Black history month
By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 27, 2018
February is almost over, and with it, Black History Month.
Black Canadians are most likely to have arrived in what is now Canada in the 1600s alongside Samuel de Champlain – Mathieu Da Costa came to Nova Scotia as a translator (as a historical figure he’s elusive, but it’s thought he spoke at least six languages).
The role black Canadians played in our country’s history hasn’t always been highlighted, despite slavery existing here, significance of north-of-the-border locations being essential stops toward freedom on the Underground Railroad and the part of American Revolution Loyalists and efforts of black Canadian soldiers in shaping this nation. It was the Honourable Jean Augustine who made the motion to recognize Black History Month in Canada, a motion which was unanimously carried by the House of Commons in 1995.
We often celebrate the first. In Haliburton County, it wasn’t easy to track down information about black early settlers in the area without having access to some of the remarkable historians living here.
John Dorsey, who came to Canada from the American South via the Underground Railroad, and then married Catherine Ann Thomas, settled in what is now Algonquin Highlands sometime between the births of kids in 1854 and 1863. As an escaped slave, he took her last name to protect himself. He and Catherine may be buried in Paint Lake Cemetery west of Dorset. Their granddaughter Amy, born in Minden in 1884, later relayed stories she had heard of her grandmother bearing a child to her abusive master, and of her grandfather fighting in a black regiment in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Henry Pearl and Mary Patterson, from Pennsylvania, made a mark on Minden by locating near what came to be known as “Pearl’s Hill,” that one historian guessed is near the intersection of Bobcaygeon Road and Hwy. 35. Their daughter, Elisa, married Charles Edward Thomas, son of John Dorsey Thomas.
Siblings Isaac and Hannah Morey were born in Brantford but died a year apart in 1896 and 1897 in Stanhope. Nila Reynolds, in her book In Quest Of Yesterday notes they, “were unique in the Haliburton area because of their parentage,” having a black father and an Indigenous mother. Records support that their mother was the daughter of Thayendanegea, or Joseph Brant, who their father John, an ex-slave, returned to Canada with after the American Revolution. Their names can be found on the Pioneer Cemetery cairn on Boshkung Lake Rd.
A small step toward ensuring everyone has a chance at equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination can start with knowing more about our neighbours who made and make our community what it is, and who worked and work to reshape the world.
It’s crucial for everyone to take time to acknowledge the significance of the month and vital that information about the contributions of black Canadians in our area be recognized and readily available every day of the year.
(Significant thanks to Adele Espina, Carol Moffatt, Hilda Clark, Donna Gagnon and Kate Butler for sharing their invaluable knowledge of early settlers in the county.)