WATERLOO -- An online forum documenting the rich history of Waterloo Region’s Black community has partnered with the University of Waterloo Art Gallery to go on display in a safe and unique way.

Vintage Black Canada is an archive on Instagram that was started by Aaron Francis in 2019 as an homage to his late grandfather Roy Francis.

The account documents the Canadian-Caribbean roots of the Francis family, along with the stories of other Black families in the region, dating back to the 1960’s.

The photos are now on display at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery.

“I never imagined this would happen, although I knew we would expand beyond the Instagram page,” said Francis. “Being in a public space, accessible to the public, especially in this day because of COVID-19, but also because of the discussion on race.

“From photos in a box tucked away somewhere and now on the walls of galleries, for me the sky’s the limit.”

The window display titled “Tamarack Drive” is a series of six photos from 1969 of the Tamarack Drive neighbourhood where the Francis family first called home. Other iconic Ontario landmarks are also on display.

“Classic summer in Ontario, Niagara Falls, the Canadian Nation Exhibition,” said Ivan Jurakic, director of the art gallery. “It’s like, that was my summer experience too, right?”

Francis hopes that anybody walking by who looks at the installation can see a piece of their own history in each of the pictures as well as recognize the deep roots of the Black community in Waterloo Region.

Angel Francis, Aaron’s mother and the little girl in the photos, says they faced a great deal of racism when they came from Jamaica in 1965, but remained resilient thanks to a strong foundation.

“Melanated people have been here for a very long time,” she said. “They’ve enjoyed a very prosperous and happy life in the midst of a lot of racism.

“It’s very important to see the joy and the love that Black people, melanated people had, have, and will continue to have.”

Francis is also set to take part in an upcoming collaboration with a Toronto art gallery.