Art Trees of Oro-Medonte

The Art Trees of Oro-Medonte

The Art Trees of Oro-Medonte was a township-led street art project. Through the My Main Street Community Activator Program, the Craighurst Public Art Project received federal funding through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.  $40,000 was allotted to install unique seven-foot tree sculptures at various business locations in the village of Craighurst, Ontario. The sculptures were designed and fabricated by David Smith of Oro Design. Following a call for artists and a juried competition, seven local artists were selected to visually enhance the tree sculptures.

The Art Trees have been installed at seven locations near the four corners of Craighurst Ontario. Craighurst is located at the intersection of Penetanguishene Rd (Highway 93) and Horseshoe Valley Rd (County Road 22).​​ For more information and location maps, media links, etc please see the Oro-Medonte Township website here.

My Art Trees of Oro-Medonte Submission

I was born and raised in Alberta, as were most of my family for the past 100 years or so. In 2020, while doing some research on my family tree, I discovered that my estranged grandfather’s family were among the first settlers in the area I am now living. This current knowledge gave me a deeper connection to Oro-Medonte than I had previously felt. I had roots again, after almost 40 years.

When I learned of the Oro-Medonte Art Trees project, I was immediately intrigued. This was an opportunity to use the information I had gathered about my ancestors in an exciting permanent outdoor art project. Because of my roots, I chose to focus on the original settlement in what was then Oro (prior to becoming Oro-Medonte). All of the structures represented on the tree that I painted, were built prior to 1850. Most of these buildings were in use from 1830 or earlier until the late 1800’s.

“The area around Craighurst holds a special place in my heart. I hail from Alberta originally (as do most of my family) but recently discovered that my (estranged) grandfather’s family were among the first settlers to the area. My 3rd great grandfather was Edward Grant Luck. He settled here in 1820, and became the first teacher in Crown Hill. He taught there for 22 years. Small world. The journey into my family’s past, has led me to a deepened connection of the area in which I now find myself living. There is still much to discover.” ~ Kathryn Kaiser

Background and History of Oro

Between 1819 and 1831, a Black settlement along Wilberforce Street, located along the west side of Concession II in Oro Township, was sponsored by the government of Upper Canada. Among the Black settlers in Oro were veterans of the War of 1812. Though it was not the largest B​​lack settlement in Upper Canada, the Wilberforce Street settlement was the only one that resulted from government planning and encouragement.

The Wilberforce Street lots, as well as some in Concessions III to VI, became home to about 60 Black settlers and their families, with a maximum population of approximately 100 people. Settlement occurred in two waves, from 1819-1826 and from 1828-1831. Wilberforce Street is now Penetanguishene Road, or Highway 93.

The Penetanguishene Road, now known as Highway 93, is Simcoe County’s oldest surveyed road. It was built between 1814-1815 and provided a route by land from the north side of Kempenfelt Bay to the town and naval establishment at Penetanguishene. Before this road was built, the only access to Penetanguishene was along the rivers and via Georgian Bay.

See more on the white settlers in this link: The Pioneers of Penetanguishene Road.

See more on the Black Settlement in Oro Township here.

Oro Township showing lots located or occupied by black settlers. Oro Township showing lots allocated to Black Settlers.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church

In 1838, abolitionist Rev. Ari Raymond, was sent to minister to the Black population of Oro Township. In the 1840’s, the community built the African Methodist Episcopal Church near Edgar. The first Black minister was Rev Richard S W Sorrick, who arrived in 1845 and served until 1847. After the families moved out of the area, the church fell into a state of disrepair.

“I came into Canada in 1845. Stopped at Toronto, where I found the colored people prompt, doing well, ready to help. I went to Oro, where I found some fifty persons settled; many comfortable and doing well, but many suffer a great deal from poverty. I showed them about agriculture, and instructed them as far as my limited learning would go. When I came away, many were poor, but they were not vicious: I never lived among a more teachable people. I never knew a fight among them or their children.” ~ Rev R S W Sorrick

The church was restored in 1949 on the 100th anniversary of its construction. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2000, and a plaque recognizing this distinction was unveiled in 2003. In 2016, extensive renovations were completed. 

African Methodist Episcopal Church
Old photo of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Log Schoolhouse

The Luck family relocated to Ontario with a handful of Scottish settlers who emigrated from Albany NewYork in 1820. Edward Grant Luck settled in Oro with his second wife Martha Jones on Wilberforce Street, between Dalston and Crown Hill. His son (also Edward Grant Luck) married Jane Elphinstone Caller, and taught school at the first schoolhouse in Crown Hill for 22 years. Read Jane Luck’s obituary in the link here. The wee log school house on the tree is an image of that school.

The image below is of the log schoolhouse where my 3rd great grandfather taught. 

Log School House Oro
Log School House Oro

St Thomas Anglican Church – Shanty Bay

The St Thomas Anglican Church in Shanty Bay appealed to my architectural and design interests. St Thomas is built in the Gothic revival stye, and is one of the last original surviving structures constructed of “rammed earth” in Canada. Indeed, it is one of the last surviving rammed earth buildings in North America.

Although rammed earth construction regained popularity in the 1970’s, it dates back thousands of years. This method utilized wet clay and sand mixed with chopped straw, which was compacted (or “rammed”) into forms which were 14 to 24 inches wide. When dry, the exterior was clad in plaster or stucco for protection against weather. Although inexpensive, it was labour intensive.

St Thomas is now almost 200 years old. The cornerstone of the church was laid on June 29, 1838, construction was completed by 1841 and it was consecrated in 1842. This unique church in Shanty Bay is still in use today.

St Thomas Anglican Rammed Earth Church Shanty Bay
St Thomas Anglican Church – photo from 1930

Shed & Shanty Sketches

Because some of the structures I wished to represent are no longer standing, I referred to many old sketches in my research. The drawings that most inspired me were those of George Harlow White.

George Harlow White (b.1817- d.1887) was born in London England.

Before coming to Canada, he worked in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales as a portrait and landscape artist. In 1871, George immigrated to Canada. He arrived initially in Québec then continued to Ontario, settling in Shanty Bay, near Barrie, Ontario. Many of his works were of Simcoe County and Muskoka. In 1876, he travelled to Ottawa, Quebec and the St. Lawrence-Lake Ontario region, then to the western provinces.

White was an elected member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1878 and exhibited his works with the society until 1886. He also exhibited with the Art Association of Montreal and with the Royal Canadian Academy. The Toronto Public library is fortunate to have 330 pencils sketches by George Harlow White (available to see in their digital archives) most of which are part of the J Ross Robertson Collection. 

Log Hut in Oro
Shed in Shanty Bay Oro – George Harlow White
Log Shanty in Oro 1920 - George Harlow White
Log Shanty in Oro – George Harlow White

My Own Art Trees of Oro-Medonte Project

Some progress photos of the work on the tree that I completed for this project. The Art Trees of Oro-Medonte are currently on display in the Village of Craighurst, Ontario, along Horseshoe Valley Road.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *