Filed under: history, self-guided tours, top-feature
Following the Freedom Trail in Niagara
The Niagara Freedom Trail traces the journey freedom seekers made as they followed the Underground Railroad on their way to freedom in Canada.¬† The Niagara River served as a popular crossing point from the United States, where former slaves would make their way across the river under the cover of darkness.
The Niagara Freedom Trail starts in Fort Erie (map), at a marker known as “The Crossing”. This plaque marks the spot where many former slaves first set foot on Canadian soil, and served as a major entry point for freedom seekers.
Also in Fort Erie, almost right across the street from “The Crossing” plaque, you will find Bertie Hall. The building now serves as a museum, but it used to function as a safe house for freedom seekers once they had crossed the river.
It is said that Bertie Hall was the third stop on the Underground Railroad, with the former stops being in Buffalo right near the Canadian border.¬† A secret tunnel used to lead from the banks of the Niagara River to the basement of Bertie Hall, and although the tunnel has now been sealed, the spot where the tunnel was presumed to be is marked. You are able to go in the basement and experience what it most likely resembled when it functioned as a safe house.¬† Other stops on the Freedom Trail that might be of interested is Freedom Park in Fort Erie, as well as the Little Africa Coloured Cemetery (map).¬† Fort Erie was a popular spot for black settlers, and in the 19th century, parts of Fort Erie were known as “Little Africa”.¬† Graves in this cemetery date back to the mid 19th century. The cemetery can be a little tricky to find as you have to navigate several back roads to get to it, but it is extremely interesting if you like history. Freedom Park is located along the Niagara River, and every year they have a reenactment of The Crossing.
Leaving Fort Erie, you can next head along the Niagara Parkway to the historic town of Niagara on the Lake (map).¬† The Negro Burial Ground (map), is commemorated by a historical plaque and can be found on a main street in Niagara on the Lake. The William Steward Homestead (map) is one of the few remaining examples of the housing that was built for black settlers in the area. Other places of interest to visit in Niagara on the Lake include Parliament Oak School, a site which commemorates the signing of Emancipation Compromise of 1783.
After visiting the sites in Niagara on the Lake, you can head to St. Catharines (map), were you will find the BME Church, Victoria Lawn Cemetery and the St. Catharines Museum. The BME Church (map) stands in a part of St. Catharines formally known as Coloured Town. This is the area of the city in which many free slaves from the United States settled upon their arrival in Canada. Harriet Tubman, the “Black Moses” as she was known, actually lived in St. Catharines for a time, and worshipped at the BME Church. The St. Catharines Museum (map) has a permanent exhibit titled “Follow the North Star” which details the experience of the Underground Railroad and it’s connection to Niagara.
If you have a love for history, following the Freedom Trail can be a great way to spend a day in Niagara!
Photo Credits: Megan Pasche
AFort Erie, ONFort Erie, ON, CanadaView Details and Book
BCurtis RdCurtis Rd, Fort Erie, ON L0S 1S0, CanadaView Details and Book
CNiagara-ON-the-Lake, ONNiagara-ON-the-Lake, ON, CanadaView Details and Book
D494 Mississauga St494 Mississauga St, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0, CanadaView Details and Book
E507 Butler St507 Butler St, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0, CanadaView Details and Book
FSaint Catharines, ONSaint Catharines, ON, CanadaView Details and Book
G100 Geneva St100 Geneva St, St Catharines, ON L2R 4N1, CanadaView Details and Book
HSt Catharines Museum & Welland Canal Centre AtLock 31932 Welland Canals Parkway, St. Catharines, ON L2R7K6, CanadaView Details and Book