St. Catharines was the final terminus on the Underground Railroad for hundreds of slaves in the 1820s. The Underground Railroad and Niagara's Freedom Trail was a network of people who hid and guided black slaves as they fled the United States and headed north to Canada to seek freedom.
The railroad began at 'The Crossing,' which is located along the Niagara River by historic Fort Erie and ends at the B.M.E. (British Methodist Episcopal) Church/Salem Chapel. This national historic site, through its association with the famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, was an important place of abolitionist activity. She was called the Black Moses and remained in St. Catharines for 10 years. Her abolitionist activities and formation of societies assisted former slaves in adjusting to their new life in freedom.
Prominent businessmen and abolitionists William Hamilton Merritt and Oliver Phelps helped the new citizens purchase land to build the British Methodist Episcopal Church/Salem Chapel in 1855 and later the Zion Baptist Church. A provincial plaque honours the memory and gravesite of Rev. Anthony Burns, the last person tried under the Fugitive Slave Act in Massachusetts. The verdict returned him to slavery and incited street riots. Boston abolitionists bought his freedom and financed his education before he settled in St. Catharines.
St. Catharines' Lakeside Park has been the site of an annual picnic in August when thousands of African Americans and Canadians gather for an Emancipation Day Celebration.