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  Weekly Feature: (February 26, 2006)
 

 

Black History Month
The Underground Railway
Jennifer's Weekly Feature

 

 

February is Black History Month in Canada.  To honour this time, I wanted to take a closer look at Canada’s famous “Underground Railway”, a bold and daring plan whereby 19th century American slaves risked their lives to achieve freedom and dignity in Canada.

The plight of slaves in the U.S. in the 1800’s was harsh and hopeless.   An early U.S. ad selling slaves in the United States from Sierra Leone read:

‘TO BE SOLD . . .A Cargo of Ninety-Four Prime, Healthy Negroes, consisting of Thirty-nine Men, Fifteen Boys, Twenty-four Women, and Sixteen Girls, Just Arrived . . .’ (collections.ic.gc.ca)

Canada answered this plight with two laws abolishing slavery, one in 1793 and one in 1833, that made possible dignity, value and a life of promise – for any who could escape here.  “Death or liberty” was the desperate and silent rallying cry for the escape to Canada, a place of “refuge and rest” (collections, ibid.). 

This route has become known as the “Underground Railway”.  By various paths originating in both the northern and southern United States, and aided by Canadian sympathizers, over 20,000 slaves, and some estimates say as many as 40,000 slaves, came to Canada on this “Underground Railway” between approximately 1800 and 1865.

Many settled in Ontario around St. Catherines, Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls, while some came as far west as Vancouver Island, invited by Governor James Douglas in 1858.  Settling there, some entrepreneurs saw prosperity by starting businesses, while some entered politics - futures which had been denied until they risked their lives in the flight to Canada.  Today, their descendants enrich our contemporary cultural mosaic.

Many wonderful resources have been compiled on this and related topics.  Check the following websites for:

Information on the Vancouver Island settlement

Interactive escape map, games and The Underground Railroad Years

Information on Toronto’s cultural past

The Route of the Underground Railroad in Ontario 


 

 

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B.C.'s Spirit Bear

 

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