Salem Chapel was built in 1855 and was an important centre of 19th-century abolitionist and civil rights activity in Canada. Harriet Tubman, the famous Underground Railroad (UGRR) conductor, lived near here from 1851 to 1858 and is traditionally associated with Salem Chapel. Many of those aided to freedom became church members and put down roots in the local community. The auditory-hall design typifies the style associated with other Underground Railroad-related churches in Ontario.
St. Catharines played an important role in the UGRR movement. It was the chief terminal of Harriet's activities in Canada. When she arrived in 1851 with eleven freedom seekers, she met Reverend Hiram Wilson at the AME Church, which became her place of worship. For the next seven years, Harriet would continue to bring all slaves who dared to escape, to St. Catharines.
When Harriet arrived in St. Catharines, the church was known as "Bethel Chapel" AME. It was a small log building constructed by African-American freedom seekers. In 1853 it was decided that a larger church was needed to assist the growing Methodist congregation that arrived via the UGRR. The larger church was completed in 1855.
In 1854 Harriet successfully rescued six freedom seekers and brought them to St. Catharines. Three of the six were her brothers who joined the AME Church. The following year it was decided that the AME Churches in Canada would change their name to establish their own distinct identity. At the Canadian General Conference in 1856, some of the AME Churches changed their name to the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church. The British Crown of England granted permission to use the word British in their title. The AME Church in St. Catharines became known as the BME Church-Salem Chapel.
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