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BREAKING THE ICE: The Mary Ann Shadd Story

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Canada has been enriched by the wisdom and vision of its immigrants, by a constant stream of new ideas and social thinkers. Filmmaker Sylvia Sweeney explores the remarkable contribution of Mary Ann Shadd, American Black abolitionist and educator. Shadd started the first integrated school in Canada and was the first female newspaper editor and first female black lawyer in North America. Mary Ann Shadd was an abolitionist, integrationist and suffragette. Born a free woman in 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware, she took on the fight for abolition and education for Blacks, and battled the segregationists in Upper Canada. Her most enduring legacy remains that of integration of free men and women who believe that the foundation of a community should be family and friends, not race or colour.

As a child, Mary's father's shoemaking store housed a portion of the underground railway. She encountered many frightened slaves fleeing to Canada. Moving to Windsor, Upper Canada in 1851, Shadd became a teacher and an activist in the abolitionist movement. She was catapulted into prominence by the passage of The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Slavery had been abolished in Canada since 1834, and Upper Canada was a refuge for this newly-free Black population. Shadd felt her people were ripe for the concept of integration.

Her insistence on integration was considered heretical. Both Whites and Blacks at the time believed in separate but equal status for their communities. Battling powerful opposition, Shadd set up her own private school which, for the first time, was open to all colours. She believed that every individual had an equal potential for success and that education, hard work and self-reliance were the keys to that equality. Mary Ann Shadd's model of tolerance paved the way for the Canadian mosaic.

One of Canada's most talented documentary filmmakers (In the Key of Oscar/Landed Series/ Finish Line), Sylvia Sweeney is the writer, director and driving force behind this inspiring portrait of Mary Ann Shadd.

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