Georgian Bay Black history road trip

Discover untold stories and learn about Black history at the northernmost stop of the Underground Railroad in Georgian Bay.

A stone covered plaque beside a historic log building.

Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church | Bruce, Grey, Simcoe

The story of the Underground Railroad and its legacy in Ontario is one of the most important chapters in Canadian history. Black settlements and communities were established throughout Southern Ontario, in and around Windsor, Amherstburg and Chatham-Kent.

But less commonly known is that many newcomers continued much farther north to Grey and Simcoe County. Freedom seekers travelled to these areas in search of a better life and to create distance from the ruthless bounty hunters who kidnapped free people along the American border.

Embark on an inspirational road trip this summer. Visit historical sites and museums and experience cultural events that celebrate Black history in the Georgian Bay area. Combined with entertainment, community spirit and moments of reflection, this experience is not to be missed.


Between the years of 1819 and 1826, Barrie’s neighbouring township Oro-Medonte became the first government-sponsored settlement for Black soldiers who fought during the War of 1812. By living in the area, these settlers protected the region from American invasion. The settlers were also guaranteed freedom and protection from being enslaved. At one point, over 30 Black families were settled in the area.

Things to do

Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Township of Oro-Medonte is a 15-minute drive northeast from Barrie. It’s also the home of the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church. Built around 1849, this church is a testament to the contribution of African Canadians to the settlement and defence of Upper Canada in the 19th century.

This National Historic Site is a simple log church with an unmarked cemetery. The church was built and cared for by the early Black settlers of the area and was active until around 1900. After this time, the population decreased due to many challenges, including poor farming conditions. Community volunteers have cared for the church since then, preserving it as a symbol of the early Black settlement.

Although the church is closed for tours, people are allowed to visit the site.

Location: 1645 Line 3 North, Oro-Medonte

Where to eat and drink

Anikky’s Kitchen

Owned and operated by Canadian-Nigerian Bunmi Salami, this menu features authentic Nigerian dishes made with fresh ingredients.
Location: 43-199 Ardagh Road, Barrie

Irie Jerk

This family-style restaurant serves classic Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken and curry goat.
Location: 222 Mapleview Drive West, Barrie

For more dining options, check out this complete list of restaurants in Barrie.

Detour: Stayner

About 15 minutes drive west of Barrie to Stayner, stop at Angie’s Place Canadian Caribbean Eatery to enjoy rotis, curries, jerk chicken and

A small red house with a door open
Sheffield Park Black History and Cultural Museum

Collingwood and Thornbury

Approximate distance from Barrie to Collingwood and Thornbury: 55-70 kilometres, 50-60 minutes

Collingwood and Thornbury are charming towns located on the southern shores of Georgian Bay. Collingwood is approximately a 20-minute drive east of Thornbury. Both towns offer beautiful natural scenery and several stops along the Apple Pie Trail.

Things to do

Collingwood Waterfront Trail

Enjoy a scenic stroll around Collingwood Waterfront Trail. In addition, Collingwood boasts a network of over 60 kilometers of connected recreational trails.

Sheffield Park Black History and Cultural Museum

The Sheffield Park Black History and Cultural Museum has an extensive collection of artifacts that showcase the life and legacy of early Black pioneers and settlers in Grey County.

Originally founded by Howard Sheffield, the museum started as his passion project to gather and preserve the history of his ancestors and share it with his family. This grew considerably when his collection attracted more interest and donations from around the community. Today, the museum’s legacy is carried on through Carolynn and Sylvia Wilson, the nieces of the late Howard Sheffield.

Sheffield Park Museum offers a self-guided tour around display buildings on the 4-hectare (11 acres) property. The display buildings contain collections representing different themes and eras, such as the beginning in Africa and the homestead of early settlers in Grey Simcoe County. There is also a gift shop, where you can buy books and mementos.

After the tour, there’s ample space on the property to reflect and chat about this experience with others, so pack a basket full of goodies, lawn chairs or a blanket to enjoy a picnic. Kids will also enjoy the swing set on the property.

Sheffield Park Museum is open for the 2024 summer season from May 23 to October 12. It’s open on Thursdays to Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Please double-check ahead before your visit.
Location: 241 Clark Street, Clarksburg

Places to stay

Penny’s Motel

This boutique motel in Thornbury offers thoughtful added touches for an enjoyable stay, such as complimentary bikes to explore the trails and a firepit to roast s’mores.
Location: 141 King Street East, Thornbury

Royal Harbour Resort

Located on the shores of Georgian Bay, Royal Harbour Resort boasts amazing views of the water.
Location: 1 Harbour Street, Thornbury

Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Collingwood

Enjoy complimentary breakfast at Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Collingwood.
Location: 15 Cambridge Street, Collingwood

Comfort Inn & Suites Collingwood

Relax in the revamped indoor swimming pool and enjoy free breakfast.
Location: 4 Balsam Street, Collingwood

Georgian Bay Hotel & Conference Centre

Guests are ensured relaxation and fun with an on-site spa and bike rentals available to guests.
Location: 10 Vacation Inn Drive, Collingwood

The VanderMarck Boutique Hotel

The VanderMarck Boutique Hotel feels like a home away from home with apartment-style suites.
Location: 64 Third Street, Collingwood

The Dorchester Hotel

Upscale restored hotel building with a modern twist in downtown Collingwood.
Location: 172 Hurontario Street, Collingwood

Places to eat

Lakeside Seafood & Grill

Waterfront eatery with great views to complement a delicious meal.
Location: 9 Harbour Street East, Collingwood

The Chipper Fresh Cut Fries Inc.

Purchase fresh French fries to enjoy with a beautiful sunset.
Location: Sunset Point Park, Collingwood

The Mill Café

Located in a historic building overlooking the Beaver River, The Mill Café provides casual fine dining for brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert.
Location: 12 Bridge Street, Thornbury

Winifred’s English Pub

Housed in a historic building from 1862, Winifred’s English Pub is a neighbourhood pub with the largest patio in Thornbury.
Location: 27 Bridge Street, Thornbury

Fabbrica Thornbury,

Enjoy a wood-burning pizza oven, inviting dining room and buzzing patio at Fabbrica Thornbury, a delicious Italian restaurant.
Location: 27 Bruce Street South, Thornbury

If you’re looking to savour something cool and sweet on a hot summer day, check out South Georgian Bay Ice Cream Crawl.

Owen Sound

Approximate distance from Collingwood to Owen Sound: 66 kilometres, 60 minutes

Located where the Pottawatomi and Sydenham Rivers meet at an inlet of Georgian Bay, Owen Sound is the largest community in Grey County and one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad.

Places to stay

Best Western Inn On The Bay

Take in the enchanting panoramic views of Georgian Bay. The hotel offers breakfast for a nominal fee, a spa area and an on-site restaurant.
Location: 1800 2nd Avenue, East, Owen Sound

For more options of where to stay, find a full list of accommodations in Owen Sound.

Things to do

Emancipation Festival and Picnic

People of all backgrounds are welcome to attend the Emancipation Festival and Picnic. Held annually since 1862 in Harrison Park, it is the longest-running Emancipation picnic in North America. This festival began as a simple picnic to observe the anniversary of the British Emancipation Act on August 1, 1834. This Act marked the end of the enslavement of African people and their descendants across the British Empire.

The goal of the Emancipation Festival is to inform and educate, as well as recognize and celebrate those who made the Underground Railroad journey possible. Attendees at this free celebration in Harrison Park experience an ancestors’ breakfast, a commemorative Cairn celebration, live music, food vendors, exciting activities and an afternoon picnic. The final day of the festival is Gospel Sunday and a service is held in the Moreston Heritage Village at the Grey Roots Museum & Archives.

This year’s festival is scheduled for August 2–4, 2024 over the Civic holiday weekend in Ontario. It also coincides with Emancipation Day, which was officially recognized in Canada in 2021. Emancipation Day is a three-day festival with different events scheduled for each day. With such a rich line-up of activities and experiences, you’re going to want to spend a day or two at this festival.

Location: Harrison Park: 72 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound

Speakers Corner at Grey Roots Museum & Archives

As part of the Emancipation Festival, the Grey Roots Museum & Archives hosts a Speakers Corner from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. This evening event involves live presentations from artists, musicians, scholars and poets.

Check online for the price of admission and advance ticket sales as seating is limited.

Location: 102599, Grey County Road 18, Owen Sound

Black History Cairn

Located in Harrison Park, Black History Cairn marks the most northern terminus of the Underground Railroad. It was built with stones from Canada, the US and Africa and it was unveiled at the 2004 Emancipation Festival. The cairn sits in a tranquil area near the Sydenham River and offers the perfect spot for reflection and meditation.

Designed by Bonita Johnson de Matteis, a local artist and descendant of freedom seekers, the cairn honours those displaced from Africa and freedom seekers. It features many important details that pay tribute to the Underground Railway. The windows are fashioned after those in the “Little Zion Church,” the first Black church in Owen Sound, the broken shackles speak to freedom, and there are crafted quilt codes at the base of the sculpture, created by hand from local artist Jim Hong Louie.

Location: 72 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound

Owen Sound Historic Walking Tour

Take a self-guided walking tour and learn about the city’s history. The tour takes you through sections of the city’s Freedom Trail, which commemorates the first Black settlers of Owen Sound. Following this trail leads you to the Black History Cairn in Harrison Park.

Download the Historic Walking Tour brochure to access information on-the-go.

Black history road map of Owen Sound

Download the Black history road map of Owen Sound for a self-guided driving tour of important landmarks in Owen Sound’s Black history.

Places to eat

Harrison Park Inn Restaurant.

Conveniently located in Harrison Park, Harrison Park Inn Restaurant is a great place to stop in for a meal after exploring the area.
Location: 137 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound  

 Casero Kitchen Table

If you’re in the mood for mouth-watering and homemade Mexican food, book a table at Casero Kitchen Table.
Location: 946 3rd Avenue East, Owen Sound

Browse more eateries in Owen Sound to satisfy your cravings.

Detour: Wiarton

Take a quick trip to Wiarton, a 30-minute drive from Owen Sound to dine at Coral’s Caribbean Cuisine. This Caribbean restaurant offers tasty Jamaican and Canadian dishes.
Location: 651 Berford Street, Wiarton

For more trip planning ideas and suggestions to build your itinerary,connect with our travel counsellors

Last updated: May 1, 2024

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