The interesting story of how war veterans built Oro, one of the first Black settlements in Canada

Stephen Nartey February 16, 2023
Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Padraic Ryan

The culture in Upper Canada for prospective land owners in the early 1800s was for them to write to the Executive Council of the governor expressing interest in land. Once the petition was reviewed and deemed qualified, the prospective land owner is granted a location ticket, which assigns them to a specific plot.

Though the land is free, there were some requirements the petitioners were expected to satisfy which included pledging to renovate the property regularly, building a house of adequate size, clearing adjacent roads, and paying fees, according to the County of Simcoe. The Crown then grants a patent or deed for the land once the petitioners fulfill the requirements.

It is in this spirit that 19 free Blacks in 1794 wrote to Governor Simcoe to grant them land to establish an all-black settlement, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. This was after their military service in the war between Great Britain and America. Though their earlier petition was overruled, it set the stage for the creation of the Oro settlement near present-day Barrie, off Georgian Bay in 1819. Oro became the only government-sponsored black settlement in what was then Upper Canada. It was actually created to place war veterans in a position to defend the Bay against attacks, according to history.

The settlers inhabited the enclave during two periods in history – from 1819 to 1826 and from 1828 to 1831. Nine residences were built during the first period and by the second period, Oro had 100 community members. While some were veterans of the Coloured Corps operating out of the Niagara area, others were allowed by the government to settle in the area to farm and start a new corps to defend Georgian Bay, Black History in Ontario said. Some of the community members were also former slaves of the Canadian colonies and of the U.S.

Being one of the earliest black settlements in Ontario formed out of government planning, Oro flourished for decades. But it later saw a drop in its population after farmers left in the 1940s thanks to poor soil conditions and harsh weather. Still, descendants of some of the first Black settlers continued to be in Oro for almost 130 years, and in other parts of Simcoe County to the present day, the County of Simcoe said.

Oro also left behind the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is now a National Historic Site of Canada.   

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 16, 2023


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