North Star Freedom Festival 2017

Officially endorsed by the UNESCO Slave Route Project, the North Star Freedom Festival utilizes music, educational outreach, as well as visual and culinary arts, to give voice to the Niagara region’s rich Black history. In honour of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development (2015-2024), the festival highlights the ongoing journey to freedom and equality and pays tribute to the resilience of the courageous freedom-seekers who followed the North Star and established communities in Niagara.


On September 28-October 1, 2017, Bravo Niagara!'s North Star Freedom Festival will become a bi-national festival in partnership with the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, a region designated by U.S. Congress stretching from Niagara Falls, NY to Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, NY, and Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area. This bi-national festival is the first of its kind and will illuminate the significant Black history on both sides of the Niagara River and celebrate the cultural and historic contributions of Canadians and Americans of African descent.

Niagara, Canada: September 28-30, 2017

Niagara, USA: September 30-October 1, 2017

Canadian superstar soprano Measha Brueggergosman will headline the Canadian portion of the festival on September 29, 2017 at the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre with a performance of Songs of Freedom, based on the film and forthcoming album of the same name.

Measha will perform an intensely powerful and spiritual collection of 'Freedom Songs' that emerged from Africa via the slave trade to America, then to Canada via the United Empire Loyalist migration and the Underground Railroad.

"My exploration of African-American spirituals is a way for me to challenge my classically trained mind... But there is another reason why spirituals are so important to me... They are also a very important part of my family's history. It is the music of my people. My ancestors were stolen from Africa and sold into slavery in the United States before finding freedom in Nova Scotia.”

-Measha Brueggergosman

Canada is not merely a neighbour to Negroes. Deep in our history of struggle for freedom, Canada was the North Star. The Negro slave, denied education, de-humanized, imprisoned on cruel plantations, knew that far to the north a land existed where a fugitive slave, if he survived the horrors of the journey, could find freedom. The legendary underground railroad started in the south and ended in Canada. The freedom road links us together. Our spirituals, now so widely admired around the world, were often codes. We sang of ‘heaven’ that awaited us, and the slave masters listened in innocence, not realizing that we were not speaking of the hereafter. Heaven was the word for Canada and the Negro sang of the hope that his escape on the underground railroad would carry him there.
— Martin Luther King Jr., “Conscience for Change” 1967 Massey Lectures, Toronto

Inaugural North Star Freedom Festival

Bravo Niagara! presented the inaugural North Star Freedom Festival on October 2-4, 2015.

The festival presented 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 aligned with the 70th Anniversary of UNESCO and the 21st Anniversary of the International Scientific Committee UNESCO Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.

The 3-day festival showcased the musical interactions generated by slavery and the slave trade and featured classical, jazz and blues performances by the likes of jazz greats Wycliffe Gordon and Jumaane Smith and Canada's "national treasure" the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, in addition to a free community concert at the new Harriet Tubman Public School in St. Catharines featuring an interactive performance by Diana Braithwaite, a descendant of freedom seekers. A symposium with Canadian and US scholars from York University, Duke University, Niagara University, and SUNY was presented at the Niagara Historical Society & Museum. The festival culminated with a "Freedom River Cruise" featuring JUNO winning blues singer and Motown legend Harrison Kennedy that featured historical reenactments and a performance as participants sailed on the Niagara River - the very water where many courageous freedom-seekers risked their lives to reach freedom in Canada.

I wish to congratulate you for your initiative which will showcase the musical interactions generated by the slave trade and slavery. This festival will pay tribute to the resistance and resilience of Enslaved People and highlight their contribution to modern societies. Your project is in line with the UNESCO Slave Route project’s objectives and will contribute to the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
— Ali Moussa-Iye, Chief, History and Memory for Dialogue Section, UNESCO

North Star Festival 2015 Photos

Letters of Endorsement

UNESCO Slave Route Project