Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Black History Month: The Town of Buxton, Ontario

In the fall of 2015 my family and I were required to make a long 5-hour journey south-west to Windsor, Ontario to retrieve something we needed for our farm.  It seemed a long way to go to just pick up something yet that was exactly the situation we were in. Usually when faced with this sort of 'business' travel I try to think of what else we can do in the area to make it more worth while. We were spending the gas and time any way, why not enjoy something else in that neck of the woods.

As it happens, there are a number of historical sites and museums in that part of Ontario which I am never able to visit. While my kids were growing up I made it a point to take them to every pioneer village and museum within three hours driving distance. How I longed to be able to take them further afield to see all those places just out of reach. The Buxton Museum was always on my list.

Buxton, or the Elgin Settlement, was one of four organized settlements in Ontario reserved specifically for former slaves who had escaped to freedom in Canada.

This is a plaque at the modern day site that shows the original division of plots in the Elgin Settlement. The settlement was comprised of 9,000 acres, which was subdivided into farms of 50 acres each. It's main purpose was to provide the black population with the same education and prospects as white society. 

The idea, which was first proposed by Rev. William King in 1848, did not sit well with neighbouring communities but George Brown, who would later become a Father of Confederation, championed the proposal and became a great ally in the cause.

Settlers were able to purchase the land at $2.50/acre and were given ten years to pay off their loan at a rate of 6% interest. By 1850 the Buxton Mission School was built which also offered night classes for adults instructed by Rev. King.

A 550-pound bell was erected at the school, a donation from the African American community in Pittsburgh, PA. Whenever a fugitive slave found their way across the border and into Buxton they rung the Buxton Liberty Bell as a symbol and celebration of their newly won freedom.

Our trip to this museum was inspirational to say the least. Not only do the exhibits showcase the horrific capture, transport and treatment of early British slaves, but it progresses to a message of hope and prosperity. I found myself staring at one black and white photo in particular of one of the early classes displayed in the school house. I couldn't take my eyes from the little faces looking back at me. Were they haunted by memories of slavery? How were they treated once their families made it to Canada? Was there anyone they lost and were still waiting to join them? Were they able to achieve the dreams their parents imagined for them; the dreams of education, fair treatment and freedom? I would love to go back in time to ask them these questions and to find out what more can we do to remember them and their race to freedom.

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