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Owen Sound Underground Railroad Driving Tour

Click to Download Map(information compiled by Greta Kennedy)

The tour begins at the Owen Sound Tourist Information Centre at 1155 1st Avenue West, Owen Sound.

Leaving the parking lot, turn right onto 1st Avenue West and follow through past the No Exit sign, past the West Side Boat Launch, bearing to the left at the Elevator entrance right out to the point.

1. The Point

Follow the Harbour Walkway to the point for a magnificent view of the Bay. The point is not only scenic; it is also the mouth of the Pottawatomi River, one of five rivers that empty into Owen Sound Bay. It also is the area of an early arrival of a colony of escaping Blacks, who had made their way along the silent tracks of the Underground Railroad to St. Joseph’s Mission in northern Michigan.

Befriended by the natives at St. Joseph’s, the fleeing Blacks were taught how to canoe. Their original destination was to be the Jesuit Mission at Midland. Due to the lateness of the year and weather conditions, the group was forced into port here in Owen Sound Bay where they ended up settling. This group of escaped Blacks became a congregation of a travelling Presbyterian catechist, Angus Gillies, who wrote home to Scotland about his “black flock” at the Village of Sydenham at the mouth of the Pottawatomi.

The Harbour Walkway was recently developed by the City along the Harbour front.

Turn around here and retrace the route out to 1st Avenue West. Proceed southerly along 1st Avenue West past the Marine Rail Museum to 11th Street West. Turn right onto 11th Street West and go to the second block…

2. The British Methodist Episcopal Church (BME) – 11th Street West

The Church, a red brick building is located mid block on the left. This Church building was originally the home of the white congregation’s West Side Methodist Church. In 1911, they sold this building to the BME congregation for $1.00. This Church building still serves the Black congregation under the leadership of Rev. Oriel Licorish. The church is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, and was dedicated by the former Governor General of Ontario, the Honourable Lincoln Alexander.

3. 242 11th Street West – The Oldest Slave Built Home still owned by a Descendant

This neat red brick home was built by Francis Molock (circa 1870s), an escaped slave from the Maryland area. Francis and his brother George came via the Underground Railroad, led by the famous Harriet Tubman. Harriet’s dedication in the face of severe penalty (a reward of $40,000 was posted for her capture, dead or alive) to assist her people earned her the title “The Moses of Her People”. Francis was one of the preachers at the BME Church.

Special features of this home are the door and windowsills of locally quarried stone. Owned by his granddaughter, Frances Molock Harding until her death in 1997, this home was occupied by a descendant of Molock since being built. Frances, a talented musician, provided the musical accompaniment for the BME Church services every Sunday morning. Over the years, Frances had played at several churches in the City, and taught many a young Owen Sounders to play the piano. Frances was a member of the band, “Sea Island Merrymakers”, a well known and much in demand group of musicians who played for many dances and special events.

Proceed along this block to 3rd Avenue West; turn left onto 3rd Avenue West to the lights at 10th Street. On your right is Central West Side United Church, the Church that gave the BME their former location. Continue south through the lights and proceed along to #930 on your right.

4. Billy Bishop Home – 930 3rd Avenue West

This home was the boyhood home of the famous WWI flying Ace, Billy Bishop. Billy won the Victoria Cross for his exploits fighting for the British Empire, and continued in her service, serving in WWII and in other capacities. The building, designated as a National Historic Site in 2001, hosts many artifacts of Billy Bishop’s life. For more information on this interesting Canadian, check out the web site (www.billybishop.org).

It is not common knowledge that Black men, too, served their country by fighting in WWI. The No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada’s first and only all-Black battalion, was made up of 700 Black men from across Canada. Some were as young as 15 or 16 years old. This separate battalion was formed in 1916 as Black men trying to enlist were turned away at recruiting offices due to their skin colour. It was the only volunteer unit to do non-combative work before heading overseas, mostly lifting rails from Grand Truck sidings at various New Brunswick locations. Sent overseas in 1917, it became a construction company for the remainder of the war. The Battalion’s duties included cutting logs, trench digging for training troops, building roads and bridges, logging, milling, shipping and water transportation. Due to their excellent service, the Battalion was recommended for transfer to the Western Front. Shortly after that, the war ended and the troops returned home. Some were wounded or killed in action; others died on the trip overseas. Black soldiers experienced racism from white officers and soldiers while serving their country.

5. The American Consulate, 932 3rd Avenue West

Owen Sound has many fine examples of architecture, and this intriguing building once housed the American Consulate in the City. Note the Chinese Tower, an unusual feature. The consulate was established in respect of the amount of trade done with Americans. Local history claims the Consul was kept busy bailing American sailors out of jail, so the ships could sail on schedule.

Proceed along 3rd Avenue West to 8th Street West. Turn left on 8th Street, and then right onto 2nd Avenue West.

6. Little Zion

When a group of Blacks arrived on the Underground Railroad to a point of settlement, among the first things done was to establish a place of worship. Just along this area was the site of the first BME Church Building in Owen Sound.

On September 29, 1856, the British Methodist Episcopal Church was established as a separate denomination. BME Church services were held in various locations in the City. Nine years later in 1865, a Memorial, dated October 12, 1865 records the deeding of a piece of property 25 feet by 40 feet, from Joseph Maugham and his wife Mary, to the Trustees of the Owen Sound Coloured Congregation of the British Methodist Episcopalian Church.

The document records the names of the Trustees as: James Henson, Thomas Miller, Isaac Wilson, of Owen Sound, Yeomen; Samuel Barnes and John Edwards of Derby Township, Yeomen. A Church building was erected that came to be called Little Zion, and served this congregation until 1911. The congregation then moved to the 245 11th Street West building.

The Little Zion building was later sold and moved to another location along the river. Little Zion was demolished in the early 1990s as it had become unsafe. Two of the Church windows were given to the BME congregation as a remembrance of this early building.

Proceed a short distance to the Mill Dam Entrance, on your left.

7. The Mill Dam

Entering off 2nd Avenue West, this spot is a popular tourist attraction. Besides its scenic view, visitors enjoy watching the thousands of fish that attempt to get up the fish ladder to spawn.

In the early days of Owen Sound, this was a place of great importance as it was the site of one of the early mills by which the residents could get their grain ground into flour. It is also where the beginning of the Kennedy and Harrison industries, which hired Black employees, took place.

Leaving the Mill Dam site, turn onto 2nd Avenue West and continue along to Moore’s Hill. Bear to the right up the Hill. At the top of the Hill, turn left onto 4th Avenue West.

8. Sheldon Place – Estate home of Mayor John Frost

Travelling along 4th Avenue, look to the left and see the remains of the green picket fence that once enclosed the estate home of former Mayor John Frost. Mayor Frost was a known sympathizer of the Blacks and worked to help establish the Underground Railroad arrivals in Owen Sound, providing small homes for them on his estate and work for them in his Quarry. The home is a private residence and is no longer visible from the road. A residential subdivision now occupies the estate grounds.

John Frost’s son, also named John Frost, became Mayor of Owen Sound, too. He was the author of a book entitled, “Broken Shackles—Old Man Henson, From Slavery to Freedom”. It is based on the life of an Owen Sound resident John knew, James Henson. Henson was a former slave who escaped to freedom in Canada, settling in Owen Sound.

Proceed south to 1st Street South West, turn left and then left again into the entrance of Greenwood Cemetery that leads past the Cemetery Office.

9. Greenwood Cemetery

Drive round the circle and veer off into the lane. The lane passes the monuments of several famous Owen Sounders –Billy Bishop and John Frost, to name two. Drive along the lane to the quiet, grassy area.

Here rest many of the Blacks that came to Owen Sound. Only two stones are erected; one is the stone of Father Miller and his wife, Sarah. Thomas Miller, known affectionately as Father Miller, was a lay preacher at the BME Church and much beloved by the congregation. Father Miller is known to have been one of the originators of the Emancipation Day Picnics, believed to have begun in the 1860s.

Other stones of escaped slaves are present here throughout the Cemetery. Linger here to search out these other locations, or make a return visit.

Drive around, returning to the same Cemetery entrance, turn left onto 1st Avenue South West and proceed to 2nd Avenue West. Turn left and drive down the hill, along 2nd Avenue East, past the Harrison Park entrance. Harrison Park is the site of the famous Emancipation Day Picnic held each year on the Civic Holiday weekend.

Proceed over the Jubilee Bridge to the 6th Street traffic lights. Turn right, up 6th Street, cross over 9th Avenue, drive past the New Court House on the left, and travel to the Grey County building entrance.

10. The Grey County Administration Building, 575 9th Avenue East, Owen Sound

This imposing white building, with its sweeping view of the City, houses the administrative offices of the County of Grey, the County Registry Office and Courthouse.

Drive back to 9th Avenue East; turn right onto 9th Avenue East and travel south to Rockford to the Grey Roots building.

11. The Grey Roots Heritage & Visitor’s Centre

The Award Winning Exhibit “From Slavery to Freedom - African-Canadians in Grey County”, traces the history of Blacks in Grey County from the early days of settlement to present day. The recently completed facility contains historical, archival and visitor information.
Travel back on 9th Avenue East to 6th Street, and then turn down the 6th Street Hill to 2nd Avenue East. Turn right and proceed northerly past Buchan Manor at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 7th Street East.

12. Buchan Manor, 682 Second Avenue East

Buchan Manor is rumoured to have welcomed arrivals from the Underground Railroad through a tunnel from the riverbank to a building in the garden. Folklore says that during Prohibition Days, contraband liquor also came up the tunnel!

Continue to the lights at 8th Street

13. Local Heroes Square, City Hall, 2nd Avenue East

Immediately to the left is Local Heroes Square at City Hall. It features several plaques that honour well known local heroes, including one about John “Daddy” Hall, Owen Sound’s famed Town Crier for many years. Mayor John Frost’s picture and that of his lawyer son, John Frost, also a Mayor of Owen Sound, can be viewed on the second floor during regular business hours. Both Frosts were strong supporters of escaped slaves who made it to the City.

Turn right at 8th Street and proceed up the hill to 7th Avenue East. Turn left onto 7th, over to the 10th Street Hill. Turn right onto the north lane, and then left into the Victoria Park entrance, driving past the Armouries, home to the Grey and Simcoe Foresters.

14. Victoria Park

Today, Victoria Park is home to the Owen Sound Fall Fair, the Coliseum, and many special events. It was the original settling spot of Daddy Hall and several other Blacks, circa 1842. A band of Indians was already settled in the vicinity at Newash, the area of Brooke on the Pottawatomi. Charles Rankin, PLS, was aware of Newash and laid out the town plot on the east side of the Sydenham in 1840.

When Daddy Hall arrived from the Rocky Saugeen settlement circa 1842, this area was a heavily wooded hill, populated by wild animals. When Charles Rankin, PLS, had surveyed the town plot only two years earlier, only half a dozen buildings existed in the midst of the forest and river marsh. As the village rapidly progressed, the woods cleared and the Blacks’ homes gradually removed, this area became known as the “Pleasure Grounds”, as it remains today.

Follow north along 8th Avenue East (formerly called Douglass Street).

15. Douglass Street Mission

This route travels past the former Douglass Street Mission, organized by the Central United Church to assist Black families in the early days of Owen Sound.

Now called the M’Wikwedong Cultural Centre, the Centre serves the Native population of Owen Sound.

Follow 8th Avenue to 18th Street. Duncan McLellan Park is on the left; turn right. As you come to 9th Avenue East, turn left. As you proceed north, the route passes through a large residential area.

Several of these homes were originally Black homes.

Turn right, go to the next street, 9th Avenue, and turn left. As you turn onto 9th Avenue, there is a large open field on your right.

16. Oliver-Rogers Co. Stone Quarry

This large open area was the site of a big quarry in the 1920s where many Owen Sounders, including Blacks, were employed. A tragedy occurred here in October of 1924, when a Black quarryman Solomon Earll, his nephew Nathan Woods, a junior assistant and the owner, Samuel Oliver, were killed in an explosion that rocked the town. A premature detonation—the last charge of the working day—suddenly exploded, taking all three lives. This Quarry was later closed and filled in.

William Henry Harrison, a well-known Black Owen Sound citizen, worked as a foreman at this quarry until he purchased his own quarry on the east hill. The First Baptist Church, the Church of Christ (Disciples) and the Division Street Church all bear examples of his stonework.

Follow along 9th Avenue past the brand new St. Basil’s School to 2nd Avenue. Turn left and proceed westerly down Malleable Hill.

17. Canadian Malleable Iron Works

As the tour proceeds down Malleable Hill, an open area on the right once housed a large foundry, the Malleable Iron Works. This was one of the many workplaces in the City where Blacks found employment. Several of the homes in this residential area were home to Black families.

Travel to the bottom of the Hill, turn right and proceed along the Shore Road, through the Industrial area, home to several plants.

Glimpses of the Bay and many beautiful homes of old established Owen Sound families are evident along this route. A favourite of the cycling and hiking crowd, this area is a scenic secret.

18. Hibou Conservation Area

The Hibou Conservation Area is a 108-hectare property. The name Hibou (pronounced eeboo) is derived from a freighter of that name that sank mysteriously off Paynter’s Bay in 1936. Seven lives were tragically lost. The survivors of this shipwreck, the most striking loss in this bay, struggled ashore at this point of land, hence the name Hibou.

Managed by the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, Hibou is both playground and wilderness. On the left are the sandy shores of Paynter’s Bay, where the Conservation Authority has established a Day Use Area complete with washrooms and playground equipment for families to enjoy. Sunsets over the bay are legendary. On the right, are nature trails and habitat that teems with small wildlife.

19. Village of Leith

Enter the Village of Leith, once a thriving fishing village, now a quiet community. In several newspaper accounts, black residents recalled going to Leith to picnic and play on the shore. On the opposite side of the Bay is Presquille Point, an amazing lookout, and the site of an early Emancipation Day Picnic celebration. A Sun Times article relates how citizens, including Old Man Henson, almost 100 years old, boarded a steamer for Presquille for the day.

It is believed that a Native Princess is buried near Presquille Point.

Follow the road around to Tom Thomson Lane, and turn right onto the lane.

20. Historic Leith Church and Graveyard

Just on the right is the historic Leith Church. This Church began as a Free Kirk of Scotland, serving the local Scottish population. A newspaper account of this Church is accompanied by a picture, showing little doors on the pews. These were there to keep the dogs from going into the pews with their owners! Now fully restored by the Friends of Leith Church, the Church has become a focal point of the Community with concerts and special events.

The adjoining graveyard is the last resting place of one of Canada’s most famous artists—Tom Thomson. Thomson, who was the inspiration for the Group of Seven, was raised here at Rosehill Farm, now known as the Jack Pine Equestrian Centre. Thomson grew up and began painting, favouring scenes from Algonquin Park as his subjects. A strong canoeist and swimmer, Thomson mysteriously drowned while on one of his many trips to the Park. His body was returned here for burial.

Retrace the route through Leith, past Hibou and drive along the shore road, to catch glimpses of the Bay in passing.

21. Mudtown and Boyd’s Wharf

Linking onto 3rd Avenue East (formerly called Marsh Street), the route passes by the area formerly known as Mudtown, an early residential area for Blacks.

Also the site of Boyd’s Wharf, this wharf saw much of the early shipping trade in Owen Sound, and was the original site of the Owen Sound Elevators. Those elevators burned down in 1911, to be rebuilt by the City on the west side. Many large boats docked here, including the Canadian Pacific fleet of passenger ships.

Continue along 3rd Avenue East until just opposite the Bayshore Arena Complex.

22. Northcliffe Mission, 1835 3rd Avenue East

The building on the left at 1835 3rd Avenue East is the Scout House now, but formerly was the Northcliffe Mission for Blacks, dedicated in 1922.

Turning the bend, the entrance to the Harry Lumley Bayshore facility is accessible.

23. Harry Lumley Bayshore Complex

Named after the famous Owen Sounder Maple Leaf Goalie, this facility is home to the Owen Sound “ATTACK” hockey team, and is the site of many conferences and other events.

Gazing across the Bay to the West side, Kelso Beach is visible. It is the former home of the Native band that ceded this land by the Sauking Treaty to Queen Victoria in 1836, and moved to Cape Croker at Colpoys Bay. Just a few years ago, the band returned, bringing their drums home to Kelso in a dramatic ceremony of war canoes across the Bay. Celebrating with an Annual PowWow, the drums once again sound along the beach and out over the bay.

Note: left out info on the Owen Sound Marina…relevance to Black History unclear

Leaving the Bayshore Complex, back on 3rd Avenue East, turn right and proceed on 3rd through an old residential area of the City. When passing the old County Courthouse, note another fine example of 19th century stone architecture. The Arts group now owns and manages this imposing building.

Follow 3rd Avenue to 11th Street. Turn left to 4th Avenue; turn right on 4th and, just before 10th Street, note the beautiful stone church on the left.

24. Salvation Corners

Nicknamed Salvation Corners, this corner is graced by four beautiful stone churches. On the left is St. George’s Anglican Church. Across the road, on the North East corner, is the United Church. On the South East Corner is the Baptist Church. On the right is the Church of the Nazarene.

Blacks, including William Henry Harrison, helped to build these edifices from locally quarried stone. Harrison quarried the stone for the Baptist Church, as well as plugged and feathered it. The Church of the Nazarene has also been rumoured to have provided refuge to Blacks during the days of the bounty hunters.

Proceed south on 4th Avenue through the traffic lights to 8th Street East.

25. Damnation Corners

This intersection was once the home of four hotels and earned the name of Damnation Corners, due to the revelry that once took place here. In Owen Sound’s heyday, no less than 26 hotels provided all of the amenities possible, honestly earning the City its nickname of “Corkscrew City”. Now renamed, two hotels remain at this corner; the other two were torn down.

In 1917, Prohibition came into effect in Ontario and Owen Sound was “dry” until 1961, when a liquor outlet was once more allowed in the City. A few years later, in 1972, the “Wets” won the vote and alcohol was once again served at the City’s local establishments.

Many Blacks found employment at various positions in the hotels. One Black, Ned Patterson, drove stagecoach in the early days from Owen Sound to Meaford, carrying passengers, mail, and other freight. Ned also served as a Lay Preacher in the BME Church.

Turn right onto 8th Street and proceed westerly to the intersection of 2nd Avenue East. Travel through the traffic lights, passing City Hall, and onto the old Market building.

26. Owen Sound Market

A few years after Owen Sound was surveyed, the Market officially became part of community life. There has been a farmers’ market at this location since 1851. This site was once the original “core” of the city, housing the land agent’s building plus one or two other structures.

It is believed that some of the earliest Church services were conducted in a building here. It was at this location that Mary Taylor, an escaped Black, settled with her husband John, a blacksmith. Mary affectionately became known as “Granny” Taylor; she established a restaurant selling pies, oysters and apples in season.

Travel over the 8th Street bridge and turn right onto 1st Avenue West. Immediately on the right is the Cenotaph with its three plaques honouring the City’s Victoria Cross winners.

27. Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library

On the right is the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library facility. Many genealogical records of the Bruce Grey branch of the OGS are housed here, as well as most of the microfilm for the newspapers in the County, and many other historical documents, books and papers of local historians.

28. The Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery

Housing the works of Tom Thomson and celebrating his talent, this building brings another facet of culture to Owen Sound, hosting art shows and other events. For more information about this talented artist, visit the web site (www.tomthomson.org)

29. The Early Congregational Church & Underground Railroad Station, 898 First Avenue West

The home of the Christian Science Society is the oldest existing church building in the City, and started as a Congregational Church. The Church and, the building directly behind it, supported arrivals from the Underground Railroad. “Safe houses” were required in Canada until after the Civil War in the U.S. to protect Black citizens from being snatched and returned to slavery.

Proceed across 9th and 10th Streets; on the left is a cement building that once housed Corbett’s Machine Shop, another workplace. A small restaurant was established on the Harbour side of 1st Street in this area.

30. Charles Rankin House, 996 First Avenue West

The nephew of Captain Charles Stuart, Charles Rankin was the Deputy Provincial Surveyor. Stuart was an ardent abolitionist corresponding secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society. It is reported that Stuart did not allow the use of any products of slave labour in his home, including sugar and cotton.

31. Wm. Kennedy & Sons

On the way to the Tourist Office parking lot, the route passes by the remains of one of Owen Sound’s largest industries, the Kennedy plant, seen on the left. Built by the Kennedy family, many boat keels, propellers and other massive items were produced at this workplace. Although Blacks were a part of the large Kennedy workforce, they faced discrimination here and at other City factories. Very few Blacks were promoted beyond the bottom ranks; Alonzo McClure was a rare example of a black Kennedy employee whose exceptional skills and ambition were rewarded.

The Kennedy whistle, that provided the signal for Owen Sounders to set their clocks by, fell silent and signaled the end of an era. The whistle, rescued in 2002, is now mounted on top of the Marine Rail Museum and blows once again, its familiar toot a welcome sound.

32. The Inner Harbour

Now a place of beauty, with walkways, historical plaques, and benches, the inner harbour once teemed with sailing ships visiting the Port of Owen Sound. For escaping slaves, the harbour was a safe haven after a long, arduous and frightening journey.

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