UGRR Detroit Alternate Highlights - Section 2: Sombra, ON to Owen Sound, ON
North American Black Historical Museum is a complex that includes a cultural center and historic structures. The museum protects, preserves, and proudly presents rich Black heritage with special focus on the Underground Railroad. Connected to the Museum is the Taylor Log Cabin, a historic residence and the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church stands next door. Many slaves and oppressed Blacks came by way of the Detroit River into Amherstburg since it was the narrowest point to cross the Detroit River. The museum tells the story of the refugees, many of whom swam across the river with their few belongings tie to their backs.
Sandwich First Baptist Church is one of the oldest Canadian Black Baptist churches that was active during the UGRR era. In the early 19th century, Sandwich was a popular destination for refugees fleeing across the Detroit River. The congregation was established in 1840 and by 1851 the community was able to raise this fine brick chapel that continues to serve the community today. Many of the bricks that built the church were made by slaves escaping through the UGRR as payment for a meal and safe haven that had been provided by a member of the congregation.
Tower of Freedom Underground Railroad Monument is located at 200 Pitt St. E., near River Front Dr. This sculpture illustrates the refugees' arrival into Canada and their overwhelming emotion upon encountering freedom. The twenty-two foot high granite "Freedom Tower" serves as a candle representing the "Internal Flame of Freedom." The Canadian side of the sculpture depicts a male slave giving thanks and a female slave holding a baby with a female Canadian Underground Railroad "operative" welcoming them to safety. On the U.S. side of the tower is a small slave girl looking back toward America and the Gateway to Freedom Monumentat Hart Plaza on the Detroit Riverfront. The "Freedome Tower" monument also honors the City of Windsor and the Province of Ontario as a point of willing embarkation for safe refuge for thousands of slaves.
John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum* is barely off route at 859 Puce Rd. John Walls was an escaped slave who traveled from North Carolina to Canada. In 1976 Walls' descendants worked to have this site recognized for its historical significance. Through re-enactments, guides bring to life the journey and dangers that slaves faced when escaping from slavery into freedom in Canada.
Puce River Black Community Provincial Plaque at the B.M.E. Cemetery on Division Rd. The black community in Puce River is tied to the Refugee Home Society, an abolitionist organization founded in the early 1850s. The society gave former slaves the opportunity to purchase 25-acre farms in Sandwich and Maidstone, helping over 60 black families. The Society also set aside a portion of lands in the area for the construction of schools and churches. An AME Church and a BME Church and Cemetery were established in 1872. The BME church was replaced by First Baptist Church (see the plaque) at 710 Puce Rd. in 1964.
Buxton National Historic Site and Museum in North Buxton is a former abolitionist-based town. Today its population consists of descendants and some of the original families. The Museum was built by descendants and serves as a tribute to this area.
St. Andrew's Church in South Buxton was built in 1858. Buxton was founded in 1849 by fifteen former slaves who arrived with Rev. William King. He and the Elgin Association purchased a plot of land for a planned refugee settlement called the Elgin Settlement and at its heart was the Buxton Mission. This church has the Buxton Liberty bell, which originally was rung every time a freed slave reached South Buxton. South Buxton became the largest settlement by the end of the Underground Railroad era.
First Baptist Church Chatham. American abolitionist John Brown held the last of a series of clandestine meetings here to plan his "slave rebellion."
Chatham Kent Black Historical Society. A self-guided exhibit contains numerous attractions, including artifacts, audio-interactive life-sized figures of three prominent Black residents of early Chatham, and an audio/visual presentation. African Americans came to Canada in increasing numbers after the Fugitive Slave law of 1850. Some settled in Chatham. Once such prominent resident was Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a teacher, anti-slavery crusader, who started the Provincial Freeman newspaper in 1851. She was the first Black women to own and operate a newspaper.
Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site/Josiah Henson House. This site comprises the home of Reverend Josiah Henson and contains the world-class exhibit "I'll Use My Freedom Well," period buildings, and an interpretive center that houses 19th century artifacts and rare books highlighting North American Black history. Rev. Henson, a fugitive slave who found freedom in Ontario in 1830 via the Underground Railroad, established the Dawn settlement in 1841, a place where other freedom seekers learned to be self-sufficient and successful community members. Here you can see the settlement's original buildings, including one of the oldest fugitive slave structures in Canada. Henson's experiences were the reference for the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's renowned novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Wilberforce Settlement Plaque, 179 Main St., at the post office. In 1829 a group of fugitive slaves in Cincinnati decided to seek more secure refuge in Canada. In 1830 they purchased 800 acres of land in this vicinity with the help of Quakers in Oberlin, Ohio. It was named after the great British abolitionist William Wilberforce.
Owen Sound, ON
Grey Roots Museum and Archives. The museum provides a living link to the past's legacies, artifacts, and stories. See the exhibit from "Slavery to Freedom, African Canadians in Grey County."
UGRR Black History Cairn, 75 2nd Ave. E., Harrison Park. A monument to the city's first black settlers, escaped slaves who followed the Underground Railroad to its most northerly terminus in Owen Sound.
BME Church, 241 11 St. W. Established in 1856, the BME Church served the needs of former slaves arriving on the Underground Railroad and its parishioners are considered the founders of the Annual Emancipation Day Celebration.