Canada's underground railroad

What's that, Amy? You're hearing stories about an "underground railroad" in Canada? You want to know more about it? Is it like a subway?

Well, no. The Underground Railroad your'e asking about wasn't an actual railroad, but a secret network of people who wanted to abolish slavery. Between 1840 and 1860 slaves from the southern United States used this secret network of dangerous routes to reach freedom in Canada.


Established in the early 19th century and based in Philadelphia, it was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America, and brought 30,000 to 40,000 people to Canada.

The term "Underground Railroad" started to be used in the 1830s, although it was not an actual railway - the railroad terminology and symbols were used to hide the activities of the network. Words such as "passengers", "cargo", "package", and "freight" were used to refer to the escaped slaves. Secretive groups of people, some who ran "safe houses", were called "station masters", and received escapees into their homes and provided food, clothing and a place to hide. These people committed themselves to human rights and equality.

This house in Colchester South in Ontario was one of the refuge homes for those escaping slavery in the 1800s. The dangerous routes to get to freedom were called "lines". These routes went through fourteen northern states into Canadian provinces. The refugees arrived all across Canada, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, but most came to southwestern Ontario.
Many walked, but others were transported in wagons, carriages and horses. Escapees also travelled by boat across lakes and rivers. They often travelled by night and rested during the day.