Grey Roots Museum steps in to aid the county in recognizing the region's Black history

·3 min read

After failing to acknowledge a nationally recognized heritage site dedicated to the region’s Black settlers, Grey County has called on Grey Roots Museum and Archives to help boost the visibility of the county’s Black history.

“Grey Roots certainly welcomes working with the community to identify how best to raise awareness about Grey County’s long Black history. I’d love to find a way to take those learning opportunities beyond the walls of Grey Roots and out to different locations in Grey,” said Jill Paterson, manager of Grey Roots.

The call to action to do more to support the region’s Black history comes after Grey County almost purchased the plot of land next to the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery, to use as a transportation depot.

Cemetery committee members believe that land may still hold the remains and gravestones of early Black settlers.

The county backtracked on its plans to purchase and develop the property, apologized to the committee for its oversight and asked Grey Roots to get involved to “raise awareness, to nurture and to support community group efforts in this regard, and bring better heritage awareness to our work.”

Paterson said it is unclear exactly what role the museum will play in this effort but noted that ”it’s critical that whatever initiatives or programs emerge be developed in collaboration with the Black community”.

She added that the museum is currently in the process of refreshing its permanent gallery exhibits.

“We will be able to weave in the history of places like the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery and other Black historical experiences into the broader story of Grey County’s past. Those new displays will be explored by school groups, visitors and residents for years to come,” Paterson said.

Naomi Norquay, president of the Old Durham Black Pioneer Cemetery committee said Grey Roots is already an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the region’s Black history, but that any additional inclusion is certainly welcomed.

“I would suggest going to Grey Roots website and look up the annual publication Northern Terminus: The African Canadian History Journal. If people want to read, there's tons. It's a great resource for this cemetery,” Norquay said.

Norquay has been working with Grey Roots for the past 15 years to help produce the journal. Through essays, interviews and reviews, the journal highlights the work of organizations, historians and published authors to enhance our understanding of historical Black communities in Grey County.

“I’m inspired by the work of the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery Committee who have been dedicated to this cause for decades,” Paterson said.

“I feel it’s quite a powerful place. If you take a moment to think of what those Black settlers went through to escape enslavement then persevered to create a thriving Black community and consider the hardships and racism they no doubt encountered, it’s very moving and the cemetery is a fitting place to reflect on this under-told story of Grey County.”

Over the years, Grey Roots has also regularly supported the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival, which is now in its 159th year.

“The museum has hosted various Emancipation Festival events such as the speaker’s forum and Gospel in the Barn. Scholars, authors, artists, musicians, poets, and performers have contributed to this annual presentation of Black histories and cultures,” Paterson explained.

“In addition, in past years, the museum has hosted travelling exhibits such as, Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada produced by the Archives of Ontario to further explore the inspiring stories of Black history.”

Grey Roots website also includes a number of anti-racism resources, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Talking About Race and National Geographic’s Talking to kids about race.

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca

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