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February 05, 2022

A Black History Month story: The historic significance of the Negro Creek Road

Black History Month

FROM TOWNSHIP OF CHATSWORTH BLACK HISTORY MONTH REPORT — Between 1840 and 1860, before the American Civil War, enslaved Africans followed the North Star on the Underground Railroad to find freedom in Canada. It was not an actual railroad but a secret network of routes and safe houses that helped people escape slavery and reach free states or Canada. Sometimes there were guides available to help people find their way to the next stop along the way. Travelling on the Underground Railroad was dangerous and required luck as much as a guide.

In the early 19th century, the vast unsettled area between Waterloo County and Lake Huron was known as the 'Queen's Bush.' This is the area where more than 1,500 free and 91 formerly-enslaved Blacks pioneered scattered farms along the Peel and Wellesley Township border. Glen Allan, Hawkesville and Wallenstein became important centres for black pioneers.

Many black families continued north into Grey County, further away from the American border and possible recapture.

Significant to the Black history in Grey County is the Negro Creek settlement, settled by black pioneers following the war of 1812, along with the black pioneers at Holland Centre. Free of some of the prejudices and discrimination in the more developed areas of southern Ontario, by 1851 some 50 Black families made their home in the Negro Creek district. Some of these families may have made their way into the area even before local Indigenous people had negotiated and signed an official treaty in 1836. The name Negro Creek settlement appeared on a Patents Plan (No. 46) for Holland Township, on December 29, 1851, indicating that the community was well established by that time.

In more recent history, the Negro Creek settlement has significant importance to the Township of Chatsworth. Following a widely publicized human rights challenge when Council of the day attempted to rename the Negro Creek Road. The attempt to change the road name was tied to the County’s new 911 emergency numbering system and required that each township adopt official names for all roads. Holland Township Council decided to re-name the Negro Creek Road to Moggie Road in honour of George Moggie, an early white settler to the area.

There were protests about the name change. Many descendants of the black pioneers wanted to have the road name remain, as did local residents. They expressed publicly that they had no issue with the name 'Negro' Creek, and in fact, felt that it is important to the stories of the Underground Railroad and the difficulties and hardships experienced by their black ancestors to live in a free world. A dispute was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Over 4,000 signatures signed a petition to keep the road name and was supported by the Ontario Black History Society as well as former Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, the first Black person to serve in a vice regal position in Canada. The dispute was settled, and Holland Township reversed the name change in December of 1997.

Council (and the public) may be aware that over the past few years, the road sign has been removed on numerous occasions. Some individuals find the road name of historic significance and others find it offensive. Perhaps more education on the settlement and the court challenge itself may deter the removal of the signs in the future. One way to assist with this is to proclaim February as Black History Month. The County of Grey Museum, Grey Roots has undertaken extensive research in highlighting the early black settlements across the County. Partnering with Grey Roots in having some of the local stories published on our website and face book page would be an excellent opportunity to promote the proclamation.

Although this report does not come with a public or citizen request for a proclamation, municipalities are striving to become culturally inclusive and municipal proclamations are an avenue to do this.

 


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