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Celebrating black history in Grey County


It's going to be a scorcher at the farmette today. Already more than 20C and climbing.

Yesterday, our friend Jane came up for a visit from Toronto, and we set out for Harrison Park in Owen Sound, where one of the oldest parties in the province was taking place. The Emancipation Festival has been celebrated since 1862, and it was rocking and rolling with music, fantastic food, brightly-coloured cloth, picnickers and family histories. Owen Sound is actually the northern terminus of the underground railroad, a life line for those escaping slavery. It has a rich history with generations of black families.

When we arrived mid-afternoon, people were tapping toes and swaying to the sweet sounds of the blues. The band members were really talented, with guitar, trombone and saxophone chiming in.

People were selling their handcrafted wares, including books, herbal remedies and pottery. Jane actually picked up some lovely batiked fabric that this lady had on display.

There were family trees dating back to the time of the first Emancipation Festival with great old photographs of the large families that were a staple in the early days of this country.

A cairn was erected in the park in 2004 as a permanent monument to the history of black settlers in the area. Each of the brightly coloured tiles represents a quilt block, which back in the bad old days, had symbolic meaning to those escaping to freedom.

The quilts would be put out in plain view at friendly homesteads to help people travelling along the underground railroad. The block in the middle is called the drunkard's path, a warning that there were slave hunters in the area, and to take a zigzag pattern to give them the slip.

The blue arrows in the top left is called flying geese. Since slaves mostly escaped in the spring, if they followed the route of migrating geese, they could get to safety in the north.

We finished up with a stroll along the Sydenham, which runs through the park, and happened on some pretty determined and obviously hungry ducks that were all tails up, looking for yummy morsels along the river bed.

All in all, it was a great day for learning, celebrating and reflecting on how lucky we are to live where we do. Until next week.


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