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Gordie Howe Bridge to feature art that commemorates the Underground Railroad

The Gordie Howe International Bridge project team plans to commission a piece of art that commemorates the Underground Railroad.

The piece will be a free-standing work of art located in an accessible area outside the Canadian port of entry. It will reflect the themes of hope and freedom, says a news release from the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.

“I think it’s good,” said Lana Talbot, who is heritage coordinator at Sandwich First Baptist Church, treasurer of the Windsor Essex Black Council, and vice chair of the Artists of Colour.

“I think that Black artists here — I think we deserve that. That’s the least they could [do]: show respect to us. … they’re going to name the bridge after an American.”

Talbot would prefer that the bridge itself be named in honor of the railroad, he said.

Lana Talbot sitting in a pew inside Sandwich First Baptist Church.
Lana Talbot, is the heritage coordinator at Sandwich First Baptist Church, the treasurer of the Windsor Essex Black Council, and the vice chair of the Artists of Colour. She said she believes the commission should go to an artist from the region. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

“It feels like it would be fitting because it’s coming right into Sandwich.”

The community of Sandwich, which is located near the Gordie Howe International Bridge project site, was a destination for thousands of people who escaped slavery in the US and made their way to freedom in Canada.

The area is still home to the descendants of many of those who made that journey, including Talbot.

The project team will launch a request for qualifications this month for professional Canadian artists of the Black, African and Caribbean diaspora living and working in Canada who are interested in doing the work.

It includes a mentorship opportunity for a local youth identifying as a member of the Black, African and Caribbean diaspora from Sandwich/west Windsor to work with the artist.

I want people to know that there are excellent Black Canadian artists that are from right here, this region-Lana Talbot

Talbot said it was appropriate that the art be created by a Black artist but felt that the commission itself should also go to an artist from the region.

“When they do things in Toronto or if they do things in Niagara Falls or if they do things in Hamilton, I don’t ever recall ever receiving any invitation to be part of that,” she said.

“I want people to know that there are excellent Black Canadian artists that are from right here, this region.”

Details on the request for qualifications are available at GordieHoweInternationalBridge.com.

The judged artist selection process will follow Canadian Heritage’s guidelines for public artist selection, the bridge authority said.

The project team plans to complete artist selection this summer and unveil the final art concept later this year. The final art piece will be installed in conjunction with the opening of the bridge, which is currently slated for late 2024 or early 2025.

Elise Harding-Davis standing in a graveyard.
African Canadian heritage consultant Elise Harding-Davis said she’s thrilled the bridge will include artwork commemorating the Underground Railroad. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The bridge team developed the commission in response to community feedback and in conjunction with the Detroit River Project and the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, it said.

Windsor West MP Brian Masse congratulated the city’s Black community for successfully persuading the bridge authority to include the artwork as part of the project.

The bridge team plans to gather input from local members of the Black, African and Caribbean diaspora and the broader Windsor-Essex community to share with the artist once identified, it said.

‘That bridge was a place where freedom started for many of us’

African Canadian heritage consultant and the former Amherstburg Freedom Museum curator Elise Harding-Davis said in a statement that she is thrilled that the WDBA will be featuring African Canadian art, particularly focused on the Underground Railroad.

“The African Caribbean and pioneering black Canadians have contributed a lot,” Harding-Davis said in the statement, issued by the bridge authority.

“And that bridge was a place where freedom started for many of us.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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(CBC)