Join In Celebrating The Life Of One Of Niagara, Ontario’s Very Most Heroic Women

By Gail Benjafield

Woman’s Day – falling every year in early March – is celebrated in many ways.

The great Harriet Tubman, who led countless slaves from America's south to freedom by following the northern star

The great Harriet Tubman, who led countless slaves from America’s south to freedom by following the northern star

For the last several years, the members of the British Methodist Episcopal (B.M.E.) congregation in St. Catharines, Ontario have held an annual dinner in memory of one its founding members, Harriet Tubman.  As most surely know, Tubman was a major conductor of the Underground Railroad, bringing many members of her family and friends to St. Catharines, in safety, and by stealth.

This Woman’s Day is special, because it is not only the 100th anniversary of Tubman’s death, but is also the month in which she was born in 1822. She and fellow freedom fighters built Salem Chapel at 92 Geneva Street, with the help of noted philanthropists and abolitionists such as William Hamilton Merritt.

Tubman is arguably the most important St. Catharines woman we can call our own. She lived on North Street, from time to time, in the 1850’s with her father and brother, and many other family members. The most authoritative adult nonfiction book about her book on her life, both here in St. Catharines and in Maryland, is Dr. Kate Clifford Larson’s “Bound for the Promised Land”. Larson spoke to a packed Salem Chapel (the other name for the St. Catharines B. M. E. church) in January, a collaborative event that was hosted by both parishioners and the Historical Society of St. Catharines.

The historic Salem Chapel, also known as the B.M.E. Church, located in the Niagara, Ontario community of St. Catharines.

The historic Salem Chapel, also known as the B.M.E. Church, located in the Niagara, Ontario community of St. Catharines.

The annual dinner to celebrate both Tubman and Women’s Day is being held on Saturday March 9th, at 3 pm. Salem Chapel is at 92 Geneva Street. Representatives from the Niagara Black History organization, Central Ontario Network for Black History, St. Catharines Historical Society and dignitaries will attend.  A dinner will follow downstairs at Salem Chapel.  The dinner, to dine in or take out is $20.00 a plate and $12.00 for children under ten.  The celebration itself is free to attendees.

The event will include the WomEnchant Chorus, (all women you might guess) led by noted conductor Laura Thomas. 

Womenchant in Mount Carmel, Niagara Falls, vintage 2011.

WomEnchant Chorus,, Niagara Falls, vintage 2011.

So let’s be proud that we had such a remarkable woman in our midst for some years, a woman who has put St. Catharines on the map as one of the most important terminals for the Underground Railroad. Tubman chose to live here. Her larger family descendants live among us, and most importantly, we bask in the glory this distinct and distinguished woman [in the month of her birth and death], with enormous pride. 

Mark your calendars and please join us at Salem Chapel, 92 Church St., St. Catharines, March 9th, at 3 PM.

Gail Benjafield is a Niagara, Ontario resident who has played a long and active role in preserving and promoting the rich history of this region.

(You are invited to share your thoughts on this post in the space below.)


5 responses to “Join In Celebrating The Life Of One Of Niagara, Ontario’s Very Most Heroic Women

  1. I just watched a special on the Underground Railroad Harriet Tubman new no fear and personally led about 70 people to freedom from the deep South. Wow what a brave black woman worked through a whole series of safe houses to the Canadian border.the special was on WNED last week.


  2. I watched it also George It was really an eye opener THAT illustrated the roles of the heroic peoples who risked their very lives to aid in the realization ……….Free at .last …Free at Last


  3. Gail Benjafield

    Allow me to reply. Yes, the information on ‘our’ Harriet Tubman has been updated enourmously by the wonderful academic work of one Kate Clifford Larsen, of the U.S., who spoke to a large gathering, hosted by the Historical Society of St. Catharines, in late January. Much of the mythology about Tubman was put to rest. She brought only about 70 kinfolk and friends from Maryland, not 300, which was part of the early mythologies. There were no quilts hung out to direct slaves to Canada, as promulgated by books such as “Hidden in Plain sight”, none at all. There were fewer recorded trips than earlier books suggested. Further, there was no huge bounty on her head, as earlier reported, as no one realized that a tiny black slave woman could possibly have negotiated such travel. All the press at the time were looking for John Brown, or some Male Abolitionist to thwart their plans. So, yes, she is a remarkable heroine, and she, herself, was ‘hidden in plain sight.’


  4. Some years ago I was pleased to hear an inspiring presentation at the BME about the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman as part of Doors Open. We are fortunate that people like Gail Benjafield keep us mindful of the importance of our heritage. We must be especially vigilant to ensure that the contribution of women is noted and enshrined.


  5. Thank you so much for all your fine work, from which we all benefit.


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