US & Canada

Harriet Tubman's church in Canada badly needs repairs

Harriet Tubman served as a spy and a nurse during the US Civil War Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Harriet Tubman served as a spy and a nurse during the US Civil War

A Canadian church once attended by famed anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman is in desperate need of repair, says its members.

Salem Chapel BME (British Methodist Episcopal) was built in 1853 by former slaves who settled in St Catharines, Ontario.

Descendants of the church's founders say it needs C$100,000 ($77,570).

Tubman lived in St Catharines between 1851-61, while helping slaves from the US to freedom in Canada.

"I wouldn't trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer, I brought them all clear off to Canada," the abolitionist once said.

The church was designated a Canadian National Historic Site in 2000 and remains privately owned by the congregation.

Image copyright Salem Chapel BME
Image caption The 162-year-old log frame needs cable wire or earthquake to help secure the building

During the church's heyday it served about 200 worshipers.

Now there are only 11.

About 4,000 tourists visit the site every year, but church volunteers say that raises only enough to cover basic expenses like electricity.

A GoFundMe site for the campaign says the 162-year-old log frame needs cable wire or earthquake straps to help secure the building from nearby traffic and construction, as well as a new coat of paint, windows and a doorframe.

After Canada abolished slavery in the 1790s, St Catharines, which is located on the New York border, began attracting settlers of African descent.

In 1850, the US passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which meant slaves that had escaped to Northern US states where slavery was illegal could still be returned to the South.

This led many free and escaped slaves to flee for Canada, where St Catharines was often the final stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of volunteer safe-houses that helped slaves escape the slaveholding southern US to the free northern US states and Canada.

"The church represents a gateway to freedom for many, many African Americans who fled," church historian Rochelle Bush told the CBC.

"It was a hub for abolitionist activity."

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