If These Walls Could Talk: The Oro African Church

Exhibition
Date: 
Saturday, April 30, 2016 to Sunday, September 18, 2016

April 30 - September 18, 2016

Opening Reception May 18 from 5-7pm

Main Gallery, Second Floor, OMAH

Join us for the opening reception on May 18 from 5-7pm prior to our May History Speaker's Evening.

If These Walls Could Talk tells the story of the Oro African Episcopal Methodist Church National Historic Site, the African-Canadian settlers who originally built the church, and efforts by residents and governments of the Township of Oro (later Oro-Medonte) and the County of Simcoe to preserve the site since the 1940s.

By focusing on the church itself, If These Walls Could Talk will use artefacts loaned from the Township of Oro-Medonte, the Simcoe County Museum and Archives, and descendants of the African-Canadian settlers to tell the story of the church and the people who built, worshipped, and were buried at it. The African-Canadian settlers of Oro Township were located there by the government of Upper Canada in the decades after the War of 1812, and they and their descendants remained in the area for over a hundred years before their community ultimnately disappeared. Some of the settlers were veterans of an all-black militia unit called Runchey’s Coloured Corps which helped defend this province from American invasion during the War of 1812. During the Rebellion of 1837, many of the same settlers volunteered to defend the crown against William Lyon Mackenzie and his rebels.

Although the Oro African Church remained a hub of the local African-Canadian community until the 1930s, by the 1940s it had been abandoned and was at risk of collapsing. In response, notable Oro residents, including a former premier of Ontario, a retired early professor of psychology, a local school teacher, and members of the local Women’s Institutes successfully lobbied the Township and County governments to save the building. Since then, the Township and the County have continued to maintain and improve the site, including major repairs to the church after it was attacked in 1981 by vandals in stolen dump trucks, and successfully lobbying the federal government to have the church declared a National Historic Site in 2000. Since 1949, the Township has also helped organize periodic anniversary services at the church, which have been attended by notable provincial and federal politicians and African-Canadian leaders.

The exhibit will take place around the culmination of the latest effort by local residents and governments to preserve the site, when the church is expected to reopen to the public following last year’s fundraising campaign by the Township of Oro-Medonte and a major restoration of the site funded by the Township, County, the Province of Ontario, Parks Canada, and private donations from across North America. Please join us at OMAH this spring and summer to celebrate this ongoing story and the conclusion of its latest chapter!