Hate in the Shape of a Swastika Finds Expression Near a Statue of Civil Rights Heroine Harriet Tubman in Niagara, Ontario

We Need More Community Leaders in this Region Standing Up for Decency & Respect of Others

A Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted February 1st, 2018 on Niagara At Large

It was two years ago this Black History Month – in February 2016 – that I joined many others in celebrating the unveiling of a statue of 19th Century heroine Harriet Tubman at an elementary school in St. Catharines, Niagara bearing her name.

On a nicer day in February two years ago, elementary school children admire a statue of 19th Century civil rights heroine Harriet Tubman, just unveiled at their St. Catharines elementary school. File photo by Doug Draper

The event was a wonderful opportunity for all of us, including the young students at the school, to learn and remember the courage and humanity of one of the most heroic standard bearers for freedom and civil rights on this continent in the last 200 years – a woman who was born into slavery and went on to guide many other fleeing slaves through what was known as the “underground railway,” even as she made her home base in St, Catharines, Ontario for most of the 1850s leading up to the American Civil War.

The unveiling of that statue of Harriet Tubman was also a proud day for its creators, former Niagara residents and artists Frank Rekrut and Laura Thompson, who had it shipped all the way from their art studio in Florence, Italy.

After I posted a story about the unveiling ceremony on Niagara At Large two years ago, I heard from friends in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey who contacted me to say how much they– all admirers of Harriet Tubman – would like to visit school where the statue is located the next time they visit.

So how awful it was to wake up this past January 31st – on the eve of Black History Month – and learn that people living near Harriet Tubman Public School discovered a Nazi swastika spray painted on a sidewalk a short distance away from where the statue stands.

In a story published in a local newspaper, Chris Alic, a St. Catharines resident who lives in the area and a member of a group called the Niagara Anti-Racism Coalition, said along with the fact that this symbol of murderous hate was painted near the Harriet Tubman school, it may also not be a coincidence that it was put there just days after the 1st anniversary of the Quebec mosque shootings and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On an uglier day late this January, this swastika was discovered painted on a sidewalk near the site where the Harriet Tubman statue stands.

There have been other examples in Niagara of expressions of intolerance and racism surfacing in Niagara in recent times, Alic said, and this reporter would have to agree.

Disgustingly enough, some of it has come from and has been tolerated by some of our elected leaders in this region, with too little push back from residents across the region.

Each time such expressions rear their ugly head on social media or even in public buildings where at least some semblance of civility should rule, there is the usual amount of outrage expressed by some of the population and by opinion writers like me.

But each and every time there is another instance of ugly or hateful words or behaviour surfacing in the community, I wonder how many people across Niagara really care all that much, or are even aware or paying attention.

Why aren’t more people rising up to snuff this kind of ugliness out?

Frank Rekrut was not able to attend the ceremony two years ago for the unveiling of his statue of Harriet Tubman, but his son Michael was there and he made a point of letting the gathering at the school know that his father hopes the statue serves as a continuous reminder to younger generations of her courage and compassion for others.

These days, in this Niagara region, it seems to me we need a good deal of reminding of the courage and compassion of a person such as Harriet Tubman now.

To read the story Doug Draper posted on the unveiling of the Harriet Tubman statue in St. Catharines in February of 2016, click onhttps://niagaraatlarge.com/2016/02/10/19th-century-heroine-harriet-tubman-gets-a-warm-welcome-home-in-st-catharines-ontario/ .

This notice was late coming ot Niagara At Large’s attention, but we are putting it on anyway for those who may still have time to run out and participate.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie



3 responses to “Hate in the Shape of a Swastika Finds Expression Near a Statue of Civil Rights Heroine Harriet Tubman in Niagara, Ontario

  1. Heather McArdle

    I am sick about this. Unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me. On Friday evening my family and I were enjoying a meal at a local fancy seafood restaurant. Some older men came in and began singing tunes with the resident piano player. They seemed to be enjoying themselves until there was a break and we overheard them complaining about immigrants invading the region. They went on and on; I won’t repeat the details of their hatred but it forced us to get up and leave. Disgraceful. Is it any wonder that Niagara is considered racist. When will this stop? When good people take action. Thank you for your article and openness.


  2. Gail Benjafield

    Salem Chapel, the ‘Tubman’ Church, has held many fundraising events, a successful one last Sunday in Port Dalhousie. It has a GoFundMe account and I hope those reading will donate to “Preserving Salem Chapel” GoFundMe.


  3. Gary Screaton Page

    The increasing incidence of racist talk and action coincides with the increasing amount of racist talk and behavior of the U.S. President, Donald Trump. While he is not the cause, he most certainly sets a powerful example of what it means to be racist. We are just as vulnerable to such conduct north of the border. There is no place for racism in either country. Everyone who values civil liberties and understands how vulnerable they are to assault, must take a stand against such behavior. If all of us aren’t treated equally, then none of us can be confident that our civil rights could not be lost to us.

    Germany was one of the most cultured, literate, artistic, scholarly countries in the world. Yet, Hitler rose to power on a platform of hate. No nation is above such an attack from within. We must be ever vigilant. The only legitimate prejudice is prejudice against prejudice. Freedom is a fragile thing. We must do all we can to preserve, even be ready to die to protect it. The last two great wars have proven that! Lest we forget!!


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