Black History Along the Niagara River
Honouring Black history
along the Niagara River
Discover some of Canada’s most poignant stories of freedom and courage with Niagara Parks’ extensive collection of displays and monuments honouring Black Canadian history.
Follow the scenic Niagara River Parkway from Fort Erie north to the shores of Lake Ontario in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and learn about Niagara’s role in the legendary Underground Railroad that led an estimated 40,000 slaves to freedom throughout the 19th century. Along the way, stand in the spot where Harriet Tubman first crossed into Canada in 1856, witness the safe house where fugitive slaves hid from American bounty hunters and see the printing press that printed Canada’s 1793 Act Against Slavery.
Whether driving leisurely along the Parkway, or walking or cycling the 56-km (35 mi) Niagara River Recreation Trail, you’ll encounter a number of opportunities to enrich your experience with over 20 plaques and displays highlighting some of Canada’s most historic moments that unfolded right here in the Niagara region.
Use our map to help you plan out your journey to explore Black Canadian history along the Niagara River!
Niagara’s Freedom Trail
Niagara’s Freedom Trail honours the thousands of African American slaves that found freedom in Canada. Between 1796 and 1949, the Underground Railroad aided an estimated 40,000 African American slaves in their escape to the more tolerant northern American states, or ultimately to the freedom of Canada. Fort Erie, Ontario became a popular crossing for freedom seekers because of its proximity to Buffalo, New York. Ferry operators aided fugitive slaves and used a secret system of codes and symbols to distinguish bona fide passengers from potential spies.
Location: Look for the plaque located on a rock next to the Niagara River Parkway Trail. (108 Lakeshore Road, Fort Erie, Ontario)
Bertie Street Ferry Landing & Freedom Park
The Bertie Street Ferry landing was the longest operating ferry dock used by freedom seekers and the site were thousands of fugitive slaves first set foot in Canada. It was an activity hub that served not only as a crossing point between Canada and the United States, but also as a customs, immigration, vehicle registration and a railroad station. The last ferry transporting people and vehicles to Fort Erie arrived at the Bertie Street Ferry Landing on September 2, 1950. Freedom Park was established at the site to honour the thousands of African American slaves that found sanctuary and experienced freedom for the first time in Canada.
Location: Freedom Park is located on the river side between the Niagara Parks Marina and the nearby restaurant. (148 Niagara Boulevard, Fort Erie, Ontario)
Little Africa was a popular settlement for freedom seekers arriving in Canada during the 1840s. Many of the inhabitants were employed cutting wood for fuel used by the nearby railways that ran through the settlement and steamboats that plied the Niagara River. The population of Little Africa grew to approximately 200 and declined in 1880 because of decreasing demand for wood in the area. A nearby graveyard remains as a legacy to this once thriving community of industrious Black Canadians.
Location: Look for a plaque on a rock on the south side of the Niagara Parks Marina parking lot (2400 Niagara River Parkway, Fort Erie, Ontario)
The Niagara Movement
This is the site of the former Erie Beach Hotel which hosted the inaugural meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), originally called the Niagara Movement. In July 1905, W.E.B. Du Bois and 28 men from fourteen states met at the hotel to write the group’s founding principles. The organization aimed to further African Americans’ fight for civil rights by building upon the progress gained since the American Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Pictured: Founding members of the Niagara Movement superimposed over an image showing Niagara Falls in the background, 1905
Location: Waverly Beach Park is located along the recreation trail just east of the beach parking lot. (Helena Street, Fort Erie, Ontario)
Harriet Tubman Tribute
Born on a Maryland plantation around 1822, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 to become a leading abolitionist and the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. Known as “the Moses of her People,” she guided thousands of enslaved African Americans to freedom. When the US Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 led to the arrest and kidnapping of runaway slaves and free blacks living in the free states, Tubman extended her route to Canada, where slavery had been abolished in 1834, and established her base of operations in nearby St. Catharines.
Location: Look for plaques south of the entrance the White Water Walk, on the river side. (4330 River Rd, Niagara Falls, Ontario)
Louis Roy Press and 1793 Act Against Slavery
See the oldest wooden printing press in Canada and one of only seven left in the world at the Mackenzie Printery. The press was used to print Ontario’s first newspaper as well as some of Canada’s earliest laws, including the 1793 Act Against Slavery. While the act did not free the enslaved, it prevented enslaved people from being imported to or exported from Canada. It also ensured that children born to enslaved mothers were freed at the age of 25. It was this act that would slowly work towards the elimination of slavery in Canada.
Location: The Louis Roy press and copy of the Act Against Slavery can be found inside the Mackenzie Printery (1 Queenston St, Queenston, Ontario)
The collection of buildings around Navy Hall served as the first seat of government for the Executive Council of Upper Canada. It was here where John Graves Simcoe made the first legislative steps in the Act Against Slavery of 1793.
Location: The Simcoe memorial is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake (305 Ricardo Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario)
William and Susannah Steward House
The Steward home was a significant part of Niagara’s community of former Canadian slaves, black Loyalists and African American refugees that settled in the region in the 19th century. In 1837, homeowner William Steward was one of 17 people who signed a petition asking Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head to refuse to extradite Kentucky fugitive Solomon Moseby. Moseby was rescued from the Niagara jail by more than 200 community members. The home now serves as a compelling memorial to the hardworking people who contributed to the building of Niagara-on-the-Lake and to protecting African American refugees in the region.
Location: Located on the corner of Butler and John Street (507 Butler Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario)