Harriet Tubman’s 1913 Canadian obituary affirmed that when she was a conductor on the Underground Railroad she was a resident of St. Catharines and helped hundreds of people living in the province escape from slavery to enjoy a life of freedom and equality in Canada.
In 1943 a non-fiction biography about Tubman solidified her connection to St. Catharines, Ontario. Outlining many of her Underground Railroad journeys that ended in Canada, the book proclaimed this Canadian town to be her last stop.
The July 1984 National Geographic Underground Railroad issue attracted international, scholarly and government attention when an African American scholar wrote a story about Harriet Tubman. Tracing the 1857 resettlement of his male ancestor to Tubman and St. Catharines the article sparked great interest in the local black history.
The March 10th Harriet Tubman Day campaign, speared headed by the Harriet Tubman Historical Society in Wilmington, Delaware, garnered the attention of the White House in the late eighties. A Presidential Proclamation was issued by George H. Bush in 1990 declaring March 10th to be Harriet Tubman Day. The City of St. Catharines in partnership with the Salem Chapel, BME Church joined the United States community and declared the same. This commemorative day is in honor of Harriet Tubman’s entire life of service to humanity and it is celebrated annually at the Salem Chapel.
In 1993 the Government of Ontario erected a Provincial Heritage marker on the church property to recognize Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad achievements and the neighbourhood where she once lived.
The Regional government began to develop the Niagara’s Freedom Trail in 1995 to highlight the early black history and to enhance the visitor experience.
In 1996 the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre integrated Tubman’s story, the Underground Railroad and the history of the early black settlers throughout the museum galleries.
Scholarly research in the 21st century added more primary and secondary evidence to Harriet Tubman’s narrative and removed plenty of speculation. Prior to 1993 it was believed that Tubman lived in St. Catharines from 1851 to 1857. Now it is known that Tubman was in St. Catharines until December 1861. While on leave from the Civil War in the fall of 1863, she traveled to St. Catharines to visit with her family and friends.
In 2000 the Government of Canada declared the Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church to be a National Historic Site because of its anti-slavery activity and connection to Harriet Tubman.
York University in Toronto, Canada developed the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples in 2002. The research center is committed to overcoming injustice and inequity as a result of slavery and is dedicated to capturing, studying, and telling the international story of the migration of African peoples around the globe, from centuries ago to the present day.
Harriet Tubman was honoured with a National designation in 2005 when the Government of Canada declared her to be a Person of National Significance. The commemorative plaque was erected on the grounds of the Salem Chapel, BME Church NHS she attended when she lived in St. Catharines.
In 2010 a local artist, Frank Rekrut created a portrait bust of Tubman that was mounted on a black marble and placed in the church courtyard.
In 2013 Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr and PBS featured the Salem Chapel, BME Church National Historic Site and shared its connection to Harriet Tubman in the award winning documentary The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.
To bring more awareness to Harriet Tubman and the early black history, St. Catharines councilors unanimously approved a motion to become Sister Cities with Auburn, NY and Cambridge, MD in February 2014.
In May 2014 the Trustees of the District School Board of Niagara named the new central elementary school the Harriet Tubman Public School. The new school opened in September 2015.
On February 9, 2016, the local elementary school unveiled their beautiful bronze statue of a seated Harriet Tubman holding a book. The Salem Chapel, BME Church participated in the wonderful event and talked about one of the under explored areas of her remarkable life. Although Harriet Tubman could not read or write, she was an advocate for education. During her life she had four protégés; James Alfred Bowley, Margaret Steward, Harkless Bowley and Gertie Davis. All of them received a formal education thanks to Tubman. During the Reconstruction era, Tubman held numerous Freedmen Fairs in Auburn, NY to raise money and collect books for the South Carolina schools where James Alfred was teaching. Perhaps 1,000 or more South Carolina students benefited from Tubman’s fundraising efforts. James Alfred later became a commissioner of education and in 1869 was elected to the legislative assembly. The children Harriet Tubman guided to St. Catharines attended the local schools. Scholarly research confirms that at the very least 25 of her immediate relatives attended school in St. Catharines between 1852 and 1921. After she was free Tubman made an attempt to learn how to read and write. The ongoing headache caused by her head injury prevented her from concentrating on books. Harriet Tubman gave many others what she was denied as a child and that was a formal education.
The US Treasury Department announced on April 20, 2016 that Harriet Tubman would grace the front of the American $20 bill in 2020. She will replace Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States and a slave owner.
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