Illegal Entry of Fugitive Slaves into Canada

Slavery would persist in the United States until the Civil War in 1861. From 1840 to 1860, African-Americans used a clandestine network of routes, railroads and hiding places connecting the southern United States and Canada’s border to escape from their condition as slaves.

This train-free network was nevertheless still referred to as the “Underground Railroad”. It was made up of people who opposed slavery and were eager to help slaves escape from the United States into British North America where they could live freely. The network was composed of Blacks, Whites and Aboriginals on both sides of the border. A number of them belonged to a religious sect called the Quakers.

This network would enable over 30,000 slaves to find freedom. Many runaway slaves traveled to Upper Canada (Ontario today), and settled among the cities of St. Catharines, Amherstburg, London, Woolwich, Oro and Chatham. Others crossed the Great Lakes to settle, among other places, in Owen Sound, Toronto and Windsor. Many favoured the Maritimes.

In subsequent years, Blacks were occasionally invited in great numbers by the authorities to settle in the Prairies and British Columbia in exchange for land.