Lisa Small is a student of Black history and heritage. She believes that they can help us identify areas of interest for archaeological investigation – in fact, this kind of background research is key to understanding and interpreting archaeological finds. Here she examines the background of Cedar Park Farm in a comic book she co-authored with Matthew Wilkinson and Daniel Wong as part of a series, The Grange, presented by Heritage Mississauga. The book takes researched Black history, presenting it in a relatable and accessible format. It is available on Heritage Mississauga’s website: https://heritagemississauga.com/comic-books/
Following the abolishment of slavery in the United States, many emancipated Blacks made northerly migrations into Canada in search of land, opportunities and a new life. Many of those who came to Canada bringing significant means with them to secure citizenship, purchase land, homes and even the freedoms of other Blacks, including family and loved ones. Some Blacks travelled by boat across the Great Lakes and some people/families landed in areas like Oakville, Bronte and Mississauga, formerly Toronto Township.
Mississauga had a relatively small Black population. Census records indicate there were approximately 60-70 recorded Blacks that settled in the Region of Peel throughout the 19th century and consisted of a diverse demographic of freed Blacks and fugitives who were landowners, farmers, labourers, schoolteachers, barbers and servants.
“The Legend of Cedar Park” is Mississauga’s first illustrative comic book exploring the City’s early Black history during the 19th century. The comic features one of the best-documented early Black families in historic Peel about the story of the Ross Family and their home at Cedar Park Farm.
In the story, you are introduced to Didamia (nee Paul) whose father Benjamin Paul had been a prominent abolitionist and minister at the Wilberforce Settlement, near Lucan, Ontario. Didamia herself had been a schoolteacher before getting married, and the couple would go on to have 11 children here in what is now Mississauga. George Woodford Ross, Didamia’s husband, had been born enslaved in Urbanna, Virginia. After being emancipated, George came to Canada in 1834, and in 1836 purchased a 200-acre farm on Concession 2, Lot 12 near the modern intersection of Burnhamthorpe Road and Cawthra Road. George built the family home circa 1836 and added bricked veneer in the 1870s.
Henry Cook then purchased the Ross home in 1919 and by circa 1975 it was demolished. Since then, much of the Ross-Cook property including the farm has been converted into residential streets and neighbourhoods. What remains today is Rayfield Park, located on part of what was the Ross’ Cedar Park Farm.
The comic also gives a glimpse into the local story of Solomon Northup, a fugitive slave who was born free, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup’s life was portrayed in the novel and film “12 Years a Slave”. According to the “Streetsville Review”, one of Mississauga’s surviving newspapers, Solomon was last reported giving a lecture in Streetsville in 1857 but was chased out by an irate crowd outside the Town Hall never to be seen again after that day.
While the comic mentions notable Blacks like Northup and the Ross family, there remains room for discoveries and to further unpack what does exist of early Black settler life in Peel.
– Lisa Small
Credit: Heritage Mississauga, Modern Mississauga Media, Erin Brubacher, Region of Peel Archives
For More Information:
Brubacher, Erin. “A Fugitive Past: Black History in Mississauga” for Heritage Mississauga. Heritage News, Fall 2006.
Government of Canada, 1865, 1871, 1881, 1901, 1911 census, Peel Region: York West.
Henry, Natasha L. Emancipation Day. Celebrating Freedom in Canada. Dundurn Press, Toronto, 2010.
The Streetsville Review. Proquest Historical Newspaper: The Globe and Mail (1844-2011), The Globe, August 19, 1857, page 2.