From 1830 through the end of the American Civil War, escaped slaves made their way across the border via the Underground Railroad. The ‘Fugitive Slave Act’ passed by the American Government in 1850 led to bounty hunters raiding border communities forcing many Blacks to move North for safety. Grey County was opened up to non-Native settlers in the 1830s, which led a number of escaped slaves and freedmen to settle in the region. Their courage and hard work contributed to the growth of both the County and the City of Owen Sound.
On July 31, 2004, the Black History Cairn Committee unveiled a commemorative Cairn during the 142nd Emancipation Day Celebrations at Harrison Park in Owen Sound. According to Webster's 1913 Dictionary, a cairn is "a rounded or conical heap of stones erected by early inhabitants of the British Isles, apparently as a sepulchral monument." In this case, the Cairn is a memorial to Owen Sound's Black settlers.
Through symbolism and interpretive plaques, the Cairn traces the route of those abducted from their native Africa, forced into slavery in the West Indies and the United States, and how many escaped to Canada via a network called the Underground Railroad.
The Black History Cairn was unveiled at the 142nd Emancipation
Day Picnic in Owen Sound's Harrison Park in August of 2004
The idea to create a Cairn to commemorate the contribution made to Grey County and the City of Owen Sound by the early Black settlers was first discussed in the spring of 2003. The concept was brought before the Tourism Advisory Committee and a sub-committee was formed.
Black Heritage & History Report: by Councillor Peter Lemon and volunteer Bonita Johnson-de Matteis, this is the original document considered by the City of Owen Sound to take on this ambitious project, and outlines the intent of the Cairn.
One of the first items on the agenda of the Black History Cairn Committee was to create partnerships with other organizations to ensure the success of the project. Since the Emancipation Day Celebration Picnic is held annually in Harrison Park, the Tourism Advisory Committee requested the City of Owen Sound donate a parcel of land in the park for the Cairn; Council approved the request. Partnerships were also formed with the Emancipation Day Celebration Picnic Committee, The British Methodist Episcopal Church, Grey Roots: Your Heritage & Visitor Centre, the Owen Sound Marine & Rail Museum, the Grey Bruce Genealogical Society and Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). Input and support from all of the partners has insured that the City of Owen Sound and Grey County will be known as one of the most northern points of settlement on the Underground Railroad.
- Black Heritage Cairn Conceptual drawing: by volunteer Bonita Johnson-de Matteis, with a description of the symbolism of the elements.
- Emancipation Day Picnic
Links to other Black History sites:
- Grey Roots: Your Heritage & Visitor Centre - Black History Exhibit
- Ontario Black History Society
- North American Black Historical Museum
For more information about Owen Sound’s Black History Cairn Project, contact:
Black History Cairn Committee
City of Owen Sound
1155 First Avenue West
OWEN SOUND, ON N4K 4K8
(519) 371-9833 or 1-888-675-5555
fax (519) 371-8628