Monument for Potter's Field at Greenwood Cemetery unveiled

cjos potters


Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound, Ontario, is home to Potter's Field, where more than 1200 people lie in their final resting place, with no marker to honour a life lived or to note their individual histories. Potter's Field, also known as the Indigent Lot, came into use in 1858 and was a burial ground for more than 130 years.

Newborns/stillborn/toddlers, orphans, seniors, Indigenous people, the working poor, the incarcerated and the homeless are buried there. Many from Owen Sound's historic Black community, including many who escaped on the Underground Railroad and their descendants, share this overlooked resting place, at this northern terminus of the Railroad. These were citizens who faced systemic racism, often resulting in deep poverty.

In 2018, at The City of Owen Sound's Doors Open cemetery tour, led by Aly Boltman, two anonymous donors volunteered to fund a monument to honour the people buried in Potter's Field. The donors are now revealed to be John and Shirley Reaburn of Georgian Bluffs, Ontario. Our community is grateful for their commitment to social justice and for their generosity. 

Throughout 2018 and 2019, the public provided input towards the monument's design, undertaken by a volunteer committee, working alongside Sanderson Monuments. This substantial memorial, inspired by the design of the first local British Methodist Episcopal Church's arched windows and the Black History Cairn designed by Bonita Johnson deMatteis, is built of solid granite and cast bronze. It was installed at Greenwood Cemetery in December 2020 and covered for the winter in anticipation of a spring community dedication.

As a result of continuing restrictions due to COVID-19, the committee has been unable to schedule a spring gathering and the monument has now been uncovered. It is located at Greenwood Cemetery, north of the chapel on the east side of the ravine.

York University Professor Naomi Norquay is leading a complementary Potter's Field research project, in partnership with Grey Roots Museum & Archives. This initiative is funded by the Federal government through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and aims to learn about those interred at Potter's Field. The project's findings will be available through a public website, linked through an interpretive plaque to be installed at the memorial site this fall, and funded by The City of Owen Sound.

Those interested in learning more about Potter's Field can watch "Caring for the dead: A look at who's buried in Greenwood Cemetery's indigent Plot https://greyroots.com/exhibit-event-program/virtual-spring-lecture-series-caring-dead-look-whos-buried-greenwood or review the interment list at  https://brucegrey.ogs.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2018/08/Greenwood-Interments-from-Lots-G-BLE-and-Lots-G-BLF.pdf


Senator Wanda Bernard Thomas eloquently summed up the importance of this monument in 2019. "Creating a monument for Greenwood Cemetery to recognize the many marginalized community members who died and were never recognized is a meaningful gesture in reconciling our histories of anti-Black racism and colonialism. Unmarked graves are one of the many ways our ancestors have been erased, dehumanized, mistreated and devalued…This monument is an example of how communities can enact justice for our forgotten ancestors."

Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy, a relative of John Boddy, the first person interred in Potter's Field in 1858, said: "The Potter's Field Monument celebrates and recognizes more than 1000 unidentified, but not forgotten interred people. We are grateful to have a permanent monument to pay tribute to and honour those in Potter's Field. I would like to extend a special thank you to the donors and the volunteer committee who together have brought this project to fruition. I encourage residents to go to Greenwood Cemetery and view the monument."

The Reaburns "were deeply moved by the absence of any graveside markers to remember over a thousand bodies buried there. In this day and age, there is no need for anyone to be left unrecognized. We offer our sincere thanks to Aly Boltman, who first inspired us with her tour and then was the driving force behind the project, managing all the legwork and details."

If you wish to be added to the invitation list for a dedication event planned for the fall of 2021, or wish to provide information for the Potter's Field research project, please email: ospfproject@gmail.com

The donors and the volunteer committee thank the City of Owen Sound for its steadfast support for this project since its inception in 2018.

The committee also wishes to thank Pam Coulter, Adam Parsons, Amanda Tennant, Naomi Norquay, Rachel Lobo, Karin Noble, Grey Roots Museum & Archives, Bonita Johnson deMatteis, Michael McLuhan, Steve Peyton, Michael Den Tandt, Philly Markowitz, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, Anne-Marie Hay, Anne Finlay-Stewart, Tony Miller, Richard Thomas, William Felepchuk, Francesca Dobbyn, Dorothy Abbott, Blaine Courtney, Petal Furness and numerous stakeholders, volunteers and researchers including Terri Jackson, whose early writing about Potter's Field inspired this important community project.