Museum Classroom: Welcome to St. Catharines- Freedom Seekers and the Power of Information (Int.)

Lesson: Welcome to St. Catharines, Canada West
Topic: Freedom Seekers and the power of information
Grade: 5-8


Curriculum Expectations:

  • Social Studies
  • History
  • Geography

Materials Required:

  • Pencil or pen
  • Pencil crayons or markers

Materials Provided:

Pre-Lesson: Discussion of abolitionists and the choices available to Freedom Seekers.

To prepare for this you will need to print off for each student:

  • Brochure template
  • Accounts from Freedom Seekers
  • Historical Resources for Research

Download and print the Activity Instructions, Brochure Template, Freedom Seeker accounts’, 1870s Map and Resource List. If you cannot print, STCM recommend downloading the Adobe or Word version of the handouts.

Begin the lesson by assessing the students’ knowledge of slavery practices in the United States up until the end of the Civil War, the existence of slavery in British North America, and what the underground railroad was. To meet the expectations of the lesson activity students should know:

  • That slavery had been abolished in the British Empire by The Slavery Abolition Act which came into effect on August 1, 1834.
  • The United States continued to allow slavery after 1834, however, that there were states considered free states and others that were slave states. Those who managed to escape to free states were able to live as freed persons. The passing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 changed this because it allowed slaves that had escaped to free states to be returned to the places where they had been enslaved.
  • With this change in law many enslaved persons seeking freedom turned to Canada as they were offered freedom under the law in British North America.
  • The movement of escaping and finding freedom, with the aid of abolitionist or others who had escaped slavery, to free Northern States or Canada was known as the Underground Railway.

This lesson will focus on understanding the challenges Freedom Seekers faced with the decision on whether to attempt the Underground Railroad to Canada. Begin the lesson by discussing the idea of misinformation. Ask the students if they can identify misinformation that has spread in recent history. If you need to provide an example, try discussing how misinformation about COVID19 in the early days lead to a toilet paper shortage around the world. In history we find examples of misinformation being used to control groups of people. In the case of Freedom Seekers misinformation was used to scare them out of trying to flee to Canada.

Read the accounts of Freedom Seekers out loud to the class or have the students take turns reading from the document. When you are finished ask the students to identify the information that we know is not correct from the accounts. Follow this question up by asking students why they think that the slave owners would spread this information. Did they really believe the things they were saying or was it a form of control?

*Optional expansion on the theme of misinformation is to ask students what sources they go to, to get information? Why do they choose that source? How do they know it is the truth? Explain to the students that while the internet has a lot of good and credible information, not everything on it is true. That is why when they are looking for information, they should stop to ask who is giving this information? Then ask, are they trustworthy? To help them complete the activity a list of reliable historical information has been provided.

After students understand the poor quality of the information that Freedom Seekers had about life in Canada, they can move on to the second part of the activity. Tell students that today they are abolitionist here in St. Catharines in the 1850s. Tell them that their society has heard of the bad information that is being spread to those who are still enslaved in the United States, and they have been asked to prepare a pamphlet on what Canada is really like to send with underground railroad conductors.

For this activity each student should have their own copy of the pamphlet print out, and access to the resources on the list provided. Instruct students to use the St. Catharines directory and the Map to complete the brochure. When students are done have them present their brochure to the class and “promote” moving to St. Catharines to the rest of the class.

Wrap up Discussion
To wrap up the class ask students if everything they learned would make St. Catharines a place they would risk their life to get to if they were a Freedom Seeker in the Underground Railroad Era. Lead a discussion in comparing the difficulties in the life as an enslaved person to life as a free person. Conclude the lesson by explaining that the ability to live as free people and secure a better life for their children is what made many Freedom Seekers endure the prejudices they met in Canada.

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