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July 04, 2024

Negro Creek Road Warriors honoured

Negro Creek Road Warriors

Photo: Left to right: Ben MacLeod, Stephanie McMullen, Don Miller, Celeste Eickholdt, Carolynn Wilson, Silvia Wilson, Rob Leverty, Bonita Johnson de Matteis, Barbara Dobreen.

BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — A ceremony to honour the Negro Creek Road Warriors was held on Sunday, June 30 at the Williamsford Community Centre. Descendants of the original Negro Creek settlers, as well as dignitaries and friends crowded the centre to honour those people who fought to preserve the name Negro Creek and its history when it was under threat in the mid 1990s. Since then, many others have joined the cause, maintaining 30 years of advocacy to remember an important chapter in our past.

The attempt to change the road name was tied to the County’s 911 emergency numbering system which required that each township adopt official names for all roads. Holland Township Council of the time thought it was wise to re-name the Negro Creek Road as Moggie Road in honour of George Moggie, an early white settler to the area. Re-naming the road had also been explained by some as a way to cover over the past, thus rectifying old injustices, but Road Warriors like Carolynn and Sylvia Wilson would have none of it.

"They fought to preserve the legacy, in memory of the long history of black settlement in the area," said Stephanie McMullen, Community Historian for Grey Roots Museum & Archives, in a letter read during the proceedings.

Significant to that history 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. In fact, some have traced its origins to 1842 when approximately 10 black families made it their home.

Many other champions of local history also spoke or had letters read during a ceremony which included fellowship, tea, coffee and light refreshments.

Former Ontario Historical Society Executive Director Rob Leverty remembered the Old Durham Road Black Cemetery Committee and similar struggles to preserve the past.

In a letter from Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, she wrote, "The Negro Creek settlement is a place of national historical significance. Those who resided or were directed to reside on this land are a testament to resilience."

Artist and author Bonita Johnson de Matteis recounted the story of Beatrice Tillman and the first fateful meeting with members of the Holland Township Council, whose demeanour changed abruptly when they realized that their name change was being strongly contested. After many appeals, letters and discussions, led by Tillman, council reconsidered and kept the historic name to honour those first families. "She put the fire in all of us," said Bonita.

Southgate Councillor and JunCtian Community Initiatives President and Executive Officer, Joan John wrote about the "insurmountable hurdles" experienced by "a community joyfully rescuing Negro Creek from public oblivion.

"Southgate Deputy Mayor Barbara Dobreen noted that Grey County is rapidly becoming a more diverse community and was excited by that prospect. "We all contribute to Canada being what it is today."

For more information about the Negro Creek controversy, visit:

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

 


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