Barrie: That place that makes living near Toronto, but not in it, so appealing.

Simcoe County: Now and Then … and Again

There was a time, however, its appeal was literally a matter of life and death for those who fled there.

Barrie was the final destination for one branch of the Underground Railroad, that secret network of routes that got slaves out of the United States into freedom in the mid-19th century.

This movement of people directly contributed to the development and name of nearby Shanty Bay.

Many African-American refugees settled near the water in shanties (small homes). Thus, the name of the village.

The government set aside a tract of land in Oro Township for the refugees. Between 1819-1831, 150 African Americans were given farms on what is called Wilberforce Street, appropriately named after the British champion for the freedom of slaves.

Some of the black families did not take to farming the poor soil here and drifted to nearby towns. Many ended up at Shanty Bay, NE of Barrie on Lake Simcoe.

Oro Township got its name from the Spanish name of the Gold Coast of Ghana, in Africa, where many of the enslaved were taken from.

Starting in 1838, the Oro African Methodist Church, near Edgar, was served by Ari Raymond, an abolitionist and graduate of Oberlin College in the United States. The church was designated a Canadian National Historic Site in 2000.
One of the chief Canadian agitators against the American slave trade, Captain Charles Stuart, retired in 1850 to a farm near Thornbury, after helping many runaway slaves. On his property, he refused to allow any use of products made by slave labour. Now that’s walking the talk,

By Rochelle Burns, PhD, social historian

Photo credit: Simcoe County Archives

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