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Aug. 6, 2020 | Thursday
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Stories of black history in NOTL: Settlement in Niagara
A map of Newark in 1813. (Sourced/OurOntario.ca)

Niagara is one of the few towns in Ontario that has had black residents since the province’s inception. However, in the years following the War of 1812, Niagara saw an increase in black immigrants and runaway slaves; news of Ontario’s slave ban had reached the United States. When the United States Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, the Underground Railroad movement became increasingly active and freedom-seekers found their way into Niagara and the surrounding area. 

In town, black residents formed their own community by acquiring property near one another. This area, nicknamed the “coloured village,” was located roughly south of William Street and between King and Butler streets. The new residents also joined local church congregations, and Niagara, Queenston, Virgil and St. Davids each saw their Baptist church membership grow. In Niagara, the black community attended the Baptist church on Mississagua Street, now the site known as the “Negro Burial Ground.” 

Many found work on farms or were labourers, and some managed to become prosperous. Louis Ross owned a barbershop, Daniel Waters owned and operated a livery stable, and his brother John was a landlord. In the 1870s, John ran for and was elected as Niagara’s first black town councillor, representing an all-white ward; he was re-elected three times.   

By the late-1800s, the black population moved to larger areas, like St. Catharines, to find work, but several residents chose to remain in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Even though the population was small, the black community influenced the social and political life of the town. Few traces remain today of the settlement; however, the Negro Burial Ground, the Daniel Waters home and the William Stewart home are a few surviving reminders.

For more stories about Niagara-on-the-Lake’s black history and to learn more about members of the black community in Niagara, visit vofpark.org. 

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