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Promised Land Project

Posted by lamacs On February - 27 - 2012

The Promised Land Project (PLP) is a multidisciplinary research project that focuses on the study the role and evolution of the early black settlements in the Chatham-Kent area, whose role has been uncelebrated and contributions neglected.

The description of such communities as the “final stop on the underground railroad” points to a historical ideology suggesting that this extraordinary heritage is simply an ending rather than the birthplace of something significant and unique. It is not widely known that when Canada became a country in 1867, the sixth-largest population group was people of African descent. The Canadian national history still terms these citizens as “fugitive slaves” disregarding their efforts towards the fight to end slavery in the United States, on the implementation of civil rights in modern Canada, and on the social, cultural and economic development of this region.The overall objectives of this project are:

  1. to protect primary historical materials
  2. to make these materials publicly accessible
  3. to support new academic research and teaching
  4. to promote community development in this historic region of Canada
  5. to use the new knowledge generated by the project to frame current discussions of ethnoracial identity, social justice, migration and Canadian multiculturalism


Firstly, the Promised Land Project works to preserve the historical materials documenting the experience of blacks in the Chatham-Kent area. The research team and community partners will create a comprehensive database of letters, tax records, journals, photographs, oral histories, family narratives, newspapers, and other important primary sources.

In a practical sense, it is crucial that the documents and narratives related to the Promised Land Project be preserved properly for most of them are held in fragile settings. For example, many are kept in basements and back rooms, and are often cared for by members of the community who have volunteered their time to gather the documents from families, churches, and town halls in an effort to keep them from being lost. The PLP will help catalogue and preserve these historical documents, covering the period in history beginning with the American Revolution, when this Southern Ontario area first began opening up to settlers in Canada, through to the birth of the modern Civil Rights Movement in Kent, and ending with an assessment of the contemporary black communities.
Then, reaching far beyond the collection and archival of primary materials, the PLP facilitates the integration of these materials and fresh insight within a common body of knowledge created through the interaction of community and academic partners. From this body of knowledge, the PLP team and community partners will develop the following: new educational materials, create new community projects in the arts and in public history, and further the debates on historical and contemporary manifestations of diversity in Canada, encourage new scholarship and teaching. The overall aim is to highlight the historical importance of the Promised Land communities as a pivotal story in Canada’s past, and draw attention to its current relevance as a model of multiculturalism predating the current discourse of multiculturalism in the global age.


Central objective of the project is: to protect the primary historical materials and make them publicly accessible to support new academic research and teaching, to promote community development in this historic region of Canada, and to use the new knowledge generated by the project to frame current discussions of ethno racial identity, social justice, migration and Canadian multiculturalism.

  • by extrapolating from land records and cross referencing with other primary sources  in order to explore contributions to the community by early blacks in the Chatham and Dawn settlements;
  • To document articulations of racial identity and identification as well as inter-racial cooperation (and discrimination) in the context of the black settlement at Chatham and Dawn and to articulate these as a form of pre-multiculturalism community making;
  • To create a database that will map and store historical materials in a single comprehensive archive;
  • To open opportunities for action research and provide research training to graduate students;
  • To contribute to historical frameworks that will inform and bring new insights into contemporary research on migration, race, social justice and multiculturalism;
  • To develop educational materials, ranging from scholarly articles and books, interactive CD-ROMs and websites, theatre scripts and photo-essay exposition, for use in schools, universities and other public venues;
  • To develop interdisciplinary curricula, integrating a better understanding of social history and social justice issues in the university classroom and in the community;
  • To take advantage of the modern technologies of communication in order to render historical facts and documents accessible, (most are currently not centrally collected or widely known.)


In order to shed light on the experiences and contributions of blacks in Canadian history that have so far been silent from social-historical narratives, the PLP team of researchers will put together scholarly and public educational materials. In addition, they will work with the local community partners and municipalities to produce sustainable historical sites. This will include producing new resources to support local cultural heritage and educative initiatives, complemented with books scholarly articles, documentary video and theatre performances.

Academic Based Outcomes

  • Digital preservation and collection of primary historical materials and national archives that will become references for further research;
  • Training of graduate students in action-based research;
  • Delivery of new scholarship that challenges historical stereotypes of blacks in Canada and creates a greater appreciation of the diverse backgrounds and talents of early black migrations to Canada;
  • Creation of long term Canada-US cross border research partnership between all applicants and collaborators research units and institutions, helping to further the understanding of migration patterns, community building and contemporary issues of identity, multiculturalism and social justice. This cross-border research collaboration will be structure as academic symposia, moving from site to site in and across Canada and the US, after the term of this CURA.
  • Edited books: in a collaborative was that involved academics and community researchers which will appeal to academic readers and the general public

Community Based Outcomes:

  • With the support of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, the PLP will identify special sites which will display the project markers in the community;
  • Create mobile expositions, photo-essays, and theatrical scripts from found-historical artifacts and archives
  • Strengthen local research sites and initiatives within the municipality of Chatham-Kent, through workshops, town hall meetings, and local theatre performances
  • Establish yearly public events in order to present further research findings

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