The Queen’s Bush is a vast unorganized wilderness situated north of Guelph and comprising much of Wellington County today. Until the 1840s, this was the largest African Canadian settlement in Canada West. The earliest Black pioneers were veterans from the War of 1812 and their families. They believed they would be granted the land on which they settled, once they had cleared and planted it, then cut roads and built homes. Others were either free or formerly enslaved African American freedom-seekers who traveled into the Queen’s Bush to make new lives for themselves, gain an education for their children and establish independent farms that would support generations of their descendants.
These brave people built new lives and created prosperous farms, built churches and sent their children to schools supported by the American Missionary Association. They were hardworking, and resilient, and they established a vibrant community life helping each other and celebrating events such as Emancipation Day together. More than 2,000 African Canadians lived in the Queen’s Bush by about 1845.
But the land on which they had settled was mainly Clergy Reserve (set aside to be sold to support the Anglican Church). In the early 1840’s, surveyors divided the land and the government sold it. Many of the Black farmers could not afford the settlement charges and were forced off their hard-won properties. Unscrupulous land agents frightened families into selling for far less than their properties were now worth. Many families migrated out of the area and joined communities in Owen Sound, Collingwood, Guelph, Waterloo, Buxton, Chatham, Hamilton, the Niagara region and Toronto.
The Queen’s Bush is an important part of Ontario’s history, and of Canada’s pioneering past. The courage and commitment to the ideals of freedom shown by these intrepid Black pioneers helped establish the prosperous agricultural heartland that the region remains today. Their experience represents the love of freedom and dedication to community-building which characterized the African Americans who became African Canadians in early 19th century Ontario.