Windsor

Black cemetery could get Ontario heritage designation

A small group is working hard to try to preserve one of the 13 black cemeteries in the Windsor-Essex region by pushing for a provincial heritage designation.
There are only five headstones left in the Smith Cemetery, but experts say more than 100 black Canadians are buried there. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

A small group is working hard to try to preserve one of the 13 black cemeteries in the Windsor-Essex region by pushing for a provincial heritage designation.

The historic Banwell Road Black Cemetery, which dates back to 1850, is informally known as the "Smith Cemetery" because it's the name most prominent on the headstones there.

The cemetery currently has municipal heritage status, designated by the Town of Tecumseh. 

Elise Harding-Davis, an African-Canadian heritage consultant, said that doesn't offer full protection for the property — the provincial title would do that.

"Highways going through, railroads being changed, things of that nature, that these very vulnerable little sites have to worry about, would not happen," said Harding-Davis. "They're protected. They're also given status as being important to this country's progress."
The property is informally named "Smith Cemetery" because it's the name most prominent on the headstones. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

There are only five markers left in the Smith Cemetery. Harding-Davis said from examining partial markers and depressions in the soil there are probably more than 100 black Canadians buried there.

Four of the five headstones mark the deaths of descendants of Washington Smith, who fought in the rebellion or 1837.

The fifth tombstone belongs to James F. Ross who died in 1908. His is the oldest recorded burial in the cemetery. Ross was murdered and his killer ended up being the last man hanged in Sandwich, Ont., which was eventually became part of Windsor. He was killed for his pocket change.

"Provincial designation puts us on the map, makes us part of the Canadian family," she said. "It's a march in progress, success in making sure that the bones of the people we stand upon are preserved and appreciated."

The Town of Tecumseh, made the application and hopes to have the the provincial designation by early 2015.

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