By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: We've got relatives from Michigan interested in visiting some landmarks that are part of the Underground Railroad. What areas do you recommend and where can I get more information?

A: There are self-guided tours, packages as well as some excellent guided tours available on this growing topic. Depending on your time and interest, there are several routes worth exploring. If you visit the Ontario Underground Railroad's web site you can download maps, and other details.

One of the major areas you must visit is of course the Niagara Region. Immersed in this historic setting of Fort George, Laura Secord's homestead and Sir Isaac Brock's monument, a route identified by the stark silouette of a runaway slave outlines the Niagara Freedom Trail. The route traces a path along burial grounds in Niagara-on-the-lake and follows the lip of the Niagara River heading to Fort Erie.

In Fort Erie, a weathered boulder symbolically marks the "Crossing" which is considered as the most heavily trafficked area for the largest arrivals of Black refugee slaves during the height of the Underground Railroad. While there, be sure to stop at the Mahoney House which is also known as Bertie Hall by the Niagara Parkway. Built in 1830, the basement of this historic home has peculiarly high (12 feet) ceilings. It's believed that a secret tunnel once served as the gateway to many escaped slaves who were fleeing from bounty hunters. Words cannot describe the stark images and emotions that have left their mark here.

In Niagara Falls, the historic Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel (5674 Peer Street) constructed in 1836 was moved to its current site in 1856. Next weekend (Oct 18-19) as part of Doors Open Niagara, you can visit the chapel. For organized group tours call 905.358.9957. Alternatively, the Chatham-Essex area, which is closer to your relatives' home, could serve as a finale to their journey. They'll want to drive to the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum. Located in North Buxton, the flat farmlands were once home to the Elgin Settlement.

Today, visitors can visit the museum, church and gravesites of Canada's early black settlers. In nearby Dresden drop by the historic home of Josiah Henson otherwise known as "Uncle Tom," the character in the epic novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In addition to the house, visitors can view clothing, furniture and other period artifacts at the interpretive centre.


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