Grey County is stepping away from purchasing a piece of land next to the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery.
Earlier this year the county had been pursuing the purchase of 40-acre plot of land in Grey Highlands near Priceville for the possible construction of a transportation depot.
But after discovering the land sits next to a nationally accredited historic Black Pioneer Cemetery site, the county paused its plans to purchase.
The cemetery committee, which created and maintains the site, then asked the county to consider going forward with the purchase of the land so that it could be preserved and developed into a natural commemorative space for Grey County’s historic Black settlement and settlers.
“We request that the county be proactive and show leadership when it comes to protecting and preserving our shared rural heritage,” stated Naomi Norquay, president of the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery.
Norquay suggested the commemorative site could include a walking trail, a place for native plants to re-establish (after 170 years of agricultural use), some interpretive signs, and a welcoming area for those visiting the cemetery.
She said seeing the county commit to something like this, “would go a long way in promoting Black history and healing a long-festering community wound.”
However, at Grey County’s committee of the whole meeting held on Thursday, council directed staff to take no further action toward the purchase of the property.
Kim Wingrove, CAO for Grey County added that despite not moving forward with the purchase of the property, that “staff want to confirm our commitment to doing more to work with organizations to increase the visibility of the county's Black history, to raise awareness, to nurture and to support community group efforts in this regard, and bring better heritage awareness to our work.”
“We know that there's more that we can do,” Wingrove stated.
She added that county staff are planning to work with Grey Roots Museum and Archives to develop a summary of the various heritage groups the museum is working with and their current initiatives for future council discussion.
“I think that would give the council a solid foundation and then you could reflect on that and think about whether there's something more that you'd like to see or or be a part of,” said Wingrove. “Several of you have museums or other cultural organizations within your own communities. And I think it's really important that they're all kind of united and working together whenever there's an opportunity to do so.”
Now that the county has officially backed away from the offer to purchase, the land in question will remain for sale.
Norquay said the committee’s main concern is if the site were to be mined for gravel, as there are thought to be graves and headstones scattered beneath the surface of the land across the site's 40 acres, as well as under Grey Road 4.
“When they did the probe in ‘98, they actually found evidence of burial shafts along the road and in the ditch. We think there are roughly 80 people buried here,” she explained.
Norquay also mentioned that the committee may consider fundraising independently to purchase the neighbouring property.
“It has become amply apparent that there is widespread support for this community-generated initiative. For example, people have been suggesting a Go-Fund-Me campaign to raise money toward the purchase and are coming forward with words of support and encouragement,” she added.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca