Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Canada’s first African American female editor

“I have broken the editorial ice.”

This famous quote was spoken by the first Canadian African American female editor, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, in 1853 when she started her anti-slavery newspaper, Provincial Freeman.

The Mackenzie House (82 Bond St.) featured Shadd throughout the month of February for black history month, allowing kids and families to print their own copy of her newspaper as part of the historical tour. A presentation is also offered year-round to school groups on Shadd’s life.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Courtesey of National Archives of Canada
Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Courtesey of National Archives of Canada

Shadd was born into an activist family in Wilmington, Delaware that helped run the Underground Railroad. They moved to Windsor, Ont. in 1850 after the Fugitive Slave Law — which ordered all slaves returned to their masters and charged those who helped slaves run away — was passed. She opened the first racially-integrated school in Windsor and also created educational booklets about why African Americans should move to Canada for a better life.

Public Officer at the Mackenzie House, Danielle Urquhart said, “Mary Ann had attended a conference in 1851 at St. Lawrence Hall. She was impressed by Toronto. She felt it wasn’t as racist and it never had segregated communities. Toronto was also not a border town where you might be caught by slave catchers which made it safer.”

Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House
Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House

In 1853, Shadd founded the Provincial Freeman, Canada’s first anti-slavery newspaper and the first newspaper to be run by an African American woman in North America. The byline of the newspaper was “Devoted to antislavery, temperence, and general literature” and she advocated all three topics passionately. The newspaper was a daily digest, which included interest articles, poems, and tips on how to acculturate oneself to the Canadian lifestyle and weather. “She also connected family members because people became separated when they were traveling on the underground railway. You could run an ad and find your family once you arrived,” said Urquhart.

When Shadd first released the newspaper, she changed her name to M.A Shadd because she anticipated she would be met with resistance as a female editor. “She received death threats,” said Urquhart. “For her personal safety, she brought a friend named S.R Ward to act as a figurehead, but she kept publishing. She remained the editor and when things calmed down, she resumed her public role as the sole publisher.”

Urquhart explains that Shadd was not only facing racism as an editor of a newspaper, but also received judgement as a woman in a leadership role in the mid 1800’s. Shadd did not back down to though.

In 1856, Shadd married a Toronto barber named Thomas Cary. They had a very progressive relationship and he took on most of the familial duties so that Shadd could follow her dreams. “He would be at home with the kids while she went on lecture tours,” said Urquhart. While Shadd was on lecture tours her sister, Amelia Cisco Shadd, who was also a part of the antislavery movement, ran the newspaper.

Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House
Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House

William Lyon Mackenzie, the namesake of the house, was also a publisher at the same time as Sadd and advocated for social justice.“They were publishing at the same time and we were equipped to do this with a printing press and she lived in this neighbourhood. We wanted to figure out a way to interpret black history and she was a great choice,” said Urquhart.

Sadd was an intelligent and brave woman who was unwilling to compromise herself despite obstacles of race and gender. She became a teacher, a journalist, and went on to get a law degree at age 60. Shadd is a heroine to all women trying to make a difference in this world. She also paved the way for future female African American journalists, as exemplified in when she proclaimed courageously: “Shake off your shackles and come to Canada.”

The journey of the tarot

When people think of a tarot reading, it often conjures up an image of a gypsy in colourful garb, laying out cards with gnarled hands, telling a future of forbidding elements.

In actuality, tarot has a complex and meaningful history, and can be a helpful means to gaining personal insight into the unconscious mind. Tarot is divided into two categories; the Major Arcana, which consists of 22 cards, and the Minor Arcana, which has 56 cards, creating a full set of 78 cards.

History of the tarot

The first tarot card decks can be traced as far back as the sixth century B.C in Persia. According to a study written by Helen Farley, a lecturer in Studies in Religion and Estoricism at the University of Queenland, tarot was “incorporated into Islamic heraldry and also among those Shi’ah Muslims that came to be known as Sufis.” Farley explains that Arifi of Heart, a fifteenth century Sufi poet, described the practice of tarot in his poetry, even so far as passionately exclaiming: “He knows about it all – He knows – HE knows!”.

Tarot cards steadily made their way north into Europe through trade routes and were popularized in Italy in the fifteenth century. The earliest well-known tarot deck from this era is called the Visconti-Sforza and was created for Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan in 1450. The 22 Major Arcana was created at this time and, with slight variations, has subsisted throughout the ages.

In the eighteenth century, France experienced the French Occult Revival due to increasing doubt in standard Christian practices. Interestingly, most tarot decks have elements of Christian mysticism. The tarot de Marseilles was created by Pierre Madenie of Dihon in 1709 and became immensely popular in France.

In 1909, A.E Waite and Pamela Colman Smith created the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck in Britain, arguably the most significant deck of tarot cards in the world today. Both were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a popular Christian cult at the time. Many of their decks are used worldwide today, but the number of Major and Minor arcana remain consistent across geographical boundaries.

The true meaning of tarot

Tarot is often mislabeled as a hoax because it is misused as a way of telling the future. Tarot is not a tool of foretelling what is to come, but is instead a method of understanding the unconscious realities of the present moment.

Psychologist, film maker and artist, Alejandro Jodorowsky is the creator of a modern doctrine called psychomagic that helps people use creative methods to access their subconscious mind as a source of healing. Tarot is an essential part of psychomagic, because it allows people to understand themselves and their present lives through the context of esoteric symbols.

“You must not talk about the future, the future is a con,” Jodorowsky says in one of his films. “The tarot is a language that talks about the present. If you use it to read the future, you become a conman”.

Edusemiotics is the intersection of educational philosophy and the science of signs. Tarot is a popular example of edusemiotics because it uses an encyclopedia of symbols to understand life. It is an objective method of discovering your subconscious because the cards within the deck are universal; however, the unique combination of cards create an individual subjective experience.

Arcana is a derivative of “Arcane meaning “mysterious or secret, understood by few” and compliments the major and minor arcana in the tarot. The cards collectively help people to understand their lives in context, but the symbols in the cards are often rejected because of their multiplicity in meaning.

“The symbolic journey through Arcana includes multiple life-lessons that need to be learned so that the traveler – a learner – can achieve individuation,” writes Inna Semetsky, author of The Edusemiotics of Images Essays on the Art-Science of Tarot.  “The images denote archetypes of the universal memory pool shared by humankind, their messages would have the same significance cross-culturally, at different times and in different places.”

The major arcana begins with the Fool, a childlike figure who naively ventures into the world. The deck concludes with the World as the final card. Each of the elements in-between are characteristics of life itself, ranging from Strength, to the Lovers, to Temperance, and Justice. We all collectively experience the same emotions, challenges, and trials, though they present themselves in different forms. Tarot allows our stories to be told and shared with ourselves. Even more so, it allows people to collectively see their experiences as communal, while understanding the personalized elements that arises from the card they face in that moment. Ultimately, tarot is a map of human experience, standing the test of time.

“When the Fool spontaneously “decides” to jump into the abyss, he is bound to create novelty and become the other by virtue of embodied experiences,” Semetsky says. “Where the human mind comes in contact with the world … When the new is created, the far and strange become the most natural inevitable things in the world.”