In 1793, Governor General of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, introduced legislation challenging the legal status of slavery.
In 1834, slavery came to an end when it was abolished throughout the British Empire.
In America, the northern states opposed slavery. This resulted in the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Although well intentioned, this act was a weak piece of legislation. Although barring slavery in the north and soon to the states in the west, it still allowed slave owners to recapture former slaves living in the north. During the 1840’s, 1850’s and 1860’s, the Underground Railroad operated at its peak.
The Underground Railroad was a series of safe houses located throughout America and Upper Canada where run away slaves were housed, given assistance to escape by people committed to antislavery.
The Buffalo/Fort Erie communities were major conduits of the Underground Railroad. The escaping families were ferried across the Niagara River to Fort Erie. Here, they were accommodated at the Bertie Hall. The former slaves would remain here until permanent accommodations and jobs could be found. Once this was done, the former slaves would disperse to areas throughout Upper Canada.