4-day Black history road trip in Southern Ontario for families
Take a family road trip through Southern Ontario and visit museums, heritage sites and historical landmarks that tell the story of the Underground Railroad and preserve the legacy of Black history in Ontario.
On August 1, 1834, the British parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, marking the end of the enslavement of African people and their descendants across the British Empire. The end of slavery in British North America turned Upper Canada (now Ontario) into a destination for freedom-seekers looking to escape enslavement in the United States.
The Underground Railroad was a secret network of people, hiding places, homes and routes that helped enslaved people escape the American South to free Northern States or to Canada. This was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America.
Ontario played a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad, with stopping points across its southern cities and towns.
Today, many museums, heritage sites, artifacts and tours honour the sacrifice of those who risked their lives for freedom. Their stories have been preserved to promote awareness of Black history.
Niagara – Day one
Located almost two hours from Toronto, Niagara offers many moving stories of freedom and courage. In this region, you’ll find an extensive collection of displays and monuments honouring those who fought and risked their lives for freedom.
Things to do
Founded by Lezlie Harper, Niagara Bound Tours has been specializing in Black history tours since 2004. Lezlie is a descendant of freedom seekers who came to Fort Erie in 1851, so while her guided tours consist of stories related to Black history in the region, she shares personal and family stories as well.
In addition to bus tours and caravan tours, customized tours are available to learn the intimate story Black history in Niagara and neighbouring St. Catharines, Ontario.
Families have enjoyed Leszlie’s engaging and informative way of teaching Black history with many hidden gems. This immersive experience offers moving and exciting ways of reliving history through personal stories, landmarks and artifacts. Tours last 4 to 5 hours and longer if you include Niagara Falls attractions.
Location: Please get in touch with the operator to arrange the starting point for the tour.
Displays and monuments mark significant Black History sites throughout the Niagara area. Take a self-guided tour along the scenic Niagara River Parkway between Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie and visit key sites using the Niagara Parks guide.
Places to eat
While staying in Niagara, visit some of the region’s renowned Black-owned restaurants for delicious flavours and unique combinations with family-friendly dining offerings.
St. Catharines is approximately a 15-minute drive from downtown Niagara Falls with more great options for Black-owned restaurants.
7 Mile Bistro serves up gourmet Caribbean fusion food, offering both authentic and unique dishes. Try their oxtail poutine or jerk chicken penne, among other tasty entrees.
Location: 215 St Paul Street West, St. Catharines
Find even more family-friendly restaurants in Niagara.
Places to stay
There are plenty of places to stay in the Niagara Falls area that provide entertaining amenities your kids will love.
Skyline Hotel & Waterpark: 4800 Bender Street, Niagara Falls
Great Wolf Lodge: 3950 Victoria Avenue, Niagara Fall
Chatham-Kent – Day two
Distance from Niagara Falls to Chatham-Kent: Approx. 300 kilometres (three-hour drive)
En route to Chatham, stop for a short break to enjoy the food in London.
Yaya’s Kitchen: 630 Dundas Street, London
Enat Restaurant:223 Wellington Street, London
Another destination on the Underground Railroad, Chatham-Kent offers museums and guided walking tours that allow you to see, listen and learn about Black history in the community. The historical sites in this area have great indoor exhibits and large outdoor spaces that are perfect for kids to explore.
Download On This Spot app for virtual tours that compare past and present photos of historical places in Black history that are near Chatham, Ontario.
Things to do
Dresden is approximately half an hour drive away from Chatham. It is the location of the Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History, that celebrates the accomplishments of abolitionist Josiah Henson.
The two-hectare site consists of the Josiah Henson Interpretive Centre, featuring the Underground Railroad Freedom Gallery and the North Star Theatre, which shows an audio-visual presentation of the historic site.
Tour historic buildings, including the Josiah Henson house, two cemeteries and a sawmill and discover numerous artifacts that preserve the legacy of early Black pioneers.
Location: 29251 Freedom Road, Dresden
This unique museum features a one-room exhibition space, as well as the Black Methodist Episcopal (BME) Freedom Park, a beautiful outdoor area with a bust of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a trailblazer of anti-slavery activism in Canada.
The museum’s exhibition space portrays the story of Chatham-Kent’s Black community from the end of the 18th century to the present day. The exhibit features informational displays, local artifacts and highlights the stories of Black community members from the area.
Take a self-guided tour of the indoor exhibition space as well as a guided walking tour of the surrounding neighbourhood, including the BME Freedom Park. Learn about the history of Chatham-Kent’s historically Black neighbourhoods by visiting significant buildings and listening to stories from the museum’s knowledgeable staff. Location: 177 King Street East, Chatham
Places to stay
Choose from several welcoming accommodation options in Chatham-Kent.
Places to eat
Enjoy fresh flavours and warm hospitality at these eateries.
Independent bookstore, Turns & Tales has a café with lunch and dinner options. They also sell a variety of Black history books.
Other family-oriented options are Andy’s Place Family Restaurant & Pizzeria for pizza lovers, The Shady Pine Family Restaurant for breakfast and lunch and Teena Family Restaurant for home cooked meals.
Cool off during the warmer months with ice cream from Chatham-Kent’s Ice Cream Trail.
North Buxton and Amherstburg – Day three
Distance from Chatham-Kent to Amherstburg: Approx. 95 kilometres (one-hour and 10-minute drive)
On your way to Amherstburg, stop in North Buxton, another key Underground Railroad community in Chatham-Kent and visit the historic site. Afterwards, continue to Amherstburg, a culture-rich town just 30 minutes outside of Windsor.
Things to do
Originally called the Elgin Settlement and founded by Reverend William King in 1849, this area was the largest and most successful of the planned Black settlements in Ontario. Known as Buxton, this national historic site officially opened in 1967 and pays tribute to the ground-breaking Elgin Settlement.
Tour multiple sites including the Buxton Museum, of one the last standing schoolhouses, an 1852 log cabin, an 1843 barn, a church and a cemetery.
The immersive museum allows visitors to learn about Black history while interacting with the artifacts. For example, kids can ring the Liberty Bell and learn about its historical significance.
The Homecoming Celebration is an annual event that takes place at the Buxton National Historic Site during the Labour Day weekend in early September. It celebrates Black heritage in Southern Ontario and offers many family-friendly events.
Location: 21975 A D Shadd Road, Merlin
The Amherstburg Freedom Museum focuses on education and research and offers both guided and self-guided tours. Founded in 1975, the museum highlights the compassion and solidarity that made the Underground Railroad such an important journey to people’s freedom.
The grounds of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum also include two historical buildings as permanent exhibits. Learn of the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad. It also functioned as a place of rest and a school. Visit the Taylor Log Cabin, the 19th century home of the former enslaved Mr. George Taylor, part of an early Black settlement.
Location: 277 King Street, Amherstburg
Places to stay
Find an assortment of hotels in Windsor, just a 30-minute drive from Amherstburg.
Places to eat
Amherstburg has a great selection of family-friendly restaurants to fuel your day.
For more restaurant ideas, check out Amherstburg’s Essential Restaurant Guide.
Windsor – Day four
Distance from Amherstburg to Windsor: Approx. 28 kilometres (30-minute drive)
With its proximity to the Canada-United states border, Windsor played a significant role in the Underground Railroad Movement. Thousands of enslaved Black people escaped slavery in the United States by crossing over the Detroit River towards a life of freedom in Windsor.
Today, Windsor is known as an eclectic and culturally diverse city with fascinating historical landmarks, world-class entertainment and scenic riverfront views. With plenty of history to see and experience, you’re going to want to take the full day to explore.
Things to do
Visit the Chimczuk Museum in downtown Windsor to learn about the region’s history and heritage through permanent and temporary exhibitions.
In the main floor concourse, a significant portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the history of the Underground Railroad featuring prominent Black residents of Windsor and the surrounding region. The Children’s Gallery and Learning Space is designed for kids to explore history and heritage through interactive games and activities.
Location: 401 Riverside Drive West, Windsor
Self-guided historical tour
Take your family on an outdoor self-guided tour of the city’s historical landmarks related to Black history. Here’s a suggested route to follow.
Start at the Tower of Freedom, a monument that honours the journey of enslaved African Americans to freedom in Canada. Sculpted by American artist Ed Dwight, this tower features life-size bronze figures, overwhelmed with emotion upon encountering freedom.
The Tower of Freedom in Windsor is one half of the International Underground Railroad Memorial. The Gateway to Freedom is the other half of the monument, which is located in Detroit and depicts life-size bronze figures awaiting transport into Canada. Both monuments stand alongside the Detroit River and can be seen across the water from each other.
The Reaching Out Wall Mural commemorates Windsor residents who fought for equality and human rights. Six figures are portrayed in the mural: Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Bishop C. L. Morton, Justin Jackson, Walter Petty, Reverend J. T. Wagner and Alton C. Parker. The mural shows a quilt hanging from a window. Quilted patterns were used to convey coded messages to freedom seekers. The mural is located at 307 Wyandotte Street East and is situated on the west side of the building, facing McDougall Street.
Arch & Baptist Church
Stop by the Historic Sandwich Town Arch located in the historic neighbourhood of Sandwich Town. The arch, welcomes you into Olde Sandwich, with informational plaques highlighting Sandwich’s rich history. Some of the arch’s plaques include details of the Underground Railroad as well as historic Black figures.
Location: 1026 Riverside Drive West, Windsor
Next, visit the Sandwich First Baptist Church, the oldest active Black church in Canada. This church served as a haven for enslaved people on their journey to freedom. It was first built as a log cabin in 1820 and rebuilt in 1841 by the Black community and fugitive enslaved people.
Location: 3652 Peter Street, Windsor
Places to stay
Windsor is home to a variety of comfortable and convenient accommodations located right downtown.
The Holiday Inn Express Windsor Waterfront is a great choice for families with wonderful river views, free breakfast and indoor pool. Plus, it’s within walking distance to several great restaurants.
Location: 33 Riverside Drive East, Windsor
Find more hotel options in Windsor.
Places to eat
Dine at Black-owned restaurants in Windsor known for their exceptional food.
Windsor is also famously known for its “Windsor-style” pizza, which features sliced pepperonis and a spicy-sweet sauce made with lots of oregano. Some of the best pizzerias offering classic Windsor-style pizza are takeout or delivery spots. For more information on this iconic dish, as well as the best options for pizzerias, check out the Windsor-Essex pizza guide.
Families with kids of all ages will be enriched by this unforgettable road trip. Explore a significant part of Canadian Black history together with hands-on discovery, outdoor adventure, delicious food and the opportunity for family bonding.
Last updated: February 5, 2024