Museum Classroom: Mapping the Promised Land

Lesson: Mapping the Promised Land Topic: Black History Subtopics: Mapping, the Underground Railroad Grades: 4-8

Activity: Mapping the key areas in Niagara connected to the Underground Railroad during the mid-nineteenth century

Materials Required

  • Pencil Crayons or other colouring tools

Materials Provided

  • 1850 Map of the Niagara Peninsula:
Either print this map, or download and save on your device. Students can complete this activity using your favourite colouring program on a computer or tablet.


After slavery was abolished by the British Empire in 1834, Canada became known as a Promised Land for escaped slaves seeking freedom and safety. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the United States in 1850, fugitive slaves and all free Black people living in the free northern states risked being captured by bounty hunters and sold into slavery in the Southern United States. Nowhere in the United States was safe, and Black people saw Canada as a Promised Land of freedom, security, and peace.

Using an 1850 map of the Niagara Peninsula, follow the instructions below to colour in the areas in Niagara connected to the Underground Railroad. As you colour, consider the routes of the Underground Railroad into Canada and how the Black community built new lives in Niagara.

Mapping Instructions

  • Chloe Cooley

Chloe Cooley was a young slave in Queenston, Upper Canada. In 1793, when her slave master wanted to resell her, she was tied up and thrown in a boat to be taken across the Niagara River and sold in the United States. Her capture was very violent and made people upset. Eventually, people told her story to the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe.

Simcoe was an abolitionist supporter and told Chloe’s story to make the first anti-slavery law in Upper Canada.

Colour the area around Queenston orange. Draw a girl in this area.

  • Anti-Slavery Law

This anti-slavery was the first legislation passed in the British Empire to restrict the slave trade. The law was made by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe after hearing the story of Chloe Cooley. While the law banned new slaves from coming to Upper Canada, it did not free the people who were already slaves. All children born to slave parents would be freed when they became adults.

The law was printed in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Colour the area around Niagara red. Draw a piece of paper with writing.

  • Slavery in the United States

Slavery ended in Canada in 1834. All slaves living in Canada were freed. But the United States still bought and sold slaves. In 1850 a law was made called The Fugitive Slave Act. It gave slave-owners and their agents the right to track down and arrest fugitives anywhere in the country. Bounty hunters often kidnapped free Blacks and illegally sold them into slavery in the Southern states. No person of colour was safe.

The land east of the Niagara River is the United States. Colour all of the land to the right of the Niagara River grey. Draw a symbol to represent slavery.

  • The Niagara River

The Niagara River separates the United States and Canada. Crossing the Niagara River was the final stretch of the Underground Railroad. Slaves knew that once they crossed the Niagara River into Canada, they were free and they were safe.

Colour the Niagara River blue. To mark slaves’ journey across the river, draw a series of arrows pointing from the United States to the left, into Canada. Make sure that the arrows are below Niagara Fall.

  • The Crossing

A ferry used to bring people across the Niagara River between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario. During the Underground Railroad, this ferry also brought hundreds of escaped slaves to freedom in Canada. It is said that ferry operators helped transport escaped slaves by using a secret system of tokens to protect again spies.

Draw a line between Fort Erie and Buffalo to mark the ferry crossing.

  • The Welland Canal

First opening in 1829, the Welland Canal was a busy transportation route connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The communities that grew along the canal became busy places for business and trade with all sort of businessmen, sailors, labourers constantly coming and going. Freedom seekers were more likely to be able to avoid re-apture in these areas.

Colour the route of the Welland Canal purple. Draw sail ships along the canal.

  • St. Catharines

During the Underground Railroad, St. Catharines was a big city with many opportunities for those who came to searching. The city was close to the United States border but far enough away that bounty hunters were not as big as a threat.

At the time of the Underground Railroad, St. Catharines ‘Black population kept growing. Freedom Seekers lived on land given by abolitionist William Hamilton Merritt. The community that grew here became known as “Coloured Town.”

In 1840, members of the British Methodist Episcopal Church bought land at the corner of Geneva and North Streets to build a church. Many members were escaped slaves who found homes in St. Catharines. The church was named Salem Chapel and it was a central hub of Underground Railroad activities.

In 1851, Underground Railroad Conductor Harriet Tubman relocated her headquarters to St. Catharines. She worked out Coloured Town and Salem Chapel. She would help Freedom Seekers find a job or a place to live in St. Catharines. Harriet Tubman lived here until about 1859.

Escaped slaves found paying jobs for the first time in St. Catharines. They worked as cooks, servants, porters, and coachmen.

Living in Coloured Town, many freedom seekers built their own homes. For the first time, they could grow their own gardens and raise their family in their own homes. Though racism and discrimination still existed, Black people were able to live free, full lives in St. Catharines.

Colour the area around St. Catharines yellow. Draw square boxes in the area to represent Coloured Town where freedom seekers lived and the businesses where they worked.

  • Agriculture

As many escaped slaves coming to Canada worked on plantations while in bondage, many found paid agriculture work as farm hands once in Niagara. Some who settled around St. Catharines eventually purchased farms of their own.

Colour the area within the borders of the Welland Canal, O & E Ship Canal and Lake Ontario green. Draw fruits and vegetables to represent the different the types of agriculture in Niagara.

Wrap-up Discussion

  1. If you were an escaped slave living in St. Catharines, what would you do after slavery ended in the United States? Would you stay with your new friends and family in St. Catharines or try to find the friends and family back home?
  2. Why is it important to learn that St. Catharines was an important place on the Underground Railroad?

Leave a Reply