The Underground Railroad and North Buxton, Ontario

Bancroft, Brantford (both great fun) and then a weekend off at my brother’s new farm north of Meaford. We had a wonderful family time (lots of food, conversation and soggy walks) and caught up on everyone’s travels and activities.

Our last gig in Ontario was for the Chatham-Kent Quilters guild. First time for us there, and they really treated us well. There were some gals who drove in from Sarnia in the audience too, as well as many other neighbouring communities.  I taught my Machine Reverse Applique class one last time on this tour, and once again, the students created some stunning work.

Half the class in Chatham - look at those smiles!

Half the class in Chatham - look at those smiles!

Before we left the Chatham area, we visited the North Buxton Museum. I had heard about this community a few years ago thanks to a display at Quilt Canada in Kitchener/Waterloo and had wanted to check it out.  North Buxton was a tract of land that was set aside for escaped slaves during the American Civil War. If they could build a house with certain minimum dimensions, they could have the land it was built on.  Quite a few took advantage of the offer, and there was a thriving community there.  In fact, after some initial opposition, the locals actually sent their children to the North Buxton school because it offered far superior education to their own! 

"A Terminus of the Underground Railroad"

"A Terminus of the Underground Railroad"

The Museum in North Buxton is fascinating, and well worth a visit. We had a personal tour from a 5th generation descendent of slaves who settled there. I wanted to see quilts, of course.  I had heard that there were some signature quilts on the bed. Our guide asked if I knew of the “Hidden In Plain View” book which purports to tell a true story about quilts used by escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad. He said “It’s not true – none of it.” It was interesting to hear it from him; I’ve certainly heard much the same from American quilt historians.  The story has taken off,  though, and I’m certain that neither our guide nor the quilt historians will be able to put the genie back into the bottle.

Our guide showed me a bed piled high with quilts, and pulled back the layers so I could see them all.  It was an impressive show of antique quilts made by the women of the community over the years. Many of them had names embroidered on them – fundraisers by reunion attendees who had come back to the area, for the most part.

A bed full of quilts

A bed full of quilts

Perhaps the most disturbing part of our visit to the museum was the description of how the slaves were transported from Africa.  They were stuffed in, four to a berth, and a berth was a wooden box 2 feet wide, 2 feet high and 6 feet long, looking for all the world like a coffin without a top.  These berths were piled high below decks, and the slaves were chained into them, with no fresh air or bathroom facilities, and only a minimum of food.  The captain of the boats would get paid for each slave transported as long as they did not die of disease on the boat. If they went overboard and died, the captain would still get paid – so they would tie the sick slaves together with heavy chains and throw them overboard.  I am appalled at the barbarity of these conditions. To treat fellow humans in this way…

We flew home on Thursday and had one night there before driving north to Campbell River.  What a tease, to only spend one night home!  But it was only one more night away. 

The City of Campbell River sponsored the North Island Sewing and Needle Arts Show where we sang, and I taught a hexagon class. Proceeds from the event will help fund programs for developmentally challenged adults that they run at the community centre there, including sewing and quilting classes.  It was a very nice event. After my class on Saturday, I wandered around the vendors and display areas. I tried out some bobbin lace-making, and checked out the “sheep to shawl” group on the stage who were working through the shorn wool via carding, spinning, plying, and weaving. It was very well done.

So, now we’re home for the week, getting caught up, unpacked, and ready for our next adventure:  HAWAII!!!  We’re pulling out the summer clothes (wait a minute – weren’t we just in a snowstorm?), and packing up the kits for our cruisin’ quilters who will be joining us in Honolulu.  John’s dusting off his ukulele (he’s going to let me borrow it), and I’ve even found my muu muu that I bought there about 25 years ago.  Maybe it’ll still fit…….

Aloha for now!


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