Old Durham Road Pioneers

Black History display featured at Museum

Black history is out of the drawer and into the cabinet at the South Grey Museum. Previously displayed in an artifact drawer at the site, the story of the earliest settlers to the area is now on show for all to see at the Flesherton facility.

"Early Black settlers, generally thought to be escaped slaves from the United States, pre-dated the later Scottish and Irish immigrations to the area," said Curator Kate Russell. "They were second only to the aboriginal community is living in this area and deserve our respect and admiration for their perseverence into what was then the dense woodland of the Queen's Bush."

Naomi Norquay,  Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, York University, undertook the research for this exhibit. Along with her research assistant, Melanie Schizas, she provided stories about the four settlers whose names appear on the four remaining headstones from the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery. The exhibit also features large colour photos of the headstones (taken by Rob Norquay) remaining from the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery - an early burial ground for the nearby settlement. The display also features information about the early Old Durham Road school and details on the dedication of the site in 1990 by then Lt. Governor Lincoln Alexander.

"We appreciate the work of community-minded volunteers on this project," said Russell, who added the museum has partnered with the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery Committee on an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to build a new display pavilion for the cemetery.

An art installation inspired by the early Black settlers was on display at the museum earlier this year. It was the Masters of Fine Art thesis project of Martha Griffith. It featured ceramic plates styled after early flatware shards found on Black settler property. The artist donated a piece of the installation for the permanent display at the museum.

"This project has really enlivened the museum's mission, which was recently updated to include a statement 'to encourage interest and future creative interpretation of history in the South Grey community' so we think we are going in the right direction," said Russell.  

Pioneer cemetery committee dedicates new headstone display pavilion

Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell was on hand Sunday, September 20, 2015 as the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery committee celebrated 25 years since the dedication of the historic burial ground and unveiled a new headstone display pavilion at the site.

“Sites like this help us all to know ourselves better,” said Ms. Dowdeswell at the event. “There are important lessons to be learned from our past.”

The Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery dates to circa 1849, when the Old Durham Road was first surveyed and the original Black settlers received land grants along the road. The early settlement had welcomed over 100 Black settlers and their families by the 1861 census. A church was built to serve the community but was lost decades ago. A schoolhouse for the settlement still exists on the road as a private residence.

“Little did the politicians of the day know, 25 years ago, that this site would be so well preserved and maintained by the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery Committee,” said Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen in his welcome to the over 150 people gathered for the occasion. “Their commitment to this site has nurtured this good soil, where their ancestors rest, to grow the awareness of this relevant chapter of our local history. We certainly hope this new pavilion will inspire people for years to come to learn more about our history and, in doing so, inform our future.”

The pavilion will house the last four headstones found in a rock pile north of the site in 1990, when descendants were looking over the area in preparation for then Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander’s dedication of the early Black settler burial site. He unveiled the memorial stone there and the four stones were placed in a display, which had deteriorated in recent years. All the other stones from the cemetery disappeared in the 1930s when the site was ploughed under for a potato field.

“We look forward but we must always be cognisant of what came before us” said Donna Atkinson, a representative of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. She offered that the grant review team was very excited about the project and she was happy to be on hand for its unveiling. “This will help us all make sure we remember.”

The event on Sunday commemorated the early settlers – many of whom were former slaves who found their way to Artemesia to clear and eke out a meagre life on lands granted from the crown. The new pavilion ensures the continued preservation of the headstones and opens up more opportunity to celebrate the early history of southern Grey County.

Ms. Dowdeswell and Atkinson, congratulated the volunteer committee on successfully completing the project in partnership with the municipal South Grey Museum and many professionals who generously donated their time and efforts to the project.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and recognize those who walked this land and built community in very tough times,” said Ontario’s former Fairness Commissioner Jean Augustine. “Efforts like this will be an example to other communities.”

Carolynn Wilson, Curator of the Sheffield Black History Museum in Clarksburg and a descendant of early settlers on the Old Durham Road was the keynote speaker for the event. She recalled the early efforts of the cemetery committee, especially the late Les MacKinnon, whose family was in attendance, who were instrumental in having the Black settler burial ground reclaimed and dedicated in 1990.

Various people were thanked at the event, including pavilion designer and architect Dan McNeil, who was instrumental in the concept, planning and coordination of the project. He was assisted by engineer John Silvestri who signed off on the structural drawings and archaeologist Dr. Dean Knight, who was present at the dig for the foundations to ensure no graves were disturbed by the project. Ground-penetrating radar identified the best placement for the pavilion and local contractor Lorne Grierson of GBL Construction built the structure with concrete supplied by Fleshcon.

The new permanent pavilion was financed by a $38,000 grant from OTF to help the pioneer cemetery committee continue to preserve the cemetery and the last remaining headstones and to raise awareness of early Black settlers in the area. Various early settler descendants and interested volunteers support the committee’s efforts on the municipal property. Grey Highlands supported the project through in-kind site preparation work and coordination of the various departments involved.

“The generous grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation was a real boost,” said ODRPCC president, Naomi Norquay. “The new pavilion has provided the incentive to do more research and gain new insights into this historic settlement. We hope it will make the site more enticing and inviting to interested individuals and groups.”

Norquay owns property settled by early Black pioneer Edward “Ned” Patterson. As an associate professor in York University’s education department, she has led interpretive tours of the area, assisted in developing informative brochures on finding Black history in the county and also aids in editing Northern Terminus – The African Canadian History Journal published annually by Grey Roots.

Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery receives grant for display pavilion

The last remaining gravestones at the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery on County Road 14 near Priceville will get a permanent home and conservation display thanks to a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) announced recently.

The Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery Committee (ODRPCC) partnered with the Grey Highlands municipal South Grey Museum in Flesherton. The application to the provincial foundation was successful in obtaining $38,000 for the project.

“We are delighted to work with the museum on this project,” said ODRPCC president Naomi Norquay. “The history of the area’s Black pioneers is becoming better known through exhibits at the museum. This new display pavilion at the cemetery where many early Black settlers were buried will further enhance public engagement with this important history.”

Established around 1830 as the burial ground for the Black pioneer settlement, the cemetery served this purpose until the 1880s. By the 1930s the burial ground had become a farmer’s field – the headstones either ploughed under or removed. In 1989 the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery Committee was formed to reclaim the burial ground and register it as a cemetery with the provincial government.
In addition, the committee set out to find missing headstones.

In June, 1990 four headstones were discovered in a stone pile north of the site.

A display case to house the stones was built (see image at left) and a large boulder, inscribed with information about the site, was set in place as a memorial to the settlers.

The site was dedicated October 13, 1990 by then Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander.

A design competition for the pavilion was held to choose an appropriate open structure which will honour the site and provide a maintenance free home for the gravestones and opportunity for interpretation and reflection on the site. A design was chosen and work is underway to complete the project for September 2015.

A leading grant maker in Canada, the Ontario Trillium Foundation strengthens the capacity of the voluntary sector through investments in community-based initiatives. It is an agency of the Government of Ontario dedicated to building healthy and vibrant communities.

For more information on the project or to get involved, email museum@greyhighlands.ca.

For more information on the Ontario Trillium Foundation visit www.otf.ca.


Black History celebrated in journal and online

Also of interest, the South Grey Museum Curator attended Grey County’s Black History event at Grey Roots Museum on Saturday, February 23 to witness the launch of the latest Northern Terminus journal.  This popular annual journal is sponsored by Grey County Archives and the Black History event committee to provide readers with information about the historical Black community in the county.  With a focus on historical events, people and the wider national and international contexts which shaped Black history, this publication offers interesting and informative perspectives.

This year’s volume features an article on the new virtual exhibit about the Old Durham Road settlement in Grey Highlands. This settlement, which populated the heritage road, a local rural school and buried Black family members at the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery, was little-known and hidden for years until the cemetery property was donated to the township of Artemesia and officially recognized and dedicated by then Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander.

The settlement is now celebrated online in an “Echoes of The Old Durham Road” virtual exhibit at the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN).  Sponsored by funds from CHIN, through Heritage Canada, the virtual exhibit shows the site today and indicates the history of the area and where more information on local settlers.

“In particular the stories of six families - the Blacks, Pattersons, Browns, Meads, Simons and Workmans - who settled here in the 1850s are told by archival photos, documents and land registries dating back to that time.”

The site is available to view on the website at http://www.virtualmuseum.ca by entering the search words “pioneer cemetery.”  Visitors may also, of course, visit the site itself on the corner of County Road 14 and the Old Durham Road. In the summer it is a pleasant picnic spot. The cemetery committee is looking at raising funds to rebuild the display there of historic grave stones.

For more information on local heritage, culture or history make South Grey Museum your first stop. Watch this newspaper for more interesting exhibits and events coming to the Museum this year.

Local resident Naomi Norquay speaks at the Black History event at Grey Roots in February. The Northern Terminus Journal was released at the event.

The 2012 Journal has an article by South Grey Museum Curator Kate Russell about the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) Virtual museum exhibit Echoes of the Old Durham Road.

More details on Black History available at: