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Emancipated slave honoured at Montreal’s Mount Royal cemetery

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Emancipated slave honoured at Montreal’s Mount Royal cemetery
WATCH: After more than two centuries a page of Montreal's history is being raised to a new level. A plaque was unveiled on Tuesday at a Montreal cemetery to honour a Black man who escaped slavery south of the border and fled to Montreal. As Global's Phil Carpenter reports, for many Shadrach Minkins' story represents resistance and survival. – Oct 17, 2023

After more than two centuries, a part of Montreal’s history is being raised to a new level.

A plaque was unveiled Tuesday at a Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery to honour a Black man who escaped slavery south of the border and fled to Montreal.

“We had this important person buried here,” said the cemetery’s director of heritage programmes, Myriam Cloutier. “His name is Shadrach Minkins.”

Minkins escaped slavery in the United States and fled to Montreal, as did many others. But it’s the way his story unfolded that’s really interesting.

He first escaped slavery from Virginia in 1850 and fled to Boston. Frank Mackey, who’s been researching Minkins for years says the escaped slave found a job at the Cornhill Coffe house in Boston. According to Mackey, that is where Minkins was eventually caught under the Fugitive Slaves Law, and was one of the first to be arrested in New England.

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The former slave was brought to a courthouse in Boston and, as Mackey recounts, that’s when all hell broke loose.

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“Word got out among the Black population in Boston,” he said. “They rushed the courthouse and spirited him away.”

Click to play video: 'Untold stories of Black Canadians'
Untold stories of Black Canadians

Minkins then made his way to Montreal in February 1851, where he lived as a free man and raised a family. He owned a number of businesses in Old Montreal including one restaurant that became popular.

“Where D’Arcy McGee went for his election rally,” Mackey said.

It’s for these accomplishments that the Friends of Mont Royal Cemetery installed the plaque at his gravesite to honour the man many see as an inspiration. Hip hop artist Aly Ndiaye, who produced a podcast about Minkins, says the former slave’s story is one of resistance.

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“Black history is Montreal history, is Canadian history, is Quebec history and that the history of African North America is transnational,” he pointed out.

Historian Dorothy Williams says Black people can take comfort in stories like Minkins’, because their children can see what’s possible and dream.

“People overcame so many things,” she told Global News. “They succeeded despite … racism, despite doors that were closed, despite segregation, despite all of those things.”

Click to play video: 'Montreal-area students get hands on teaching about Black culture'
Montreal-area students get hands on teaching about Black culture

She and others stress that people like Minkins made a difference.

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