By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CANFIELD—The Street-Barnes Cemetery in Canfield has a deep historical significance to Haldimand County: resting there are black settlers who traveled to Canada via the Underground Railroad to ultimately settle in Canfield.
“The cemetery, which dates back to the 1870s, is historically significant as it is the resting place of 11 known Black settlers – and their descendants – who came from the United States to Canfield through the Underground Railroad. Among the individuals buried there is Caroline (Carrie) Stewart, who was married to William Andrew Barnes, and was the niece of famed American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman,”explained Katrina Schmitz, Manager of Community Development & Partnerships for the County.
“As well, the cemetery is associated with one of the first churches established by the Black freedom seekers in Canfield, the North Cayuga Baptist Church, which was known for welcoming both Black and white parishioners,” added Schmitz.
The last known person to be buried in the cemetery was in 1940, and the site has weathered the effects of time ever since, having been largely neglected over the years. Recently, it has been a matter of discussion in the community with many looking towards Haldimand County to take an active role in preserving the legacy with regular maintenance.
The attention to the site prompted the current owner of the land to approach the County to pass ownership of the cemetery, as well as all responsibilities related to maintaining it. The site is located at the intersection of Highway 3 and County Road 56. With interest in the site only growing, Haldimand County has consulted with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) to determine their role in preserving the site’s legacy.
“The first phase of the project has three parts, including ownership transfer of the cemetery to Haldimand County, establishment of an access route to the site through an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation, and approval by Haldimand County Council,” said Schmitz.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, many groups, including living descendants, local heritage groups, and both the County and Province, have tried with little luck to access the site. The tide began to turn in 2016, when the little-known history of Black settlement in Canfield was brought to light by a presentation given by local historian Sylvia Weaver.
This led to the erection of a historical marker on the site in 2017, which drew attention far and wide with over 200 family members of the deceased and guests coming from as far away as the United States to attend the unveiling. It is also the site of a documentary television series that is currently in production and being made by Graeme Bachiu of Windecker Road Films for Bell Media.
A two-phase plan is being considered for the project. The first would be led by the County’s Facilities, Parks, Cemeteries, and Forestry Division and would entail the preliminary rehabilitation work on the site. Phase Two would encompass the creation of a committee to determine what the next appropriate steps for the site would be.
Funding in the amount of $100,000 is being sought by County staff for the project. Council will consider the costs during the 2021 Capital Budget at the end of March.
“It is important for any community to remember and recognize its history as a means to honour the past, especially when that history is connected to larger historical issues. In this case, the village of Canfield – and the Street-Barnes Cemetery – are part of the larger history of slavery in the United States and the Underground Railroad as a route to freedom,” summed up Schmitz.
For those interested in learning more about the site, Haldimand County has materials to view on their Heritage and Culture site at haldimandcounty.ca/heritage-culture.