Starting in 1819 the township of Oro issued land grants to veterans of the 1812 war that had fought with Capt. Robert Runchey’s Colour Corps. The initial issue of grants was to about twenty-five soldiers from all regiments, with nine actually taking up residents in the newly established settlement. By the early 1830’s that number had grown to total approximately forty, and at it’s hight numbered approximately one-hundred settlers. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is the last reminder of this settlement.
The Church itself was erected in 1849, after the community had purchased one acre of land for one pound. The church served the communities needs from 1849 right through to the early 1900’s, when the black community in Oro seemed to dissolve, and in 1916 the church was declared abandoned.
The wood siding that you see on the Church today is not original. The original building was a square timber structure, the siding was added some time in the 1920’s or 1930’s, to protect the exterior of the building from further exposure to the elements. There have been three restoration projects for the church since that time. The building was likely saved by the first restoration in 1947. Without this first renovation the church would have undoubtedly succumb to the ravages of the elements and moisture. Again in 1956 Oro Council set aside funds to continue to restore the church. Part of the plan that the Oro Council approved was to start a Historical Society to help with recommendations and preservation of the Church. The final major restoration project was in 1981 after 2 stolen trucks had been used to ram the building.
I would be amiss to talk about the history of this church if I didn’t mention the Underground Railroad. Until I started to do the research in to the last remnants of the African settlement in Oro, I was one of the believers that thought this church was the last stop on the Underground Railroad, for slaves fleeing the United States, looking for a free life. According to research that was conducted by Elmvale Lawyer Gary French, most if not all of the settlers were either “freemen” from the northern United States that emigrated to Canada, or Veterans.
There is a stone cairn about twenty feet from the church’s southwest corner that has one plaque on each of the four sides. The first of the four plaques is from the County of Simcoe and the Township of Oro in 1947, and list some of the family names that originally worshiped at the church. The County of Simcoe placed the second plaque with a brief overview of the history. The Township of Oro-Medonte place the third plaque in 1999 celebrating the 150th anniversary of the church. The final of the four plaques was placed in 2002 recognizing the church as a national historic site of Canada.