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Guelph black history comes alive Saturday

By Laurie Snell
Guelph Tribune
This Saturday, the Black Heritage Society is hosting the Underground Railroad walking tour at Woodlawn Memorial Park.
“We have many (pioneers) in the black community that we are going to discuss,” said Woodlawn cemetery general manager Paul Taylor.  The idea came along around the time that the society was buying the former British Methodist Episcopal Church and Taylor began researching black pioneers buried in the Woodlawn cemetery.
“The ones we found, they had nice stories to share and a walking tour seemed to be the way to go,” Taylor said.
The Emancipation Day Underground Railroad tour will explore the rich history of the city’s early pioneers. The walk will also share several stories of individuals escaping slavery in the United States to make a home in Guelph.
Beginning at 1:30 p.m., Taylor will meet attendees at Heritage Hall. From 83 Essex St., the group will take a bus to the cemetery where the walk will begin at 2 p.m.
Taylor said that while many individual stories will be shared, the tour also discusses the reliance on others, such as the Aboriginal community, for safety and finding resources to build a life here in Guelph.
“We just love talking about the pioneers of the community and how they had to take the hard road. They didn’t come by water or by train. They had to sneak away to sneak into the country,” Taylor said.
One of the stories Taylor loves to share on the tour is that of Isaac Spencer. Spencer was a slave from Virginia, who escaped and made a life in the city. He was hired by sewing machine businessman, Charles Raymond, as a chauffeur, and worked for him for 30 years.
Another story he will share is the Jewell family’s history.
“The Jewell family has been around for decades and has been a part of Guelph forever … to hear stories about them and the prejudice they had to endure is unbelievable,” he said.
Participants will hear stories of other individuals, understand Guelph in that period, and how, as a place of refuge for some, it became the best place to start a life.
“Coming to Canada was the best place to raise a family. These people chose Guelph to raise their families and were pioneers of the community,” said Taylor. “We tried to find stories that would peek interest. We’re historical and we like to be as accurate as possible,” Taylor said.
After the walking tour, the bus will take walkers back to Heritage Hall where they will host a social gathering, as well as a question and answer period.
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