Country Setting Shaken

Drive 35 minutes north and west of Waterloo and you come to the southerly end of Conestogo Lake, a reservoir stopped up in the course of the river by the same name. Over the years my family have driven through the area ; perhaps to get to the Mennonite based Village of Millbank (offering the delightful fare of “Anna Mae’s Bakery and Restaurant”); or to visit the Town of Drayton; or to view all the well-groomed work horse farms along Highway 86 and leading to Listowel.

This morning we stopped at the little park by the newer bridge in Glen Allan. A “glen” has the happy distinction of being a soothing and verdent hollow in the midst of higher lands. Precisely. The riverside below us hosted Hereford cattle and shorn sheep. The little park featured the colourful showing and antics of purple martins, goldfinches, grackles, robins and mourning doves. In passing we had noted sturdy rubber-tired Mennonite drover wagons pulled with head-high enthusiasm by beautiful butterscotch coloured work horses.

Out of curiosity I wandered over to a blue plaque placed recently by the province signifying a story of historical significance, a story which in this case might shock every considerate reader. Here is what it said:

In the early 19th century the vast unsettled area between Waterloo County and Lake Huron was known as the “Queen’s Bush”. More than 1,500 free and formerly enslaved Blacks pioneered scattered farms along the Peel and Wellesley Township border, with Glen Allan, Hawkesville and Wallenstein as important centres. Working together, these industrious and self-reliant settlers built churches, schools, and a strong and vibrant community life. American missionaries taught local Black children at the Mount Hope and Mount Pleasant schools. In the 1840s the government ordered the district surveyed and many of the settlers could not afford to purchase the land they had laboured so hard to clear. By 1850 migration out of the Queen’s Bush had begun. Today African Canadians whose ancestors pioneered the Queen’s Bush are represented in communities across Ontario.

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