"Many Rivers to Cross" is the title of a song by Jimmy Cliff, the multi-talented Jamaican artist. It is a graphic metaphor for the struggles and hopes, the successes and failures, of people of African descent everywhere, whether they live on the African continent or away from it, in the diaspora. The title also catches in a phrase the centuries of striving by African Canadians, who have had many rivers to cross.
Since their first documented appearance in this country, in the early sixteenth century, people of African descent have helped in many ways to create the country we see today. They have sought to achieve acceptance as Canadians but also have maintained their own identity. They have built institutions such as churches and community organizations. In adapting to Canadian urban life they have often drawn on their own ancient culture - music, dance, an abiding sense of community, and a deep feeling of debt to the past; but they have learned also from North American influences and created their own resources as well. They have fought for political and human rights and have held positions in many levels of society.
Of late, those of African descent, like other peoples in this country, have been exploring their own past - "filling in the blank pages" - by collecting and preserving letters, photographs, and newspapers and by recording memories of immigration and of life in Canada. This exhibition attempts to convey an impression of the place that those of African descent have long occupied in the Canadian mosaic. It deals with immigration, culture, the struggle for justice, and work, all in the context of a complex and supportive community life.