History, Our Community
Buxton’s 100th Homecoming Celebration
Sawyer Thompson-Brown in conversation with Shannon Prince
January 24, 2024
Each Labour Day the small town of North Buxton, Ontario fills with music, food, family, games, and baseball during the annual Buxton Homecoming Celebration. This year residents celebrate the 100th anniversary of this much-loved event. The first Homecoming occurred in 1924 and was organized by Minnie Robbins. Robbins belonged to the Sunshine Club, a women’s club that put-on events for the community associated with the Buxton British Methodist Episcopal Church. The Buxton community gathered under a pear tree on James Robbins’ farm where the women cooked a picnic lunch and the men played baseball. The following year, it was suggested that the community have a Homecoming church service and invite former Buxton residents back to Buxton for the Labour Day weekend. As people flocked in from various parts of Canada and the US, Homecoming became a time of reunion and reconnection for people in Buxton and for those who had moved away. They played games like egg-toss, tug-of-war, baseball, and the wheelbarrow race. The one-day event has now evolved into a four-day celebration and continues to be a time to come together and share memories and stories.
Buxton’s historic past, as the former Elgin Settlement, a successful Black settlement, and a stop on the Underground Railroad, enhances the importance of Homecoming. The Elgin settlement, established in 1849 by Reverend William King, became a home to approximately 2,000 former enslaved individuals who cleared land, created farms, industries, schools, churches and a prosperous community. Many descendants of early Black settlers still reside in Buxton, including Shannon Prince, whose family has been in Buxton for six generations. Shannon’s great grandfather, Dennis Calico Robbins, was born into slavery in Tennessee and moved his family to Canada where he purchased land in Buxton. This land is still owned and farmed by Shannon and her siblings. Shannon has lived in Buxton her whole life and is passionate about the Buxton community and has been the curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum since 1999.
Growing up, Shannon recalls the close-knit and rich sense of community in Buxton. She remembers spending time as a community, sharing produce, going to the lake, having smelting gatherings where men caught fish and women prepared and served them, having picnics down at the water after Sunday’s church service, spending Friday nights at the water as a teenager, square dancing, and of course, celebrating Homecoming each labour day. “It was a wonderful place to grow and be raised” Shannon says, and this strong sense of community in Buxton still remains.
Each year approximately 3,000 people attend Homecoming in Buxton and the community works hard to prepare for four jam-packed days of celebration. The Buxton National Historic Site & Museum (https://buxtonmuseum.com/), the North Buxton Community Club, the North Buxton Community church, and Buxton’s Next Generation meet throughout the year and work together to organize Homecoming. Since about 1952, the community has also created a homecoming booklet. Originally, it was only 2-3 pages; now it is much larger. Shannon compares the booklet to a yearbook that encapsulates everything that happened in Buxton during the year. The booklet includes yearly reports from clubs, celebrates local accomplishments, such as graduations and retirements, and honors those who have passed.
Each year the community also plans a theme for Homecoming; this year’s theme was a trip down memory lane. Some original traditions are still an important part of the weekend such as the Sunday morning and afternoon church service. The afternoon service has always been a lively and inspiring service of gospel music and song and continues to be a much-anticipated part of the weekend. The service takes place at the North Buxton Community Church, formerly the British Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1866. Another tradition that carries on is the baseball game. The original Homecoming Baseball Game has evolved into a family feud baseball tournament where families in the community form teams and compete against each other. Each’s family’s roster is a family tree consisting of multiple generations and ages ranging from mid-teens to mid-seventies. The parade, food, music, dancing, and visitors from afar have also remained as defining characteristics of Homecoming weekend, along with newer additions such as the car show and history conference.
This year’s 100th Homecoming was very special to the community. The Homecoming design (featured on buttons, t-shirts, and this year’s booklet) featured the pear tree on the Robbins family farm where Buxton Homecoming began. This homecoming, being the 100th had an especially large turnout and visitors enjoyed the many activities during the lively weekend. Homecoming has something for everyone; the weekend started with the Buxton History and Genealogy Conference on Friday with renowned historians. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday included the Family Feud Baseball Tournament, the Black vendors market, a 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, beer tent, and car show.
Saturday night was the Party in the Park, a night filled with dancing and live DJ’s. What originally started as a separate adult dance and teen dance is now a dance for all generations. Sunday holds the morning and afternoon church service; this year the Toronto Mass Choir, a large gospel choir performed. Descendants of the original Sunshine Club, that started Homecoming presented biographies of their ancestors.
The “Angels Along The Way” re-enactment was also performed, detailing the story of the “Lemmon Slaves”, a group of 8 enslaved people who were brought into the free state of New York by their master in 1856. With the help of man named Louis Napoleon and a battle in court, they gained their freedom, and some of the group settled in Buxton. In addition, the “Buxton’s Got Talent” show presented amazing local talent and fireworks. Monday, the last final day of Homecoming, featured the annual Homecoming Parade and the Family Feud Baseball game finals.
Shannon describes the weekend as a great big family reunion, a homecoming for descendants of the original Black settlers and those who have moved away. But it is also an educational time, for tourists to come, visit the museum and learn about the unique and special history of Buxton. Homecoming helps to keep Buxton’s history alive, as people share stories about their families, their connection to Buxton, and their history. Homecoming creates a chance for people to learn about their family history and enhance old stories with new knowledge, allowing those stories to be continually shared and passed down. Shannon describes it as everyone having a piece of the story and people bringing those stories back to Buxton allowing the roots of the story to get deeper and broader.