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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Four local historians honoured with Community Heritage Preservation Award

- Elise Harding-Davis, Chris Carter, Perry Basden, and the late Bill Gay recognized -

by Sylene Argent

On Tuesday evening, before business of the regular Council meeting began, staff members and Council reps took a moment to recognize four local individuals, who have volunteered countless hours to help celebrate and protect the community’s rich heritage.

  Each of these individuals – Elise Harding-Davis, Chris Carter, Perry Basden, and the late Bill Gay - were recognized virtually, and will be presented with a Community Heritage Conservation Award as part of the Town of Essex’s Heritage Week activities.

  This is the third year the Town and its Essex Municipal Heritage Committee has presented the awards as a way to, “raise awareness of the importance of heritage preservation to our social and economical development,” Mayor Larry Snively said, who added recognizing these individuals amplifies what it means to celebrate the community’s past.

  He thanked the four honourees for the service they provide to the Town of Essex. “You all work hard. It is great for our community,” Snively said.

  Essex’s Planning Manager and liaison for the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee, Rita Jabbour, introduced the honourees.

  Perry Basden was nominated by a member of public for his interest in the Town’s collective history and as the founding leader of the newly formed group, “Colchester Essex,” which is dedicated to protecting the heritage aspects of the Village of Colchester.

  “Mr. Basden is recognized in the community as a trusted advocate for conservation of the community’s heritage assets,” Jabbour said.

  Basden thanked the members of the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee, Town staff, and anyone involved in his nomination.

  Chris Carter is a local historian and author of several books that provide details regarding the history of past villages and settlements within the Town of Essex.

  “Without Chris’s works, the history of these places would be largely unknown and untold, since a vast majority have fallen into decline with changing social and economical conditions,” Jabbour commented.

  Elise Harding-Davis, an African-Canadian Heritage Consultant is, “One of the foremost authorities on African-Canadian history and events connected to the development and progress of North America. Her unique perception reveals the early presence of African-origin pioneers and freedom-fighters in British Canada, revealing the invaluable roles of the black thread in the Canadian Tapestry,” Jabbour added.

  Harding-Davis had written several articles and books on black cemeteries and history, including, “The Colours of Essex County,” which focuses on 13 African-Canadian cemeteries in the region

  The local author was honoured to be selected for the award, which was especially meaningful to her as it came from her own community. She said protecting and preserving African-Canadian heritage is her passion.

  She also applauded the effort of fellow award recipients. “Many people don’t understand what it is to be driven to do something from a passionate stance,” she said.

  In addition, Harding-Davis presented a copy of her book to the Town of Essex, so it can be stored in its library.

  The fourth recipient was the late Bill Gay, who was passionate about local history and willing to share his knowledge with residents and visitors as an employee of Heritage Essex, which maintains the historic Essex Railway Station.

  “Those who knew Bill know he had a passion for our local history, and especially in respects to the railway,” Jabbour said. “Like the railway, Bill invoked progress by sharing his endless wealth of knowledge with anyone who walked through the doors of the Essex Train Station, including myself.”

  The Trains Station was a place Gay devoted a lot of time and effort, and was instrumental in raising funds for its restoration years ago.

  Gay passed away earlier this year, so his wife, Marlene Markham-Gay, accepted the award on his behalf.  

  The award, “Would have made Bill very pleased to received it,” Markham-Gay said, adding she hoped the award could be displayed at the Essex Railway Station.

  Several Council members thanked the recipients for all their hard work, and noted their dedication is inspiring and important to the community.

  “It just shows how rich we are in our volunteers in our communities, who come forward and give us such a great boost in their talents and to keep in focus of what has gone in the past and how it affects our future,” Councillor Morley Bowman said. “A big ‘thank you’ to all these people for being committed to their communities and making us a richer community for their presence.”

  Members of the Municipal Heritage Committee accepted nominations from the community for the Heritage Preservation Awards. They received four applications, and were happy to appoint all nominees as honourable recipients during their January meeting.

  “They are all deserving,” Laurie Brett said, who is the Chairperson of the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee during that January meeting. “I think four nominees is incredible.”

In conjunction with presenting the Community Heritage Awards as part of Heritage Week, the Town of Essex also arranged for Harding-Davis and Carter to each host historically-minded talks that were presented through the Town of Essex’s digital outlets last week. These presentations are also featured in this edition of the Essex Free Press.

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