Author Archives: jharris124

In Toronto? A Workshop with Dr. Lai-Tze Fan

Lai-Tze Fan workshop
Are you in the Toronto area and missing UWaterloo? Here’s the event for you, featuring UWaterloo English faculty member Dr. Lai-Tze Fan: Digital Storytelling: Twine Workshop, Lightning Lunch and Keynote. March 2, 2020, 10-3pm, MN 3230 (University of Toronto, Mississauga). RSVP You can follow Dr. Fan on Twitter.

Alumna Kristin Larion on Why Waterloo

Kristin Larion

Alumna Kristin Larion has great memories of UWaterloo English. Find out how she ended up here, and which professors were her favorites! Thanks to Kristin for participating in Words in Place! –JLH

JLH: Many of us remember that process of choosing universities–there were so many factors at play! What made you select UWaterloo?
KL: Oh yes; I remember so clearly flipping through all the university booklets and reading through all the options. I always had Waterloo in mind, because I liked the Arts program and knew the path I wanted to take to reach my career goals. I came for a tour of the campus with my mom when I was in high school, and I just fell in love with it. I loved the layout of the campus and how close the Arts buildings were. I just felt safe and comfortable with both the school and the city. It can be a scary experience leaving home for the first time, but once I got home from the tour, I knew that Waterloo was my #1 choice and I never looked back.

JLH: Can you tell us a bit about how you decided what stream you wanted to pursue in English? Were there classes or professors that influenced your direction?
KL: Leaving high school, I actually wanted to pursue a major in Sociology. I loved my high school Soc classes and knew that it would help me out on my path to becoming an elementary teacher. But I took a few English courses in first year and absolutely loved them so much. I declared English Literature my major after my first year and just invested myself into as many courses as I could in this field. Katherine Acheson and Kate Lawson were two professors whose courses I took a few times. Their passion and love for all things Literature were inspiring and I looked forward to their classes every day. I actually still read some of the books I read in their classes, 15 years after graduating from UW!

JLH: Our degrees often shape us in ways we don’t anticipate–are there things you find yourself drawing on that surprise you? Or does it just feel organic?
KL: I did not see myself majoring in English, as I previously stated, but it just felt “right.” I don’t know how else to explain it. I think part of it is that these courses, professors and curriculum taught me that there are so many ways of looking at things; English Lit is not black and white, and neither is the world. We would have class discussions/ debates on various stories or books, and these made me appreciate the thoughts or opinions of others in ways that I never thought of before. Sometimes you have to look at the world through other people’s eyes to really understand.

JLH: Was it a clear line from your degree to where you are now professionally?
KL: Oh yes, most definitely. From a young age, I only ever wanted to be a teacher. I knew I wanted to teach Elementary, so some might think that my English Lit degree doesn’t come in handy when teaching young children, but I argue that immensely. My experiences, classes and time at Waterloo shaped me into the person and teacher that I am today. I have no regrets and I’m so thankful for the experiences and life that UW built for me.

JLH: Finally, because book questions are always popular, what books have you been enjoying recently?
KL: You mean besides books written for grade 5 students?? I love anything written by Jodi Picoult. The Silent Patient was a wild read, and Educated by Tara Westover. Plus, re-reading those favourite university books when I’m not marking math tests or stories written by 10-year olds 🙂

Local Black History: Meet Major Harding

Queen's Bush Marker
As part of Black History Month, Words in Place is publishing profiles of forgotten figures from local Black History. Today’s subject is Major Harding, another resident of the Queen’s Bush settlement.

Before arriving in Queen’s Bush, the life of Major Harding was hardly uneventful. Born in Virginia, he resided in Nashville, Tennessee, the property of William Harding, a member of the largest slave-holding family in Nashville. The Hardings had arrived in Nashville from Virginia in the early nineteenth century, and were somewhat unusual, refusing to employ overseers and managing their lands themselves. For whatever reason, Major Jones, as he was then known, was allowed to purchase himself from the Harding family in 1833:

David Harding, Davidson County, to Tennessee Assembly, 1833

To the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee now in Session

The Petition of David Morris Harding a citizen of the county of Davidson & State aforsaid

Represents to your Honorable body that he is at this time in possession of a certain negro man named Major who was formerly the property of the late William Harding the Brother of your Petitioner—that his said Brother in his lifetime had designed and intended to emancipate slave Major in consequences of his long and faithful services—but that his intentions were frustrated by the death of his said Brother who died suddenly and without having made a Will—After his death, in making distribution of his property said slave was distributed to the Wife of my said Brother, and she being willing that said slave might be enabled to obtain his freedom as his master had intended agreed that as he had been valued to her at the sum of Four Hundred Dollars your Petitioner, might take him at that price, with a view to secure him his freedom—Your Petitioner states to your honorable honot that the said slave has paid to him the said sum of Four Hundred Dollars, and he is now desirous that he may be emancipated, and he represents that said Slave Major, is about Thirty five years old, that he has been a most valuable and faithful slave, that he is strictly honest, sober, and industrious, and in fact a man of uncommonly good character for a man of his color, and your petitioner entertains no doubt that if emancipated he will make, an orderly and respectable Citizen, wherefore he prays your Honorable Body to pass an act emancipating said slave Major and as in duty bound he will ever pray &c.

David M. Harding
September 27th, 1833

Somehow, it feels like we have only half the story. Clearly William Harding’s wife was not willing to fulfill her husband’s promise. Nor was David Harding bound to do so, yet he appears to have invested significant time and effort in securing Major’s freedom. Like most who held legal title to those enslaved, the Hardings protected their investments: African American fugitive Henry Thomas recounted an uncomfortable meeting in the 1830s with another Harding brother, William Giles Harding, who had travelled all the way from Nashville to Buffalo hoping to recapture a fugitive from slavery. Freeing a productive worker such as Major constituted a financial loss. Moreover, $400 was less than a trusted individual such as Major Jones would have been valued at on the Tennessee market, where the base was probably closer to $600.

So what made Major exceptional? After all, many enslaved people were capable of earning the money necessary to secure their purchase; few were allowed the time to do so. Like an estimated 10% of those Harding enslaved, Major was classified as “mulatto.” But William Harding was not Major’s father, as they were of an age. (This does not, of course, discount the possibility of fraternal relations.) Ultimately, unless more research in the extensive Harding archives turns up an answer, we will never know.

How Major raised the money is another issue: he may have borrowed it, he may have made an arrangement with William. This would have been made more difficult by the fact that Major was supporting his free family. By his own account, he was married in 1820 to a free woman, Maria. Maria’s free status would ensure their children were born free, as status was conveyed through the mother. The 1840 Census of Nashville for Major Jones accords with the children Major Harding would bring to Canada (though there may have been a son, also named Major Jones, who remained in the US and was enumerated in the 1870 Census).

Some time following the birth of Rachel in Nashville around 1844, Major and his family relocated north, where in 1847 he and his son Robert appear on the Queen’s Bush petition under the name Harding. His son Robert later dated the relocation to 1850, raising the possibility they lived between Canada and the United States. There are a number of reasons the family may have taken the name Harding: it may have signaled their connection to Nashville to family and friends seeking them; it might have been a matter of gratitude; it might have been a matter of a legitimate claim to the patronymic. Ultimately, we will never know. But is under this name—occasionally misspelled—that they are recorded in the Queen’s Bush, and later in Kent County.

In all probability Harding did not arrive with savings, having used his earnings to purchase or pay off his freedom and support his family. Harding was clearly an ambitious and strategic man, bringing his son Robert with him to secure additional land. His story demonstrates how difficult it might be for men with families to establish themselves when deprived of resources. Unlike others, his family remained in Canada following the U. S. Civil War. Daughter Martha married Thomas Parks in 1864; N. Harding (possibly Nelson) may have married a woman named Jane; Robert Harding married first Cecilia Zebbs and then Elizabeth Travis; Rachel Harding married William Palmer in 1865.

Sources consulted
Census of Canada (1851, 1861, 1911); United States Census (1840, 1870);  Linda Brown-Kubisch, The Queen’s Bush Settlement: Black Pioneers, 1839-1865 (2004); Ridley Wills, II, The History of Belle Meade Mansion, Plantation and Stud (1991); Loren Schweninger, ed. The Southern Debate Over Slavery: Petitions to Southern legislatures, 1778-1864 (2001); Dan Walker et. al. The Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West (1995).

Author: Dr. Jennifer Harris, Department of English Language and Literature
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You’re Invited: A Book Launch

Book Launch

On February 29th, 2-4pm there will be a book launch for Dr. Lamees Al Ethari‘s memoir, Waiting for the Rain. The location is the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (1001 Queen St North, Kitchener). Please RSVP by February 21st to

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

Award-winning Haudenosaunee author Alicia Elliott is next up in the St. Jerome’s Reading Series, Wednesday, March 4th, 3:30pm, SJ2 1002 (the new Academic Centre at St. Jerome’s, on UWaterloo campus).

Elliott is the author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, named one of the best books of 2019 by CBC, Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire, and more. Described as “an urgent and visceral work” A Mind Spread Out on the Ground was also chosen by Tanya Talaga as the recipient for the 2018 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award, and shortlisted for the 2019 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize.


Local Black History: Thomas Elwood Knox

KnoxAs part of Black History Month, Words in Place is publishing profiles of forgotten figures from local Black History. Today’s profile is of Thomas Elwood Knox, a nineteenth-century settler in what was known as the Queen’s Bush settlement.

The story of Thomas Elwood Knox demonstrates that not all black settlers of the Queen’s Bush had been enslaved. By his own account, Knox was born free in eastern Pennsylvania, but relocated to the Pittsburgh area, probably in the mid-1830s. As he recounts,

“I should not have left the States only that I was not treated with respect. I would go to market with provisions off a farm I rented in New Brighton. When I got into Pittsburg, other farmers would drive in with their teams into the tavern yard, and get their breakfasts and go and sell out, before I could get any thing to eat: so that by the time I would get to market, the best of it would be over. The same thing would run through all the conduct of the whites. In the place where I went, they were opposed to my coming,—but after four years they were grieved to have me come away. But I could not stand it, and left for Canada.”

Knox’s personal treatment was matched at the state level. In 1838 Pennsylvania passed a measure which restricted the franchise to white men. (A Thomas Knox of Arthursville, an area of Pittsburgh, was one of the African American men selected by the community to protest the resolution.) No doubt many feared what other offenses the disenfranchisement of blacks might foreshadow. By contrast, Knox found Ontario almost idyllic following his arrival around 1844: “All are equal here: I have been about here a great deal, but have seen no prejudice at all.” While contemporary accounts do record incidents of prejudice, it is notable that Knox implies they were anomalous.

While Knox did not mention his family in his account, it is possible to begin to flesh out his world. Notably, it seems unlikely that Knox came to Canada alone. Rather, it seems that he came as part of a family unit of Pennsylvania-born African American Quakers. While he notes of the settlement in 1855, “I know of but one, free-born, from Pennsylvania, and that is myself,” it appears he was not counting his family, most of whom had by then settled elsewhere. Four other Pennsylvania-born black Quakers by the name of Knox also resided in Ontario: Charles Knox, who was a resident of Queen’s Bush in 1851, apparently in Thomas’s household; Harmon Knox, a shoemaker who settled in Hamilton, and Mary Ann Knox, who married another Queen’s Bush settler. All four were born within a few years of each other, suggesting they may have been a sibling group. Moreover, Harmon’s son William carried a version of Elwood as his the middle name; Thomas Elwood named one of his daughters Mary Ann; Charles witnessed Mary Ann’s 1847 marriage to Jacob F. Stewart.

Thomas Elwood Knox was understandably proud of what he had achieved in the Queen’s Bush settlement:

“When I came here it was a complete wilderness: I took hold and cleared a farm. I would rather have remained in my native country, among my friends, could I have had such treatment as I felt that I deserved. But that was not to be, and I came into the wilderness.”

Yet the back-breaking labor involved in settling the bush did not necessarily translate into prosperity; he was recorded as being late with a loan repayment. Still, Knox evidently had the respect of others; he was described by a British-born Methodist minister as “colored and responsible.” This is in contrast to Charles Knox, described as “colored & poor. Shiftless.” Harmon preferred to ply his trade as a shoemaker in an urban environment, rather than endure the risks of the bush. In other words, proximity to family did not trump economic opportunity or security.

Queen’s Bush expert Linda Brown-Kubisch treats Thomas E. Knox and Elwood Knox as separate people; Benjamin Drew, who interviewed him, refers to him as “Thomas L. Wood Knox.” Knox married Ruth Kinnear Travis, also of Pennsylvania, and they had at least four children born in Canada: John, Mary Ann, Ruth, and Jacob.

With the close of the United States Civil War (1861-1865) Thomas Elwood Knox, like so many others, returned to the United States, living in Michigan.  Harmon did as well, settling in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, where he was active in the founding of the AME church. Mary Ann Knox Stewart remained in the Queen’s Bush area, and is buried in the Peel Township BME Cemetery. Of the four, she was the only one to remain a Quaker.

What Knox and his family show us is that for many Canada was not simply a refuge. Some people came not just as fugitives from slavery, but with the hope of making this nation a home and accessing comparatively better economic, social, and political conditions. However, when those opportunities were not realized they again moved on in search of something better.

Sources consulted
Census of Canada (1851, 1861, 1871); United States Census (1840, 1881, 1901); Hutchinson’s Hamilton City Directory, 1862-1863; Sutherland and Co’s Hamilton City Directory, 1866; Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, City Directory, 1888; “Congratulations to Hollidaysburg On Their 100th Anniversary.” Altoona Mirror Newspaper 8 Aug. 1936; Benjamin Drew, The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada (1856); Linda Brown-Kubisch, The Queen’s Bush Settlement: Black Pioneers, 1839-1865 (2004); Eric Ledell Smith, “The End of Black Voting Rights in Pennsylvania: African Americans and the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1837-1838.” Pennsylvania History 65. 3, 1998.

Author: Dr. Jennifer Harris, Department of English Language and Literature
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Medieval vernacular psalters: A talk

Enjoy cheese and pastries, relaxed conversation, and a discussion of medieval vernacular psalters! Tuesday, 11 February 2020, is the second lecture in the 2019-2020 Medieval Studies Lecture Series. Join us as Dr. Jane Toswell, Professor of English at the University of Western Ontario, will be discussing “The Twelfth-Century Vernacular Psalter in England.” There will be light refreshments and lively discussion before the talk.

Among the concluding thoughts in Annie Sutherland’s 2015 book on the vernacular psalm culture of late medieval England is the statement that further work is necessary “in tracing possible connections between Old and Middle English translations of the psalms.” In this paper, she will begin this work by surveying the copies of the vernacular psalms that were available in the twelfth century in England, manuscripts such as the Eadwine Psalter, the Paris Psalter, the Salisbury Psalter and the Vitellius Psalter.  She will also introduce and make some preliminary comments on the Anglo-Norman vernacular psalters that suddenly developed at this point in England.


The reception begins at 4:30pm in SJ2, and the talk will follow in SJ2-2002.


The talk is co-sponsored by Medieval Studies at St. Jerome’s University / University of Waterloo, and the Department of English at St Jerome’s University.