s history and does not involve statutes or fines.

Another member, Robin McKee, agreed that the information on the sign is important, but said that erecting it on private property could be an intrusion.

“I do not object to the information on the license plate. I am opposed to someone doing it on their own on a heritage property, ”said McKee of 2 Hatt, a holdover from the Hatt family legacy. “It is similar to graffiti.”

Hunter doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

“All the sign does is honor the presence of a woman who was enslaved here,” he said.

Pooley was enslaved by Mohawk leader Joseph Brant for about five years before Samuel Hatt, Dundas’ co-founder, bought her for $ 100 at age 12, according to McMaster University Professor Ameil Joseph, who teaches classes at the School of Social Work and whose research areas include postcolonial theory and critical race theory. She escaped to the Waterloo region when she was 40 years old, married Robert Pooley, and died in 1860.

But not much else is known about one of the first non-natives Getting to Hamilton: Pooley’s only believed interview was conducted by an American abolitionist and author Benjamin Drew in 1855.

That, Joseph said, underscores the importance of recognizing her in the context of Dundas’ tainted history.

“It is one of the only accounts we have of slaves from this area that describes their own history in relation to some fairly prominent historical figures,” he said. “For that reason, it’s the kind of thing we have to respect and acknowledge.”

Joseph said fining Hunter is not enough to address the issue at hand. There needs to be conversation, not penalty, in acknowledging a city’s history for what it is.

“We cannot have honest conversations about the legacies of racism without acknowledging history and its impacts on the contemporary realities of it in our daily lives.”

Hunter never imagined that his project would evolve the way it has, but he does not plan to stop putting up signs, no matter how many fines he receives. He said stopping the initiative would help “erase history.”

“Dundas has a long history of defending figures like the Hatt family in a very biased and festive way, but without acknowledging those who did the job and the job and who were not rich or privileged,” he said. “And that’s all I’m trying to do, and I’ll keep doing it until we have honest conversations.”

Sebastian Bron is a reporter for The Spectator who lives in Hamilton. Contact him by email: [email protected]


Leave a Comment