September 3, 2015 - North Star Festival Press Release

Inaugural North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom
Commemorating Black History in Niagara with Music

SEPT. 3, 2015 - (Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON) In honour of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development (2015-2024), Bravo Niagara! presents the inaugural North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom on October 2-4, 2015.

Officially endorsed by the UNESCO Slave Route Project, this festival will utilize music, educational initiatives, as well as visual and culinary arts, to give voice to the Niagara regions rich Black history and highlight the ongoing journey to freedom and equality.

The North Star Festival will showcase the musical creations of enslaved Africans and their descendants, and pay tribute to the resistance and resilience of the courageous freedom-seekers who followed the North Star and established communities in Niagara; a terminus of the Underground Railroad.  It will also highlight the Underground Railroad as a transnational movement and raise awareness of the United States and Canada's shared history.

The festival presents an opportunity to reflect on the historical and contemporary experiences of persons of African descent in Canada, to examine the larger meanings of freedom within this context and to engage with the symbol of the North Star as individuals and communities negotiate their place, with varying levels of success, in the nation.

In its desire to celebrate, commemorate and examine these experiences, the festival aligns with the 70th Anniversary of UNESCO and the 21st Anniversary of the International Scientific Committee UNESCO Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.

The three-day festival features classical, jazz and blues performances by the likes of jazz legend Joe Sealy and The Nathaniel Dett Chorale; Dett being a Niagara Falls native. This Chorale has performed for Nelson Mandela and was the only Canadian ensemble at President Barack Obamas 2009 inauguration.

The North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom will contribute to the ongoing work to unite the Niagara region in a global movement of promoting deeper cultural understanding, peace and dialogue for current and future generations. 

For tickets and more information, visit
All artists, programmes, dates, and prices are subject to change without notice.
See list of performances on following pages.

October 2

 1pm-5pm: Symposium at the Niagara Historical Society & Museum

43 Castlereagh Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tickets: Free admission - Call 905-468-3912 (Niagara Historical Society & Museum) to RSVP.

 This free community outreach initiative features a roundtable discussion with scholars from York University, Niagara University, and Duke University. Dr. Michele Johnson, a representative of the UNESCO Slave Route Project and Director of the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University, will lead a roundtable discussion entitled “Interrogating the North Star.” This will provide an opportunity to examine, from a range of perspectives, when, if and how Canada presented a “haven” for those who sought freedom, as well as the legacies of the symbol of the “North Star.” Featured participants include Adrienne Shadd, Natasha Henry, and Tamara Extian-Babiuk.

Wilma Morrison, Order of Ontario historian and a leading force in preserving the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel, will speak about renowned African-Canadian composer R. Nathaniel Dett, followed by the screening of Many More Rivers to Cross, a documentary short by Andrea Conte.

Dr. Judith Wellman of SUNY at Oswego will speak about the Underground Railroad as a transnational movement and highlight the dramatic stories that took place on both sides of the Niagara Frontier borderland. Randy Andropolis of Niagara University will present “The Rich Legacy of Black Heritage in American Music” with vocal contributions by Kary Dobbs.

8pm: Joe Sealy at St. Marks Anglican Church

41 Byron Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tickets: $39 + HST and service charge

Internationally-renowned pianist Joe Sealy, a Canadian jazz icon and Member of the Order of Canada, will perform his JUNO-winning Africville Suite at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Michael Bublé’s lead trumpeter Jumaane Smith returns to Bravo Niagara! for a special guest appearance. Through the power of music, Africville Suite pays homage to one of the most misunderstood and forgotten cultures in the Maritimes - the citizens of Africville, Nova Scotia.  Africville, a small community populated entirely by Black families, was ordered destroyed and its residents relocated when the nearby city of Halifax seized the land in 1965. It has become an important symbol of African-Canadian identity and the struggle against racism. The artwork of Dr. Ron Clavier will be featured.

October 3

 11am-2pm: Food for the Soul Lunch Market at The Market @ The Village

111 Garrison Village Drive, Niagara-on-the-Lake  

Tickets: Free admission

Celebrate the culinary contributions of people of African descent and the last Market of the season as The Market at The Village hosts an afternoon of food trucks, musicians, and artisans. Zawadee – Bring Africa Home presents JUNO-winning singer Dominic Mancuso and renowned percussionist Chendy Leon who will explore the rich musical influences of Africa. Zawadee will feature fine African jewelry, fashion, and artisan products of African origin. Featured food trucks include Itty Bitty Pie Company and The Dirty South.

7:30pm: Nathaniel Dett Chorale at St. Marks Anglican Church

41 Byron Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tickets: $39 + HST and service charge

 Canada’s first professional choral group dedicated to Afrocentric music of all styles, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale has performed at events honouring Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in addition to being the only Canadian ensemble invited to perform for President Obama’s inauguration. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s mission is “to build bridges of understanding, appreciation, and acceptance between communities of people, both Afrocentric and other, through the medium of music. The Chorale seeks to dissolve the barriers of stereotype, to empower humans in general, and those of African descent in particular.”

As a response to being enslaved during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, men and women of African heritage created spirituals, songs of sorrow, love, faith, and hope. Many of these songs were encoded with covert messages as a way to sing freedom into existence. The Nathaniel Dett Chorales program, Freedom Has A Voice, conveys the power, universality, and enduring resonance of the spiritual the music not heard with the ears to demonstrate why these songs still live.
The artwork of Edward Spera will be featured. 

October 4

2pm: Free Community Concert at the new Harriet Tubman Public School

84 Henry Street, St. Catharines

Tickets: Free admission

Canadian blues sensations Diana Braithwaite, a descendant of freedom-seekers who settled in Wellington County, and Chris Whiteley will perform “Sugar & Gold: A Musical Story of the Underground Railroad.” Students will display artwork inspired by Harriet Tubman.

4-6pm: Freedom River Cruise Featuring Harrison Kennedy

Departs at 3:30pm from 55 River Frontage Road, Queenston

Tickets: $49 + HST and service charge

Canadian blues and Motown legend Harrison Kennedy will perform on the inaugural Freedom River Cruise aboard the majestic Niagara Belle. Passengers will experience a musical and historical tour along the Niagara River, on the very water where many courageous freedom-seekers crossed and risked their lives to reach freedom in Canada. Take a walk back in time with the Lewiston Council on the Arts and witness historic reenactments of Josiah Tryon and Sally Barton Tryon, who will bring to life stories of the historic freedom crossing from Lewiston to Queenston. Tickets include light hors d’oeuvres.


Founded in 2014, Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts is a not-for-profit organization based in Niagara-on-the-Lake and is dedicated to defining the Niagara Region as a destination for innovative artistic performances of the highest calibre. Their concerts are multi-sensory experiences and a "Symphony of the Senses" music, wine, culinary and visual arts combined with Niagara's natural beauty and historic riches. 

 Bravo Niagara! acknowledges the financial support of the Niagara Region’s Niagara Investment in Culture Program, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, administered by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund Corporation, the Inter-Action Multiculturalism Grants and Contributions Program of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Major sponsors include Season Presenting Sponsor CIBC and Presenting Sponsors The Village, Brookfield Residential, and SEB Inc.

For additional information: Alexis Spieldenner

Bravo Niagara! Director of Marketing & Development 

289.868.9177 /


Alexis SpieldennerComment