Dedicated to the pioneers of African descent and loyalist stock who were early settlers in the area. The book 'Broken Shackles' by Peter Meyler[of Orangeville] describes their life and this cemetery. It is interesting to note that this cemetery does not appear on my reference map of the 1880's , even though it was circa 1830. A school was across the road in the 1880's and is still in good shape today with the rear of the building facing the road.The property was not owned at this time and the cemetery was closed in the 1880's.This cemetery lay hidden for decades under a farmers potato field. The plot was dedicated October 13, 1990. The headstones under plastic were not readable until I applied a process to make it clearer.
Added by Timo Explorer, September 21, 2014:
They came here as early as the 1790's, fleeing from the American Revolution in the United States. Some came as "Free Blacks", others as slaves to the United Empire Loyalists, who came north to escape persecution of the new regime to the south. During the War of 1812, there was a Militia unit made up entirely of Free Blacks, who fought gallantly against their former colony to ensure that they could remain free men and raise their families without prejudice.
At the time, slavery was still legal in British controlled Upper Canada, in fact slavery was practised here until 1834, when the British passed the Emancipation of Slaves Act, freeing all blacks and allowing them to form their own communities and live on their own accord.
Several Black communities had already started in various places throughout Canada, most notably in Nova Scotia and Quebec, but also in Ontario, or Upper Canada as it was called at the time. Some groups created communities in Dresden, Oro and near Priceville (although at the time Priceville did not exist).
Their lives where hard, as it was with all early pioneers, clearing and settling the land, creating farms and trying to earn a living despite the extremes of climate and the vicious mosquitos. This land was tough, but so too where the people of African descent who came here.
The settlement in question was located about two kilometes east of current day Priceville. The settlers built farms, a school and a cemetery. Today, all that remains is the Durham Road Cemetery, but that was not always the case.
The first Black settlers came here in the early 1830's, they were the first people to try to harness the goodness of the land and make a living despite the harshest of conditions. For several decades they struggled yet flourished in their new country.
Around about the 1850's, white settlers from Scotland and Ireland came to the area, established the village of Priceville and began to take over the land. They showed great contempt for the Blacks who were here first, and the racism and greed shown by the whites created a hostile environment for the original settlers. In the town of Priceville, you can visit the Pioneer Cemetery and read the names of those who came and showed extreme prejudice, driving out the Black settlers. Some Black families left for the settlement in Oro, but many stayed and eventually married into the European families. The lines of ancestry where now mixed, and records destroyed to hide the truth.
Slowly, all trace of Black settlement eventually disappeared, the final blow coming in 1930, when Billy Reid purchased the land surrounding the Black Cemetery, he removed any gravestones that remained and plowed the land, and planted potatoes. Most of the grave markers had already been removed by other European settlers, who used them in the floors of barns and as stepping stones in wet cellars. There is even a report of one being used as home plate at the local baseball diamond. At this point all physical evidence of a Black Settlement had been vandalized and destroyed.
The Durham Road Cemetery was the last reminder of the Black settlers who first came to this area. For years the history was ignored or changed, records and photos where burned. Even the site of the cemetery was unknown for many years, the locals talked about the legend of "Darkies Corner", but no one really cared what happened to it, no one talked about the past, as if it all started in 1850 with the arrival of the Scots.
In 1989, some historical minded folks in Priceville decided to re-claim the cemetery where their ancestors were buried. According to legend, since all records had been burned, approximately 100 people were buried in the Durham Road Cemetery. The search to find the gravestones only turned up four markers, all in bad condition, the remaining stones of the other 100 settlers gone forever. At last, some dignity and history of the original Black pioneers could be celebrated.
The area has since been restored to a proper pioneer burial ground, the remaining stones housed in a rudimentary case, (although they have since been removed for apparent rehabilitation, depending on funding?), and a sign erected to mark the spot. A new memorial is being designed to protect the gravestones (seen in Mobileworks gallery) and to celebrate the pioneers.
In October of 1990, the Durham Road Cemetery was dedicated by Lieut-Governor of Ontario, Lincoln Alexander, "In recognition of the pioneers of African descent and Loyalist stock who where early settlers in this area". Twenty-four years later, since the dedication, the gravemakers have removed to a safe place, and the promised memorial and display is still absent.
The history of Canada and Ontario was not always as rosy and cheerful as we have been led to believe, indeed slavery and racism have been an integral part of our past. The story of the Priceville Black Pioneers shows how history can be changed and forgotten, but also how it can be preserved and celebrated by those who take the time to care and search deeper.
For more information, please read the links below, or watch the film "Speakers for the Dead," a film distributed by Canada's National Film Board. ........................................................................................................................................................Clay adds: [color=#ffffff]One headstone was used as a home plate for the white kids' baseball games at the "darky" school across the road...very sad...luckily the modern residents restored what they could find. Some of the headstones ended up used in someone's basement as walking slabs and the rest were in a junk heap pile behind the school.[/color]