Explore the stories of those who sought freedom from slavery with this car-caravan tour that visits historic locations across the Niagara Region of Ontario

Travelers listening to tour guide on Niagara Bound Tours in the Niagara Region of Ontario (photo courtesy of Niagara Bound Tours)

In the 1800s, the Canadian city of St. Catharines and the Niagara Region were a recognized haven for those seeking freedom from slavery and one of the endpoints of the Underground Railroad, an informal resistance network of safe houses.

Today, Lezlie Harper, a direct descendant of one of the approximately 40,000 freedom seekers who used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery in the mid-19th century, shares personal family anecdotes and her extensive historical knowledge. She recounts that history intimately and passionately on a car-caravan tour through the region that retraces the paths traveled by those who sought freedom.

Every stop on the tour has a riveting story. Groups learn about Richard Pierpoint, a Senegalese boy who was forced into slavery and later granted his freedom to fight on the side of the British during the American Revolution before ultimately settling in a Black community in Canada. Harper also explains some of the methods freedom seekers used to escape and the dangers involved. The operation was perilous, particularly after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slaveholders the right to capture those who had fled.

A highlight of the tour is Salem Chapel, a British Methodist Episcopal church, which was the first Black church in St. Catharines and quite likely the oldest in the province. Built in 1855, it was a focal point of the civil rights movement in Canada. It was also where Harriet Tubman, a celebrated hero who risked her life repeatedly leading hundreds of people from bondage to safety, worshipped on and off over 11 years.

Today, it is still a church as well as a national historic site. Downstairs in the basement, the walls are filled with memorabilia — aged newspaper clippings, photographs, paintings and maps of the freedom seekers’ journeys. For more information, visit niagaraboundtours.com.