Hidden Cemeteries of Essex County Transcript

DAVID BRIAN: We did a project on the...we changed the name, not from the 'lost cemeteries,’ but to the 'hidden cemeteries' that are in Essex County, and we'll go through with what we did and get started right now.

There we go. So...the idea for...working on this project came from our great radio station, CBC Radio. On a daily basis, I had to travel 100 kilometres, one way, to my school in Windsor, and listening to the radio on my drive...got lots of ideas.

So, the first story was about...Fleming College. Students there, who did a project on a...graves in Peterborough, and they digitized it using GIS technologies...and I'm a geography teacher, full disclosure, and...I thought, well that's a pretty neat idea.

In that same week, which was Black History Month in...well, throughout Canada, but it was being celebrated in Windsor...there was a story about the cemeteries in Essex County and how many of them have been not taken care of, they're hidden, and I thought...interesting idea. Maybe there's a project possibility.

So, talking to Stephen…Oh, sorry...I'm just going to bring up here…

So, you can see here on the left is the project that Fleming College had put together, and where they digitized...and it's an interactive map where you can click on each of the points on there and get information about that particular headstone: family name...full name...the dates, and any other information.

And, the story on the CBC about Black History Month for Windsor was focusing on Elsie Harding Davis and her work with working with the Black community in...the history in Essex County.

So, together with that information, Steve and I talked, and...we talked about this.

STEPHEN PUNGA: Okay. So, one of the texts that we used at the beginning of the history course...I taught World History grade 12...and one of the texts that we used at the beginning was '[On] the [Use and Abuse] of History for Life,’ which is a text by Friedrich Nietzsche and about the role of history and...how history can be used in different ways, but the most important role that history has is to promote life, and to invigorate and enliven us, and the students as well.

So, a quote I'm going to use from Goethe at the beginning of this text is, 'I hate everything that merely instructs me without increasing or directly quickening my activity.'

So, one of the really most important things that we wanted to stress...was that this really centred around students' agency, which really means we want the students to be enthusiastic enough that they really would take over the project and kind of direct the way we would want the project to go.

So, we...we brainstormed a few ideas, and they had some really, like, interesting basic questions [because] Dave had proposed this to me and I said, 'Okay, guys, what do you think? Do you think we can do this?’ and they said, 'What does that mean...lost cemeteries or hidden cemeteries? Like, how are they hidden if we already know where they are?' or, 'How did we lose them? Where did they go?'

And then, just the difference between an active cemetery and non-active cemeteries was something that they thought about. Another really important question is...'Why are there Black cemeteries in Essex County and how did they get there?’

And then another question was, 'Well, why are there White cemeteries in Essex County, and how did they get there?’ because, sometimes we take certain things for granted, and it becomes like an ideology, and we don't question it or think about it.

So, this type of critical thinking, I think, was really important at the beginning of the project.

DAVID BRIAN: Okay. So, after...talking together, and we came up with this particular project...going from the idea to the concept...and bringing together both the Geography grade 11 class and the grade 12 History class, where the students would collaborate in pursuing this project.

And, Stephen mentioned about giving students agency, so we basically had a framework, but the students were going to be the active participants in bringing this project to fruition.

STEPHEN PUNGA: Okay. I'd also like to mention...when Dave came to me with the idea, we had covered a significant amount of the curriculum already, and so what we wanted the students to do was, 'How do we put this in the context of the Ontario curriculum?'

So we had studied colonialism, imperialism, and we were kind of just getting around to the Industrial Revolution.

And, one of the key players...obviously, was Karl Marx in his critique of capital, and a text that we thought might be important...[because] the kids were [wondering] 'Just what does Karl Marx say about Black slavery in the United States?' and they found a text...'Until We All Become Abolitionists'...

And, the whole idea being...until we support the abolition of slavery, then all working people can't be free. So, that was a very good starting point...and it was a nice connection that the students had made.

DAVID BRIAN: So, having heard three wonderful presentations this morning, and...one of the questions from the audience was about how there was a common theme through there...and, for me, the obvious other theme was how much community support each of the projects got.

So, in our project as well, if you're going to...reach out to the community, there's a significant amount of contacting and researching.

So, students were...left to this, and, so, contacting our local historical societies, museums...Elsie Harding Davis already mentioned...and I must give a shout-out to my grade 13 geography teacher, Gerald Pouget, who took us out in grade 13...back in the 1920s [LAUGHTER], no, sorry, 1970s...and...that was...my inspiration...to have a love for local history.

And...with this work, the students had to also consider what are they going to do with this digital map...and it can't just sit on the school's website, so there was going to be outreach to the Town of Essex and seeing if they'd be willing to host it...so they had to talk with them, and, also, getting permission to go on to the cemeteries, which...some of them were still part of church congregations...and we had to get their permission and support.

And, I must say that we had significant help in the technology side from the City of Windsor, the GIS specialists there, and Fleming College, the people who ran that project…they were always willing to help out.

So, we're going to just go through a number of slides just about how the project unfolded and...Stephen?

STEPHEN PUNGA: Okay. So, one of the really important resources that we did use was the Black Historical Museum in Amherstburg. I lived in Amherstburg most of my life.

We went to church across from the Black Historical Museum and...we were always aware of it, and we would have services there occasionally, from time to time, but I think for the students to go and make that connection and see, like…artifacts and primary sources, and...the individual first-hand account, or first-person accounts, of...the Underground Railroad, and how they made their escape, and then how they ended up in Windsor-Essex County.

It was an excellent resource. An interesting story...I know we only have ten minutes...[an] interesting story was...after we were done with the Museum we're walking through this little town of Amherstburg to go get a coffee at Tim Hortons.

So, we're walking along and one of the students...and a lot of the kids are ESL students, aren't from Canada...pointed out, they're like, 'Oh, that's the first Baptist church in Amherstburg’...and it was a Black church that was started in Amherstburg...and they instantly made the connection between what we were doing at the Black Historical Museum, and then, seeing this...and making that connection was very interesting.

And I also...I think one of the other really important things was...when you go out into the field, you're using all your senses and you're using different ways of knowing. So, there's different types of connections that you are making.

And, a question was asked today, 'Oh, like, what was an important part? How did you know that the students had finally made a connection with the project?'

And, the first cemetery we went to, Dave had to survey it and...whatever you do in geography and all that...[LAUGHTER] but in one of the corners of the cemetery, there were all these tiny little gravestones, and they were the gravestones of the children that had died.

And, some of them wouldn't have names, or just the first name, and no date or anything on it, and I think...as far as a way of knowing...that emotional connection kind of brought that project home for a lot of the students.

DAVID BRIAN: So, of course, in history, it's relying on expertise and...you know, in any community, and especially when we're talking about local history...there's always somebody there that you can rely on. So, again, we've mentioned Elsie Harding Davis who came out to our first cemetery, gave a talk to the students, and then helped lead them through about the data collection.

And...just to follow up with Steve saying about...you know, for the students getting out and doing fieldwork...

To me...it brings learning into '3D' as opposed to just within the walls of the classroom. So...[do you want to talk]?

STEPHEN PUNGA: About the rubbings?                   

DAVID BRIAN: Yeah, sure.

STEPHEN PUNGA: Okay. This is something that's interesting. So, because these tombstones are faded...you can see the one on the right is pretty clear, you can read it...but lots of them you can't read at all with your eye.

So, Dave...because he had previously done this before with his geography teacher, or his history teacher...the kids get a piece of paper and they get a pastel or a crayon, and they kind of do a rubbing on it, and then the information comes out onto that paper, and then you can read it.

So it's kind of like...you can't see it, it's hidden, it's lost...and then it kind of comes out, and then from that the students would record the information into their phones and then upload it.

DAVID BRIAN: Yeah, so, I should mention that you'll see in the far right picture there one of the students...and what they're doing is they're recording the data using GIS technologies.

It's called Survey123, and so it takes data that's georeferenced to that spot, and then that's the data that gets loaded up into a crowdsourced map, which we used for our final...product.

So, we're gonna go through here because I'm conscious of time...So, collecting data in the field...so, then, of course, students had to present to the City Council of Essex.

And...so, they were given a certain amount of time to [present to] twenty members of the City Council to see if they'd be willing to host this and...wonderful opportunity for the kids to talk with their community. And, of course the City Council agreed to their proposal.

This is the...some of the locations. We did four cemeteries...and...the actual hosting...on the Town of Essex.

And, so, the final product that the students put together was their own website, and then they've got the historical context, their actual interactive map, and...the...sources of information they used.

So, you can see there's four blue dots in there but when you zoom in, it would come out to individual markers, and from the marker, you click onto it, and that would be the information that you would be able to...observe, to read, plus a photograph of the actual tombstone.

And...student agency...so, what did they have to do? They had to plan, primary data collection, processing/publishing of data, geospatial tools, outreach, empathy for minority groups, communication skills, of course, and time management and research skills.

And, that's the team there...that did this.

STEPHEN PUNGA: Okay, I'm gonna finish with one really short story…

Elsie Davis Harding, or Harding Davis, sorry, was...you mentioned was a primary resource for us...and just as far as this going forward, a couple of months ago in the Windsor Star, she had...petitioned the Prime Minister of Canada for an apology for Black slavery in Canada.

Sometimes we think of the Underground Railroad as this, you know, really heroic thing but...there was slavery in Canada...and I think she's written him four letters and hasn't heard back from him yet, so...

DAVID BRIAN: So, we're in his town, so maybe he hears us now.

Okay, one final thing...I need...my boss...they gave me four days of leave to come out for this, and I have to take a photo, a selfie, with you in the background [LAUGHTER].

STEPHEN PUNGA: Do you want me to take it?

MC: Co-teaching is the best, right?