Grey County has left the door open to consider a proposal to buy property next to the Old Durham Road Black Pioneer Cemetery to create a commemorative space for the area’s historic Black settlement and settlers.
In a 48-36 recorded vote, council deferred a staff recommendation to take no further action towards purchasing the 40-acre Priceville-area property, which it had planned to buy and use for a transportation depot until learning the site is adjacent to what was a burying ground for Black settlers in the 1800s
The committee overseeing the historic cemetery, which appealed to the county to not build a transportation depot on the adjacent lands, sent a letter to county officials Tuesday requesting it still buy the property but for the commemorative space.
“Staff wants to look at the (purchase offer) contract and want to do some thinking and bring some recommendations back to council so that council can have a proper discussion,” Grey County Warden Selwyn Hicks said in an interview.
“All council heard during the meeting was this letter came from the committee on Tuesday – they haven’t seen the letter, but they did have it partially read to them. And so this idea is out there.”
CAO Kim Wingrove told council about the letter before the vote. She said if council wants to further consider the committee’s request, they could defer until July 8 the staff recommendation to take no further action on the property.
Coun. Brian Milne, Southgate’s deputy-mayor, said he wonders if council is being fair to the property’s owner by “stretching this out longer.” With the way the real estate market is now, he said the owner might be able to get a higher price than what the county offered when it conditionally purchased the property in March.
“I just wonder if, maybe, if we truly decided that this is what we want to do, do we not waive the conditions, let the potential sale lapse and then at a future date, if we do decide to buy, we can go into the market again? Just a thought,” he said.
Council then voted, with eight supporting the deferral and nine opposing it. However, the motion passed since recorded votes use a weighted system based on the number of electors in each member’s municipality.
Grey County issued a statement in May that said after hearing concerns from the cemetery committee about the transportation depot’s proposed location, it decided to halt all activity related to the property’s purchase “in order to work with the local community and undertake a thorough investigation of the property.”
Wingrove said county officials held follow-up meetings with committee members who said the proposed depot “would not be compatible with the historic and sensitive nature of the cemetery.”
The county announced June 15 that staff would recommend to council that the depot not be located on the site on Durham Road B in Grey Highlands.
Hicks said the county also committed to sitting down with the committee to discuss how Grey could enhance its involvement in promoting local Black history.
In the committee’s letter, president Naomi Norquay said the group joins a “growing number of interested community members” in recommending the county purchase the property adjacent to the cemetery for the commemorate/interpretive space.
It could include a walking trail, interpretive signs and indigenous plants, she said, and serve as a welcoming area for visitors.
Creating the space “would go a long way in promoting Black history and healing a long-festering community wound,” she said, noting there’s “widespread support” for the initiative. Some suggested creating a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the land purchase, she said.