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Out of the Shadows: Event to Commemorate Kitty Foster and Canada Community

March 31, 2011 — A community of African-Americans who lived near the Grounds of the University of Virginia in the 19th and early 20th centuries will be remembered during "Celebrating Catherine Foster and the Canada Neighborhood" on April 8 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The celebration is to dedicate the small park at the Catherine Foster site at U.Va.'s South Lawn. Foster, known as "Kitty," was a free black woman who purchased the property in 1833. The site of the community, which became known as Canada, is believed to hold graves of adults and children, including Foster and her descendants.

Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention, said the celebration will honor Foster and her descendants and also recognize the many faculty members, students and community members who worked to tell the story of Canada, which had been long forgotten.

"We want to give thanks for and celebrate everyone who participated, while at the same time honoring and remembering the ancestors," she said. A number of Foster descendants are expected to attend from around the country.

The unmarked remains of a coffin were discovered during an excavation in 1993. Subsequent archaeological investigations located 31 more unmarked gravesites, evidence of a cemetery that served a 19th- and early 20th-century community of free blacks and whites.

In 1994 and 1995, graduate archaeology students led two summer field schools at the site. They located the cellar of what was presumed to be Kitty Foster's primary residence, which contained thousands of artifacts, including glass and pottery shards.

Further research led to the discovery that the community included a number of the artisans and laborers who built the original structures of the University. When there was no construction activity, residents turned entrepreneur, providing to faculty and students essential services such as laundering and apparel making.

After a period of investigation, discussion and public input, the remains of the unearthed coffin were carefully re-interred and left undisturbed. Most of the artifacts found on the home site have been cataloged and stored.

"The previously untold story of the daily lives and contributions of these Charlottesville residents has been brought out of the shadows by the hard work of many university faculty, students, administrators, and community members, as well as by Foster descendants," Fraser said.

As part of the planning for the University's $105 million South Lawn, care was taken to preserve the outline of Foster's home with a structure that casts its shadow, the location of the cemetery and some of the original cobblestones. The memorial was designed by landscape architects Walter Hood of Hood Design and Cheryl Barton of The Office of Cheryl Barton, working in conjunction with the South Lawn design team led by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners.

At the South Lawn dedication in September, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan, said, "By creating the Kitty Foster memorial site here at the South Lawn, the project architects have designed a place that pays tribute to the women and men who lived and worked here while promoting thought and discussion about University and Charlottesville history."

The gathering is sponsored by Fraser's office and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies. For information contact Barry Wilhelm at bcw5sd@virginia.edu or 804-432-3747.

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