After public backlash over a plan to build a transportation depot immediately next to a Black pioneer cemetery, the County of Grey is now considering buying the land with a different purpose in mind.
Grey County is being asked to consider purchasing the property on Old Durham Road in Grey Highlands (Priceville) next to the Black pioneer cemetery to convert it into a commemorative space.
“We join a growing number of interested community members in recommending that the county purchase this property for the purpose of establishing a commemorative and interpretive space for Grey County's historic Black settlement and settlers,” stated Naomi Norquay, president of the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery committee in a letter to county officials on Tuesday.
In the fall of 2020, Grey County staff began prospecting a 40-acre parcel of land on Old Durham Road for a new transportation depot.
In December of 2020, county council members directed staff to negotiate an offer to purchase the site. A formal offer, subject to various conditions being met, was executed in early March 2021.
However, the plot of land, which is labelled as lots 21 and 22, on Concession 1 North of the Durham Road, in the geographic township of Artemesia in Grey Highlands, sits in close proximity to the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery whose committee has been working diligently over the past several decades to restore the site, along with numerous headstones that had been lost or discarded since the mid-1800’s when the cemetery was established.
In late May, after becoming aware of the history and significance of the site, Grey County CAO Kim Wingrove apologized for staff and council’s oversight and lack of awareness surrounding the site and committed to working with the cemetery committee to find a resolution.
At a county council meeting held on Thursday, Wingrove provided an update to council members on the file, noting that county staff and the warden have since met with the cemetery committee on two occasions – a virtual meeting on June 1, as well as attending the site on June 11.
“Subsequent to that the county and the cemetery committee issued a joint press release, where the cemetery committee acknowledged and supported the county and resolves to work with us and other organizations to increase the visibility of the county's Black history, raise awareness, nurture and support community group efforts in this regard, and bring better heritage awareness to all its staff and departments. We will support their efforts to this end,” Wingrove stated.
As the county had made a formal offer to purchase the property with conditions, Wingrove suggested council members consider waiving the conditions, which were set to expire on June 30, to allow the council time to consider the committee’s request.
Had the conditions not been terminated, the county would not be in a position to purchase the property.
“If you want to defer the decision on what to do with the property for now, we can waive the site-specific condition. That still provides you with another future date to make a decision closer to August about whether or not you wish to proceed any further with this particular property,” Wingrove explained.
In a recorded vote, Grey County council members voted 48 to 36 in favour of deferring the decision on the property to an upcoming meeting.
Wingrove added that the recent correspondence from the cemetery committee and the request to develop an interpretive, commemorative centre at the site will be formally presented to county council members at the July 8 committee of the whole meeting.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca