Discover Black History- Tour of Southwestern Ontario
This interactive tour allows you to explore the prominent African-Canadian history in various parts of Southwestern Ontario.
*Mill is located at 243 Main Street West, Otterville N0J 1R0* Otterville's Black Settlement and the African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery Black people leaving the northern United States for Canada often settled near Quakers. Around Otterville, home of ardent abolitionist William Cromwell, they felt safe and were accepted. The first recorded land record for a Black settler is dated 1833. By 1840, the Otterville area had become a significant area of Black settlement in Upper Canada. Education was extremely important to them and they soon built a school for their children, which became S.S. #18. School records show Black children attending every school in the former Township of South Norwich.
The township of Norwich was founded in 1810 by settlers from Dutchess County, New York, many of whom were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). By the 1830s, these Quaker settlers began to encourage free Black people from the United States to move to Upper Canada, including South Norwich.
The story of Black settlers in Oxford County follows two main threads: that of free Black people encouraged to move to the region by the Norwich Quakers, and that of others fleeing their enslavement in the United States along the Underground Railroad and reaching safe haven in Ingersoll. Being centrally located between Detroit and Niagara, Ingersoll was chosen by famed American abolitionist John Brown as a place to hold fundraising and friend raising events.
One of the first Black settlements in Canada, Wilberforce (named after the leading British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was established in 1829 near the present-day community of Lucan, 15 miles north of London, by a number of free Blacks from Cincinnati. In Ohio, violence and prejudice had escalated with the strict enforcement of the state’s “Black Laws” which, among other things, required free Blacks to register and provide a $500 bond for “good behaviour.”
Site of the first convention of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, 1927 It “is not what we were yesterday, not yet is it what we are today that gives us so much hope, but it is, according to the handwriting on the wall, what we shall be tomorrow. And thus we have chosen our name: The Dawn of Tomorrow” Robert Paris Edwards, Associate Editor Dawn of Tomorrow, July 14, 1923
Richard B. Harrison (1864-1935) was born in London to parents Thomas Harrison and Isabella Benton, both former slaves who had escaped to Canada in the 1850s. The family remained in London until 1880 when they moved to Detroit, where Harrison trained as an elocutionist. His stage work, which took him all over Canada and the United States, was comprised of dramatic monologues, as well as readings of poetry and literature.
Many of Upper Canada’s earliest Black settlers were members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church which formed an Upper Canada Conference in 1840. Soon a London Circuit of the AME was formed and in 1848 a church was built on Thames Street, the centre of early Black settlement in London.
Recognized internationally for his contribution to the abolition movement, Josiah Henson asserted his leadership as preacher and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. He worked with energy and vision to improve life for the Black community in Upper Canada (now Ontario). After escaping slavery in Kentucky, 'Father Henson' quickly attained the status of leader within the Underground Railroad community of Southwestern Ontario. In 1841 he co-founded the British American Institute, a vocational school for Underground Railroad refugees.
The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum shares the story of Chatham’s Black community beginning at the end of the 18th century until the present day. In the early 1800’s Black families began to settle along McGregor’s Creek and by the 1850 the village of Chatham, then known as “the Forks” was almost one-third Black. Rev. Richard R. Disney is quoted as saying: “Chatham was not a Mecca only. In a broader and truer sense, it was the Coloured Man’s Paris.” Once here, Blacks in Chatham thrived in business, education, medicine, sports, literary and cultural arts. News of their success attracted Blacks to the area from across North America.
The Buxton National Historic Site & Museum is located just outside the city of Chatham. Started in 1849 by Rev. William King, an Irish born Presbyterian minister, the Buxton Settlement was established as a safe haven in which to extend freedom to the 15 slaves he acquired through a variety of circumstances. Under Rev. King’s guidance and with the assistance of some Canadian abolitionists, a 9000-acre tract of land was purchased. The goal of the founders was to build a self-sufficient, self-sustaining community for both fugitives and free blacks.
The John Freeman Walls Historic Site is family owned and operated. Meet descendants of the Underground Railroad, as tour guides take you on an interactive trip back in time. The focal point of the visit is a log cabin built in 1846 by escaped slave John Freeman Walls and his wife Jane King Walls, who rest in the family cemetery on the property. School/Bus tours welcome. Call in advance. Admission Charged.
The Amherstburg Freedom Museum welcomes all people of all ages to experience the great history of the Underground Railroad. The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is a curated archive that preserves and shares Amherstburg’s stories of the Underground Railroad, and the compassion and solidarity it took to make this incredible network possible.
Erected in 1851 on land donated by the Crown, the Sandwich First Baptist Church (a National Historic Site) represents the once numerous Black border-town churches which were built to serve the rapidly increasing numbers of Underground Railroad settlers. This church received, sheltered, and assisted many of these new arrivals. All members were required to aid in its construction by giving donations or making bricks. It replaced a log cabin on Hill Street in Olde Sandwich Towne whose use as a Black church dated back to the early 1820s.
THERE ARE MANY structures and monuments throughout Ontario connected to the province’s Black community, whose history extends back into the early 19th Century. Although London had a relatively small Black community until the 1980s, there are several historic sites and monuments from the pre-Civil War era, when Canada was a safe haven for thousands of escaped slaves. There are, as well, many resources in London for Black History studies, some of which are listed.