The Ontario Heritage Trust has unveiled four updated provincial plaques commemorating four significant communities and events from Southwestern Ontario and Niagara Region’s Black history.
The plaques honour the resilience and perseverance of Black communities in the face of hardship and celebrate the success of Black settlers and freedom seekers who have contributed to the fabric of the province. Later this year, the Trust will be working with partners to host local events and permanently install the new plaques.
The plaques commemorate:
The Buxton Settlement: In recognition of the long-standing legacy of the thriving free Black community in North Buxton. The plaque will be permanently installed in South Buxton.
The Wilberforce Settlement: In commemoration of freedom pioneers who boldly envisioned a Black community of freedom, self-determination and equality. The plaque will be permanently installed in the town of Lucan near the Donnelly Museum.
The Solomon Moseby Affair 1837 (formerly The Niagara Courthouse and Gaol): Shares the story of freedom seeker Solomon Moseby, who faced extradition back to the U.S., and the 200 Black community members who mobilized to protect Moseby. The plaque will be permanently installed at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground (formerly the Negro Burial Ground 1830): Recognizes the significant Black community and congregation formed in Niagara. The plaque will be permanently installed at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The original plaques were created between 1957 and 1966 and reflected the biases and terminology of the time. The Trust engaged prominent historians Natasha Henry and Adrienne Shadd to develop new research and provide a more comprehensive interpretation of the historical events. The newly rewritten plaques now present an expanded understanding of the local communities’ Black history and, thanks to new findings, they re-centre the experiences and voices of the Black individuals who were once excluded.
The four plaques are part of the Ontario Heritage Trust’s broader work to expand the historical narrative and update its Provincial Plaque Program to be more diverse and inclusive, respectful, accurate, and authentic.
Established in 1955, the Provincial Plaque Program is the Trust’s oldest program with 1,285 provincial plaques across the province to date. In 2014, the Trust began reviewing its plaque portfolio and has found that there are many older plaques that present an outdated version of events, exclude the perspectives of women, Black, Indigenous and Asian communities, or use language now considered inappropriate or racist. Work formally began in 2018 to address plaques identified as dated, exclusionary or used language that’s no longer appropriate.
“The Ontario Heritage Trust cares for the province’s incredible and inspiring stories. These four plaques will more accurately portray the stories of freedom-seekers and early Black communities that helped to shape our province,” said John Ecker, Chair of the Ontario Heritage Trust.
As the Trust’s understanding of history continues to broaden thanks to new research and perspectives, the plaque program will continue to evolve to better reflect the diversity and complexity of the province’s rich heritage.
Since the 2000s, the Trust has worked with communities across the province to expand stories told through provincial plaques with priority focus on women’s history, social justice, Indigenous heritage, Black history and Franco-Ontarian heritage. Examples include: Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association, Chief Francis Pegahmagabow, 1889-1952, Jean Lumb, C.M., 1919-2002, Sexual Diversity Activism at the University of Toronto and The Anishinaabeg at Lake of Bays.