Volunteers Preserve Buried History at Gray County Black Pioneer Cemetery (15 photos)

Demolition and destruction of black cemeteries and their history is a common problem in many communities in Gray County and Ontario, said cemetery committee chair

The Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery, located along Gray Road 4, just outside Priceville, in Gray Highlands, consists of several commemorative plaques and a monument depicting the history of the black settlers there. once lived.

The cemetery site has been a topic of discussion around the Gray County Council table in recent weeks after county council and staff made a formal offer to purchase the land north of the cemetery site for a transport depot.

Purchase of land for a depot site drew criticism from the public and the cemetery committee which has been working to restore and preserve the history of the site since 1989.

The committee thinks there are likely graves and gravestones scattered around the area and would prefer the land to be left untouched.

Gray County has since backtracked on the formal offer to purchase and apologized to the committee for their lack of knowledge of the site and its history.

Following an apology from the Gray County CAO, the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery Committee called on the county to do more to preserve and bring attention to the site and its history.

Committee chair Naomi Norquay asked the county to consider going ahead with the purchase of the land and turning the lot into a commemorative heritage site.

“The idea of ​​the county buying the land and turning it into a space for interpretation and commemoration was something that we kind of supported, but it actually comes from the community,” she said.

Norquay explained that the idea would be to grow the foliage and eventually establish hiking and walking trails at the 40-acre site.

“We all think there is potential for it to be a small, but wonderful space that would also protect the cemetery,” she said. “It’s something that could change over time.

She suggested that, in combination with the cemetery, the site would be a great resource for local educators to bring children into nature and learn more about the history of Gray Highlands and Gray County.

Representatives from Gray County visited the cemetery on June 11 for a tour where they discussed the concept with Norquay.

The current assessed value of the lot the county is reviewing is $ 140,000, and as the county’s official offer to purchase is already underway, the decision to buy the land or not will have to be made before the fall.

If the county withdraws from the purchase, the land will remain for sale.

Norquay said the committee’s main concern was whether the site should be mined for gravel, as there would be graves and headstones strewn under the surface of the land on the site’s 40 acres, as well as under Gray Road. 4.

“When they investigated in 1998, they actually found evidence of burial pits along the road and in the ditch. We believe there are around 80 people buried here, ”she explained.

She added that two probes were conducted at the site – one in 1998 and a smaller area was explored in 2015, where the monument was placed.

It is estimated that in 1849, 16 black families claimed plots on Durham Road and buried their dead at the corner of the 50-acre Larkin Alverson lot, where the cemetery site stands today.

In the 1930s, a farmer buried the tombstones in the Black Cemetery to make way for a patch of potatoes.

In 1989, a piece of land that housed the cemetery site was donated to the Township of Artemisia. Since that time, the cemetery committee has worked diligently to find the lost story and preserve any pieces of information that could be concocted.

In 2014, the committee built the monument which now stands on the site and houses the tombstones that were recovered.

“A stonemason was present and he suggested that a hammer had been used and that someone had actually tried to break it and it was fine,” Norquay said, pointing to the tombstones of James and Ellen. Handy.

“What we did here was we searched all the names by looking at the census and census land registers, as they marked race in the 51 and 61 censuses, we were able to find the names of the families who had been here and probably would have been buried in this cemetery.

Norquay adds that the demolition and destruction of black cemeteries and their history is a common problem in many communities in Gray County and Ontario.

It points to the Negro Creek Road in Holland Township where, at some point when Highway 6 was widened, the Black Cemetery connected to the Negro Creek Settlement was leveled and rebuilt.

Another example is Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound, as it is estimated that over 1,200 people were buried there without headstones or public records.

“Each canton has an action or inaction that violated and then made this story disappear,” she said.

Going forward, Norquay said she hopes Gray County sees its current position as an opportunity to right many of the wrongs that occurred over time to black settlers who once settled on this land.

Gray County Council is expected to discuss the cemetery committee’s proposal at a meeting scheduled for July 8.

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