Niagara Gazette


September 25, 2012

BRADBERRY: Free at last ... but when?


Niagara Gazette — Quite a few escaped slaves made it all the way to Canada and became true Loyalists, pledging their allegiance to the Queen of England rather than affiliating with a country that refused to acknowledge that they were human beings, a country which was enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law, which permitted their legal hunting and capture.

And, as we are now learning, quite a few escaped slaves who chose to remain on this side of the border worked here, a good number as waiters at the renowned Cataract House and at a number of other hotels in the city collaborating with quite a few abolitionists, black and white, to free people from slavery’s reign and to end that evil institution.

In fact, Lincoln and his family are known to have been visitors here as guests at the Cataract House as early as 1848 during the rising height of the simmering anti-slavery Free Soil Party, two years before the Fugitive Slave Act was signed into law by men seeking to stem the flow of escaped slaves seeking freedom in neighboring Canada.

Ontario recognizes its debt of gratitude for the sacrifices that many non-whites made to the founding of Ontario. United Empire Loyalists' Day is celebrated in Canada every June 19, the same day African-Americans celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, known throughout the United States as "Juneteenth."

New freedoms were found in Canada at the time of the Loyalists that were not to be found in either Britain or the United States. On July 9, 1793, the Legislature of Upper Canada passed an act that put an end to slavery. This was 50 years before the same thing happened in Britain and 70 years before the famous Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.

A substantial number of black former slaves had fought for the British Crown and had been freed. This group settled not only in Ontario, but Nova Scotia and other British colonies in the Caribbean.

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