Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery - Historic Places Days

Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery

Priceville, Ontario
325473 Durham Rd B, Priceville, ON, Canada
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This burial ground was used by people of African descent who started arriving in Artemesia Township (Grey Highlands) late 1840’s to settle along the newly surveyed (Old) Durham Road. Location Tickets set the requirements for settlement. When fulfilled, Crown Patents could be issued. Many of the 16 families who arrived spring & summer of 1849, came from earlier Queens Bush settlements in Wellington County  near the Garafraxa Road (Wellesley & Peel Townships.) Most originally came from the United States and it is assumed that they were largely refugees from slavery. All these settlers had been in Upper Canada for at least 8 years; many for from 12-20 years. The 1851 census shows almost every 50-acre lot along the Durham Road was settled by a Black family with parents born in the USA, but most children born in Upper Canada. The 117 listed Black settlers represent 12% of the total 1851 Artemesia Township population. Over time, the Black settlement diminished. Some intermarried with White settlers and gradually integrated into White society. Many left marginal farms to seek paid work in Owen Sound, Collingwood or farther afield. Others may have been quietly “dispossessed” because, for whatever reason, their land title had not been properly registered. Throughout the province, uneducated settlers (both Black and White) often did not fully understand the need to apply for legal title; and instances of title irregularities are known to have occurred in Artemesia Township. In the 1930’s, the farmer who owned the property removed some 90-100 headstones, ploughed the land and planted potatoes. Human remains were not removed, and recent geo-thermal scans have found evidence of at least 80 burial sites. Rumors circulate that the removed headstones were used to pave barn floors. In 1989, a group of interested citizens formed the Old Durham Road Pioneer Cemetery Committee to restore the burial ground and register it as a cemetery. 1990 they found four headstones in a nearby pile of rocks. These were placed at the site in a display case and October of that year, Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander unveiled a memorial granite boulder which had an inscription that honored these early pioneers of African descent. In 2015, the Cemetery Committee refurbished the site. The original memorial is once again fully visible and thanks to a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the four historic gravestones are now safe guarded from damage in a covered pavilion designed to evoke memories of cemetery dead houses, roadside chapels and rural structures such as log cabins and covered bridges. The monument symbolizes safe passage and is oriented due north, to commemorate the many paths to freedom taken by refugees from slavery.

for more information about local Black History: https://greyroots.com/story/northern-terminus


  • Family-Friendly
  • Parkland
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Wheelchair Access

Fun Facts

·       The park-like landscape of this “cemetery”, should be appreciated as a tribute to all those early Black settlers who cleared all the farmland along the nearby sections of Old Durham Road, and who built the original wooden schoolhouse on the lot (donated by Gabriel Black) across the road from the burial ground where the graves of their dead were marked with attractive marble gravestones.

·       There also should be recognition of the social value of the burial ground finally being resurrected at least 90 years after the 1930’s when it was turned into a potato field and some of the removed gravestones were installed as bases for the school’s ball diamond, while others were allegedly used to pave dirt floors in basements or barns.

·       Many of those Black settlers lived in this area for close to 40 years and many of their descendant still live in nearby communities. This site is important to them and to the community at large as the last remaining icon of a successful Black settlement that was eventually disbanded in part by wrongdoings of white colonial settlers.

This property is owned by the Municipality of Grey Highlands and is administered on their behalf by the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery Committee. The municipal heritage committee (Heritage Grey Highlands) has applied for recognition as a National historic site for the following reasons:

·       Increased calls by National Trust and Ontario Heritage Trust for greater inclusion and recognition of previously ignored (or covered over) BIPOC heritage. 

·       Federal and Provincial government recommendations that stories and/or sites that have been dismissed by the white/colonial overview of Canadian history be re-evaluated.

·       Increased public interest in this site due to recent press releases that have built upon the stories in Speakers of the Dead:

2000   https://www.nfb.ca/film/speakers-for-the-dead/

2021   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07SV4jIMrkU

2022   https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1997320259904

2022   https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/priceville-ontario-black-history-1.6333960


325473 Durham Rd B, Priceville, ON, Canada
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