By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Haldimand County has named local historian Sylvia Weaver its Senior of the Year for 2022.
As a member of the County’s Heritage Haldimand committee, and a frequent collaborator with various groups in the community looking to study and preserve history, Weaver has herself left an indelible mark on her community through her efforts to preserve our local history. She has served in many roles over the years, including Director of the Ontario branch of the Genealogy Society and as a member of the Haldimand Museum Advisory Board.
“I’m doing it from my heart; I’m not looking for rewards. I really appreciate what Haldimand County has recognized me for,” said Weaver on her award. “History needs to be saved.”
She continued, “Haldimand has such rich history. I have been interested and collecting early local history most of my life…. I found by researching history and doing genealogy, I have a greater respect and understanding of our ancestors and the struggles they faced, especially the freedom seekers that came to our area. It is important to save this history, or it may be forgotten.”
One of Weaver’s most notable accomplishments is her collaboration with both Haldimand County and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario to save the abandoned Street cemetery in Canfield, which has deep connections to Haldimand’s past.
She has a significant interest in those early days for freedom seekers: “It was virgin land here; they came with just the clothes on their back. They were originally squatters until they were able to purchase their own land, but they had to clear that land, build their log cabins, they had to hunt for food, plant seeds, they were basically in the same position as the European settlers. They were equal and lived side by side. They became neighbours, they went to school and church together, and they worked together.”
Her research was used in the documentary ‘Canfield Roots’ by local company Windecker Road Films, which examines the abandoned cemetery and its connections to early black settlers and the freedom movement in the area.
“The freedom seekers coming and staying in Haldimand, that was a tremendously difficult flight they had from the underground railroad. They had such a fight to get here,” said Weaver.
She also played a role in the installation of a settlement marker in Canfield commemorating those who came here to live free lives.
Weaver is writing her own book on the Street cemetery: “It’s going to be about the early days of Canfield and will include a genealogy on all the freedom seekers who came to Canfield in the 1850s, 60s, and 70s.”
She says ultimately, she hopes her book will help those searching for their roots to connect with the community their ancestors established homes in: “That’s important for me, but it’s not done yet.”
In fact, that project is currently on hold while she focuses on another passion project: the installation of a series of ‘history boards’ along the Grand River in Dunnville, in collaboration with the Dunnville District Heritage Association.
Weaver also played a key role in the installation of the Port Maitland Cairn, a natural stone landmark commemorating key moments in Port Maitland’s history, including the construction of the Feeder Canal in 1842, the commercial fishing industry, and the Grand River Naval Depot.
She’s also authored works on Haldimand’s religious history: “I’ve put 11 publications on the early church records from the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches. That took three to four years, and I was a co-author on that.”
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt presented Weaver with her certificate during a Council session last week, saying it is meant to recognize an “outstanding senior, who after age 65, enriches the social, cultural, and civil life of the community.”
Hewitt continued, “When we received notification for the nomination of this award, the name Sylvia Weaver immediately came to the minds of Councillors Corbett and Metcalfe, and it was without hesitation that the nomination was put forward for this very worthy candidate.”
The mayor thanked Weaver, along with her husband Don, for their tireless effort over many years to preserve and celebrate Haldimand’s incredible history.
“She has a passion for black history, and the part Canfield played in the Underground Railway,” said Hewitt. “Sylvia is a very deserving recipient.”
Weaver gave a short address to Council after receiving her certificate, thanking Councillors Metcalf and Corbett: “There’s so much history in Haldimand County and I’m so pleased to be part of it, and saving it.”