By Mary Ann Grant, OMAH History Committee

Every year in February, which is Black History Month, the History Committee at the Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH) takes time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions made by Black Canadians, and to learn about their history.

This year we acknowledge the contributions of Ron and Ann Harrison, descendants of the freedom trail to Canada, the Underground Railroad. We are recognizing Ann & Ron for their ongoing work in educating our community about the Underground Railroad, a “network” that helped African-Americans to escape slavery and make their way to freedom in Canada.

Ann and Ron’s interest in this topic is a personal one, as both are descendants of those who travelled the freedom trail to Canada. Many of their ancestors arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad. Ann’s grandfather landed in Upper Canada in a community known as Queen’s Bush in Wellington County and Ron’s grandfather arrived in a community near Owen Sound.

To ensure this piece of history is not lost, they have dedicated most of their adult life to speaking to local service clubs, church groups and school children, sharing the recollections and personal stories of their respective great-grandparents, on not only their journey to freedom but also the life of being “free” in our community.  

Ron and Ann spoke at the OMAH History Speaker Series in 2019. Their talk included the terminology used by slaves to maneuver the secret routes, how escaped slaves used songs and quilts to share directions and indicate safe houses, and how they settled into their “free” lives locally, which also included the founding of the African Episcopal Methodist Church in Oro-Medonte.

OMAH History Committee member Janet Houston, explained in an article she wrote about the talk, published in Orillia Matters in February 2019, that “British North America (Canada) where slavery was prohibited, was a popular destination, as its long border gave many points of access. Most former slaves settled in Ontario. More than thirty thousand were said to have escaped there via the Underground Railroad during its twenty-year peak period.”

Ann’s and Ron’s commitment to this part of our history pays tribute to those who escaped slavery and to those who aided them in their quest to follow the North Star to freedom and their “free” life with both trials and joy, which enabled them to become part of our community history.

Thank you Ron and Ann, for being role models with your dedication to keeping this important period in our history alive for future generations.


With thanks to:

Trish Crowe-Grande, OMAH History Committee Chair – Nomination letter for an Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Award

Janet Houston, OMAH Committee Member – Article: “Follow the North Star from Slavery to Freedom,” published in Orillia Matters in February 2019