Tenor Michael Toby tells the story of the Underground Railroad in song on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church in Dundas.
Canada became a refuge for African slaves from the American south after slavery was abolished in Canada in 1834. Once the United States passed the Fugitive Act of 1850, requiring that runaway slaves captured in northern states be returned to southern owners, Canada became the only land of freedom for slaves. It is estimated that from 20,000 to 40,000 slaves escaped to Ontario by way of the Underground Railroad. Stories abound of people like Harriet Tubman, black Underground Railroad conductor, or Burr Plato, who escaped to Canada by swimming the Niagara River, and the hundreds of people who risked their lives to help slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
In his presentation, Toby uses images and songs to tell how African slaves used music to communicate their escape plans and schedules to one another. Since most slaves were illiterate, songs became the vehicle for telling one another when someone was going to escape, when the “conductor” was arriving and where to go. The slave owners, who loved to hear them sing, had no idea what they were planning.
They also used an elaborate system of signals and gestures, but the spirituals, which seemed to be innocent celebrations of the afterlife, played a significant part in getting the message out.
Toby, accompanied by Christopher Hunt at the piano, brings these stories to life in his concert. Toby lives from Selkirk, Ont., where he is pastor of the Church of Christ and also a teacher of voice.
St. Paul’s United Church is located at 29 Park St. W. in Dundas. Tickets are available at the door, $20 for adults, $10 for students, and $45 family rate. More information can be found at www.stpaulsdundas.com or by calling the church at 905-628-6396. A reception to meet Toby follows the concert. St. Paul’s is fully accessible and all are welcome.