Emancipation Day 2023

Presented by the TD Niagara Jazz Festival and supported by TD, Ontario Creates and the City of St. Catharines.

A FREE live stream event bursting with incredible Black artists from Niagara and beyond as well as featured speakers.

This event is available through the TD Niagara Jazz Festival’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Tuesday, August 1st from 9 am - 2 pm.



To watch our 2023 Emancipation Day presentation, CLICK HERE.


The Abolition of Slavery Act became law on August 1, 1834.

It was the end of a long struggle for the legal right to ban human slavery. In particular it ushered in the end of slavery throughout the British Empire, and people of African descent could finally celebrate a new found freedom in Canada.  It also meant the Underground Railroad became a lifeline for many freedom seekers following the North Star. Hundreds found their way to Canada, and to St. Catharines – thanks to the courage and resilience of Harriet Tubman and her many helpers.

In 1924 the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) initiated an ambitious picnic event – the reason was to celebrate freedom. And for the next fifty years the first Thursday of every August became known as the Emancipation Day Picnic. Sometimes known as “Maids Day Off” the Emancipation Day Picnic attracted  visitors from all over Ontario, and as far away as Virginia and Tennessee. It was a  day of family, friends, food, music, parades, singing and dancing.

The tradition was carried by local families for decades.

In the spirit of celebration, the TD Niagara Jazz Festival is proud to be a part of such an auspicious event, honouring Black History, and the tireless courage of so many ancestors.

Join TD Niagara Jazz Festival on Sunday August 1 with a day-long offering of music, spoken word, art, songs, Black History, and African wisdom.


Click on a performance below to see additional information. Schedule is subject to change.

Featured Artists


Alexis Baro was born into a musical family in Havana, Cuba. Classically trained, he took up the   trumpet at the age of age 8 and completed his musical education receiving a teaching certification at the prestigious Amadeo Roldán Music Conservatory in Havana.  

While in school he became a member of Buena Vista Social Club superstar singer Omara Portuondo’s band and at the age of 19 played lead trumpet for the National Radio and Television Orchestra.

After moving to Canada in 2001 he was discovered in Toronto by iconic Canadian jazz drummer Archie Alleyne where he flourished as a writer and performer for eight years as a member of the Canadian award winning & “hard-bop” band Kollage. As a band member and contributor, he was nominated for “Best Jazz Trumpeter” by the Canadian National Jazz Awards in the years 2006, 2007, and 2008. Full bio HERE.  



Lorraine Klaasen, the daughter of legendary South  African Jazz singer Thandie Klaasen, is one of the few South African artists who have preserved the classic sound of Township Music, which continues to be the most distinctive sound to come out of South Africa. Born and raised in Soweto, and now based in London, Ontario, Lorraine has electrified audiences worldwide with her dynamic stage presence and showmanship. Lorraine’s life on the road continues with performances in South Africa, the United States, Barbados and at festivals in Ontario and Quebec.


Neil Brathwaite Group is led by saxophonist Neil “Bee” Brathwaite. He has performed and recorded in various musical genres including R&B, Jazz, Blues, Reggae, Country, Rock and World
Music. Amongst the artists that he has worked with include George Clinton, Danilo Perez, Wynton Marsalis, Salome Bey, Deborah Cox, Molly Johnson, Slim Gaillard, Kelis, Leroy Sibbles, Jacksoul, Jully Black, Johnny Reid, The Philosopher Kings, The Headstones, The Dream Warriors and Eddie Bullen. “Bee Thankful’ is the title of Neil Brathwaite Group’s debut album released in spring 2022. The music touches on a wide range of compositional influences from the mind of the leader Neil Brathwaite. The history of this group dates to their many years playing together as the regular Monday night house band for a soul food/Caribbean restaurant in downtown Toronto called Harlem Underground. Unfortunately, in 2019 the restaurant closed its doors but the vibes that echoed through those walls every Monday night are still alive and captured on “Bee Thankful”.


Tamiya Cox is a grade 10 honor roll student at Stamford Collegiate in Niagara Falls.  She is an active member of her school community and performs the national anthem at all of Stamford’s home football games. She is also a member of the choir and production club. She has recently taken on a large role in Stamford’s next musical theatre production as both a cast member and sole choreographer. Tamiya’s passions are singing and dancing.  She is a competitive dancer with Foundations Dance Company and has trained under her vocal coach Tenja Hagenberg of Performance on Point for the past 4 years. Tamiya was the 2021 & 2022 winner of the Jazz 4 the Ages youth competition in the 13-17 age division.


Crystal D’Cunha is highly respected as a Leader in the Customer Experience Industry for her unique approach to Employee Experience(EX) and Customer Experience(CX) Design.

As The INSIDE View’s Chief Experience Officer, Crystal D’Cunha is an award-winning CX Professional, Certified International Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, and a proud Football Mom! She is also a Certified Leadership Coach (CLC), and Certified by the Tony Robbins Institute, the John Maxwell Leadership Academy, the Jack Canfield Success Principles Partnership and a Disney Institute Graduate; designations held by less than ten percent of CX Professionals.

Her career expands over 20 years of success in several industries including Retail, Construction, Not-for Profit and Hospitality. Crystal attended York University and Brock University, and graduated with a PhD in people skills! Full bio HERE.


Wade Pfaff, PhD candidate York U/ TMU, MA Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University, 2020. Wade Pfaff was a diverse artist and academic with a background in community work and immersive anthropological fieldwork in Black history and jazz in Nova Scotia and Ontario. A thirty-five-year veteran on guitar bass, and drums, Wade spent his youth as a disco, ballroom, and breakdance performer and instructor, and had recently joined A Black Peoples History of Canada project, a Heritage Canada-funded research group that will draft public school curriculums and learning materials on Canadian Black history to be implemented in schools across the nation over the next two years. In his recent PhD in Communications and Culture at York University and Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) he collaborated with other groups, like the Digital Humanities Dept. at Brock University, on creating digital multimedia platforms to teach history. Wade continued to conduct ethnographic interviews for A Black Peoples History of Canada project, the Niagara Jazz Festival, and his own doctoral research on the migration of Black music forms throughout North America and countries around the Atlantic Ocean during the first half of the twentieth century. Wade, unfortunately, passed away on June 9th, 2023. He will be missed by all of us here at the TD Niagara Jazz Festival.

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