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Monday, April 15, 2024
Hiking series explores Black history in NOTL

Black history in Niagara is complex, with deep roots that encompass slavery as well as the people and events that pushed for freedom and gave safe haven as part of the Underground Railroad.

The Niagara Bruce Trail Club will lead a series of hikes exploring that history on four consecutive Fridays, starting on Feb. 11, to mark Black History Month.

Each 90-minute hike has a theme, ranging from the days of early slavery, to the early Black community in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the role of Black soldiers in the War of 1812, to important people and dramatic events that led to limits and ultimately the abolition of slavery.

These events transpired in centuries past, but we are surrounded by the echoes of those extraordinary individuals and events here in NOTL. People who walked where we walk, lived where we live and did business where commerce still hums today.

In the 1800s, there was a vibrant community of about 200 Black people who lived in an area known at the time as the “Coloured Village,” generally bounded north and south by William and Anne streets, and King to Butler Street.

The accompanying photos and captions highlight some of the many people and places the hikes will cover.

Those interested in the hikes, can go to the hiking club’s website at niagarabrucetrail.club/wp/.

Go to the hike calendar to find the hike and contact the hike leader to register in advance. The hikes are likely to fill up and so the club may repeat the series in the fall.

The club also leads hikes through NOTL every Friday morning with different historical themes. Non-members are welcome to try a couple of hikes before deciding whether to join the club, which is run entirely by volunteers.

Further information on Black history in NOTL is also available through the Voices of Freedom Park website at vofpark.org.


On the left is a map of the area known as the “Coloured Village” in the 1800s, where most of the estimated 200 Black residents lived. Beside it on the right, is an artistic interpretation of this map as featured on the communal circle wall at Voices of Freedom Park, on Regent Street at Johnson.
(Don Reynolds photo. Map courtesy of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum)


This is the  William Stewart Homestead at 507 Butler St. William and Susannah Stewart escaped to freedom from Kentucky and bought the property for £25 when they arrived in Upper Canada in 1834. The house was probably built around 1835. It was typical of homes built by Black residents in Niagara at the time, comprising a one-and-a-half storey saltbox with rear lean-to. The Stewarts left Niagara for Galt (now Cambridge) in 1847.
(Don Reynolds photo)


This is the location where Black businessman Louis/Lewis Ross lived and operated his barbershop on Queen Street, as advertised at the time. A fire in 1886 destroyed his barbershop and home, but records from then note his building was insured and he was able to save most of his household belongings. He moved his barbershop to a location on Queen Street closer to King after the fire.
(Don Reynolds photo. Ad courtesy of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum)


This is a sketch of the log house built by William Riley, at the northwest corner of Mary and Victoria Streets. Riley was an escaped slave from Virginia and when he bought the lot for £50 in 1819, he became only the third Black man to own property in the village. He got married and built the house in the same year, and eventually eight family members lived there. The house was torn down in the 1880s.
(Don Reynolds photo. Sketch courtesy of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum)


This house at 243 Gate St. appears in town records as “The Slave Cottage,” even though the owner had never been a slave. Daniel Waters was born in Niagara in 1813 and he bought the house in 1872. Waters owned and operated a large livery stable on Regent Street, one of only two stables in town. Waters was one of the most prominent local businessmen of his time.
(Don Reynolds photo)


This monument on the grounds of the former Parliament Oak school on King Street honours Harriet Tubman, who helped hundreds of enslaved people escape from the American south on the Underground Railroad. Some of the slaves came through NOTL. The monument was originally displayed at Artpark, in Lewiston, N.Y., in the 1980s. When that installation closed, the monument was moved to Parliament Oak school, which was the historic location where the Act to Limit Slavery was signed in 1783.
(Don Reynolds photo)


In the mid 1800s, a Baptist church stood on this property on Mississagua Street near John Street, as well as the Negro Burial Ground. Only three gravestones remain, including that of George Wesley, who died in 1893. Wesley escaped slavery in Kentucky and raised his family in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He lived across from the burial ground, at 519 Mississagua St.
(Don Reynolds photo)


This building once stood on what is now Rye Park. It was the courthouse and jail for NOTL in the 1800s and the scene of the so-called Moseby riot. Solomon Moseby escaped slavery in Kentucky in 1837, travelling north on his owners’ horse. His former owner followed him to Niagara and demanded his extradition. Moseby was arrested and jailed. Both Black and white residents petitioned the lieutenant-governor to refuse the extradition, but the order was signed. Two hundred or more Black people, many of them women, gathered to protest peacefully at the jail. But when a carriage carrying Moseby appeared, two of the protesters tried to stop it, and shots were fired by order of the sheriff. Moseby escaped in the chaos. The two men who intervened died and two others were severely injured.
(Don Reynolds photo. Courthouse picture courtesy of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum)


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