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Ontario says 'thank you' to Hugh Burnett

By Staff
Saturday, July 31, 2010



Provincial plaque commemorates Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association

DRESDEN, ON - (July 31) - Today, as part of the Emancipation Day celebrations at Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, Ontario, the Ontario Heritage Trust unveiled a provincial plaque to commemorate civil rights activist Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association.

"The contributions made by Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association to establish their own equality achieved a civil rights revolution felt across Canada," said Dr. Thomas H.B. Symons, chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust. "We are delighted to commemorate these remarkable efforts with a provincial plaque."

The plaque reads as follows:

Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association

Between 1948 and 1956, the National Unity Association (NUA) of Chatham, Dresden and North Buxton, under the leadership of Hugh R. Burnett, waged a campaign for racial equality and social justice.

Their efforts led to the passage of Ontario's Fair Employment Practices Act (1951) and Fair Accommodation Practices Act (1954), and laid the groundwork for subsequent human rights legislation in Ontario and across Canada.

Traditional Anglo-Canadian rights, such as freedom of association and freedom of commerce, had historically been interpreted to permit discrimination on grounds of race, colour or creed in providing services to the public.

The NUA inspired recognition of freedom from discrimination as a fundamental principle; this led to a revolutionary change to the course of Canadian law and Canadian history.

Hugh Burnett and the NUA were early pioneers in the articulation of equality rights for all Canadians, now constitutionally inscribed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The struggles of Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association contributed to the establishment of many of the freedoms we enjoy today, as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," said Minister of Tourism and Culture Michael Chan. "Not only were the lives of Ontario Blacks changed through these contributions, but all Ontarians can appreciate the impact of these hard-working and determined individuals."

The unveiling ceremony occurred at Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site as part of Emancipation Day celebrations.

The plaque will be located in downtown Dresden on the grounds of the Czech Hall.

The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Government of Ontario, dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario's heritage.

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