Southwest Ontario's Black History


Cultivating Growth, Shore to Shore

The Elgin Settlement, a terminus of the Underground Railroad, was founded in 1849. Under the guidance and supervision of Reverend William King, this historic Black settlement soon prospered, burgeoning into a self-sufficient community. Although it was one of several such settlements located in Southern Ontario, the Elgin Settlement was one of unmatched success, growing from an original 15 former slave inhabitants to a flourishing community of some 1,200-2,000. So successful was the settlement that Frederick Douglass once visited and wrote about it. Over the years, the Elgin Settlement has offered Blacks a place to thrive and put down roots that have since grown into incredible legacies. Many settlers and descendants have gone on to do amazing things, breaking barriers and furthering the Black community and humanity as a whole. The site was designated as a National Historic Site in 1999.

This project was funded by the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative in partnership with several of the area’s museums, archives and public historians.

We respectfully acknowledge that we are on the lands of the Anishnaabeg Nation. This spot where we gather is the traditional land of the Three Fires Confederacy: the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe. We also recognize that this land is now home to the Delaware Nation. This land was settled through the McKee Purchase Treaty of 1790 and we, as beneficiaries of the treaty, must recognize our responsibilities including our collective responsibilities to the land and water.




The B.M.E. Church

Collection of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

This church and all the other churches of Buxton were envisioned by Rev. William Kings in his dream of the “City of God” that would result from his labors, on behalf of the fugitives arriving in Canada west. As both the architect and the Shepard of the new community, Rev. King planned that one of the cornerstones for his “City of God” would be a strong religious foundation. This, along with education, family values, and a strong economic base would assure that his flock becomes self-sufficient.
The central and most essential institutions in Buxton and in other early Black communities were the church and the school. These gathering places were what gave the people a sense of community and provided instruction, spiritual comfort, opportunities for socialization, protection, and a sense of well-being to the people. Only two of those churches have survived and been in continual use throughout the years of the existence of Buxton - this church and St. Andrews in South Buxton. This Church began as Bethel African Methodist Church in the 1850s with Rev. Blount, a runaway slave, as one of the earliest pastors. This church burned down and was replaced by the present structure in 1866.
The church was one of several B.M.E. churches that left the B.M.E. conference and became British Methodist Churches in an attempt by the people to show their loyalty to the British Crown in their homeland. In other words, around 1856, this church, along with many other African Methodist Episcopal Churches (A.M.E) decided to become independent of their U.S. connection and replace the word “African” with “British” to honour the nation that gave Blacks their freedom. In 2002, this church withdrew from the B.M.E. conference and became incorporated as the North Buxton Community Church, an undenominational church serving the entire community.

The Victoria Chapel

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

The B.M.E. Church came in to existence in Chatham, Ontario in 1856. Willis Nazrey was the first bishop of the local church. The first B.M.E. Church in all of Canada was built in Chatham in 1857 on Princess Street. The church soon after became known as the “Victoria Chapel”.

The Bradford house

Library and Archives Canada

This establishment was owned and operated by Mr. John Bradford and his wife Mrs Bradford, better known as Madame Bohee. Madame Bohee along with her mother Madame Hyers were popular vaudeville performers and concert singers who travelled across North America preforming their routine. They were also often joined by another daughter, Chonita on their musical tours.

The Buxton Garage

Collection of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

Before you cross over the railway tracks, you will see a building across the street from Bradonna Woodworking that used to be the Buxton Garage and Gas Station. Charles “Chug” Shreve was the owner/operator of the local garage. The garage was built in 1945 on property owned by Ira Shadd. He was self taught electrician and mechanic learning as a child. He spent a lot his time tearing things apart to understand how they worked. He was one of the first people who wired homes for electricity and he also wired the school in 1937. He also repaired farm machinery as well. To the left of the building near the old tracks was the location of the Saw Mill.

The Charity Block

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

The Charity Block was located at the corner of King and Adelaide Street in the city of Chatham. Owned by James Charity the block was home to a few businesses. James owned the Great Western Boot and Shoe Store in the block. From an early advertisement in 1854, he offered a complete stock of gentlemen, ladies and children’s shoes of every description.
The Charity Block was also more famously home to the Provincial Freeman newspaper during its time in the city of Chatham. Beginning publication in 1853, the Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper, advocated for equality, integration and self-sufficiency for the Black community in Canada and the USA.

Chatham Coloured All-Stars

University of Windsor

This photo shows the famous baseball player Earl 'Flat' Chase outside his home in Chatham. An all-Black group of men began playing baseball together in 1932 at Stirling Park in the east-side of Chatham and in later years had players even join from Walpole Island First Nations.
In 1933, Archie Stirling, a Chatham business man in Chatham's east-side and local representative for the OBAA noticed the skills and talent of the team and helped get them into the city's baseball league where they played against the white teams of the city.

The First Baptist Church

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

The First Baptist Church in Chatham first appeared in the Amherstburg Baptist Association records in 1845 with Elder Stephen White as their paster. Membership to the church numbered nine people at that time.

Henry Weaver

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

Henry and his wife Annie were both born enslaved in South Carolina in the 1830s. With their one daughter named Caroline, they decided they were going to escape the bonds of slavery on foot. Family history tells us that at one time on their journey to freedom Henry hid under his wife’s skirt to avoid detection on their escape.

Village of North Buxton

Collection of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

The village of North Buxton was laid out by Enos & Sarah Johnson in 1874, on land owned by them on lots 9 and 10, Concession 8, facing on the Centre Rd. So they were actually the first residents of this tiny hamlet. There were buildings already here, the British Methodist Episcopal Church, the school, the railroad station, the hotel and the lodge as well as a few homes which had been built on the early farms. Among the first merchants were Frederick Griffin, Robert Allen and Elbert Dyke who also opened the first post office in 1875. By 1879, they all kept store in the building which once stood on the corner of Johnston Street and Centre Road. It is interesting to note that there was an old custom in the naming the streets after family members such as Sarah, Johnson, Garrel, Dyke and Charleston.

Papa Prince's Pleasure Parlor

Collection of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

This is the location of what was once Papa Prince's Pleasure Parlor. Owned by Alpheus Prince, Papa Prince's Pleasure Parlor was extremely popular among the youth of the 1930s and 1940s. It's noted that children would spend their carefully hoarded pennies at the parlor for jawbreakers, candy corn, and jelly beans. The parlor also sold tobacco, gas, and coal oil for oil lamps as most of the community at the time hadn’t yet converted to hydro.

The Shadd Store

Collection of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

This area is the former site of the Shadd Store last owned by Ira and Saxonia Shadd. In 1934, Ira Shadd opened up the Shadd Store which served the community for many generations. The store also served as a post office and in the back, they had a pool table where community members could come to socialize.

Woodstock Industrial Institute

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

The Woodstock Industrial Institute was established in 1908 with the purchase of the former King Street School building. The purpose of this school was to establish an institution to help supplement the waning skilled labour force in the area. Rev. John G. Taylor was elected as the collector for the school in 1908.

Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History

Western University

Recognized internationally for his contribution to the abolition movement, Josiah Henson asserted his leadership as preacher and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. He worked with energy and vision to improve life for the Black community in Upper Canada (now Ontario).
After escaping slavery in Kentucky, 'Father Henson' quickly attained the status of leader within the Underground Railroad community of Southwestern Ontario. In 1841 he co-founded the British American Institute, a vocational school for Underground Railroad refugees.

Wilberforce Educational Institute

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

The Wilberforce Educational Institute was opened in Chatham in 1873 in a standard frame building. The creation of this school was from the merger of two institutions, The British American Institute at the Dawn Settlement and the Nazrey Institute. The school was found at the corner of Princess and Wellington Street in Chatham.