Preserving Salem Chapel

The church Harriet Tubman attended when she lived in St. Catharines, Ontario.

What we need is half a million dollars, but right now $100,000.00 will cover the much needed emergency work.

One of the least mentioned facts about Harriet Tubman, the famous Underground Railroad (UGRR) conductor is that she frequently crossed the Canadian border in the 1850s.  The truth is most of the freedom seekers she rescued from slavery were guided to the small town of St. Catharines, Canada West (now Ontario), which was her primary base of UGRR operations.[1]

In fact, after the United States government passed the infamous 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, Tubman said, “I wouldn’t trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer; I brought them all clear off to Canada” because she knew their safety and freedom would be secured.[2]

Harriet Tubman may have selected the town of St. Catharines as her last stop and headquarters because a network of notable abolitionists, both black and white, declared that the town was the last terminus along the Underground Railroad eastern line.[3] St. Catharines was also a well-known hub of Canadian abolitionists and many were the most respected citizens of the town.[4]

Another often overlooked fact about Harriet Tubman is that she was devoutly religious.[5]  She was known to converse with God on a daily basis.[6] When she settled in St. Catharines Tubman worshipped at the Salem Chapel, which was then called the Bethel Chapel, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC).[7]

Built in 1855 by African American freedom seekers (runaway slaves and free blacks) with financial help from local residents and others in Canada and the United States, this church was very important during the UGRR era that it was personally “dedicated to the Service of Almighty God” by the prominent AMEC Bishop, Daniel A. Payne. [8]

Although the Salem Chapel is a designated a National Historic Site and Harriet Tubman is a designated Person of National Significance, the church is privately owned and maintained by the congregation, which is why there is very little or no government funding.[9]

The church doors remain open for public worship services thanks to the support of a few local donors and seasonal tour groups.  Funding from tourism is enough to pay the bills, but it is not enough to cover the cost of the much needed restoration projects.

Today, less than 12 members attend the Salem Chapel. Some are African American freedom seeker descendants whose ancestors attended the church in the 1850s. 

We, the church Trustees are spearheading the Preserving Salem Chapel fundraising campaign for future generations because we want to ensure that it continues to serve as a religious institution and  because it is an important treasure in North American history.   

Our goal is to raise a minimum of $100,000 by the fall of 2018 because there is a lot of work to be done.

The church is located in a very visible high traffic area. We need cable wire or earthquake straps with turnbuckles placed in the attic and underneath the sanctuary floor to secure the 162 year old log frame. We would like the wires or straps in place before the construction work for a new municipal building behind the church begins.  We need to replace the deteriorating front door awning and a few weather damaged window sills.

If we exceed our fundraising goal the surplus will be put towards; painting the outside of the church, the repair of the exterior and interior steps, the roof gable, lower level windows and the gallery and sanctuary floors.    

The Salem Chapel NHS stands today to honour God. It also pays tribute to the courageous men and women who aided in its construction and our famous member, Harriet Tubman.

We ask for your financial support today to help us restore the Salem Chapel.  Your generous contribution of $5, $10, $20, $50 or more dollars will help preserve an important religious historical site that matters.  

Please note: donations made on GoFundMe will not receive a tax receipt. 

If you would like to donate and would like a tax receipt, please feel free to mail in a cheque/check and make it payable to:  The Salem Chapel, BME Church NHS

On the MEMO line of the cheque/check please indicate that your donation is for the “Preserving Salem Chapel” campaign.

Mail your donation to;

The Salem Chapel, BME Church NHS
92 Geneva Street, St. Catharines, Ontario  L2R 4N2

We thank you for your time and your help.    


Ada Summers, Treasurer, Financial Officer, Trustee
Margot Leslie, Financial Officer, Trustee
Mary Letang, Financial Officer, Trustee
Rochelle Bush, Church Historian, Trustee
& Members of the
Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church,
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Sites

[1]Earl Conrad, General Harriet Tubman, 2nd ed. (Washington D.C.: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1990) p45-46, 72, 99.
[2]Jean M. Humez, Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003) p24.
[3]ibid, p238.  Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass, Written By Himself. (Hartford. Connecticut, Park Publishing Company, 1882) p329-330. Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land:  Harriet Tubman (Ballantine Books, 2004) p151-152, 170.
[4] Benjamin Drew, The Refugee: Or The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada (1856 reprint, Toronto, Prospero Books, 2000), p238-239.
[5]Jean M. Humez, Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003) p304-305, D32. Kate Clifford Larson, Harriet Tubman: Bound for the Promised Land (Ballantine Books, 2004) p169.
[6]Journal of Proceedings of the Fifty-Second Annual Session of the British Methodist Episcopal, June 3rd to 12th, 1908.
[7] Thomas, Owen A., Niagara’s Freedom Trail (the Region Niagara Transit Council, 1995), p 39-43
[8]St. Catharines Constitutional newspaper, October 31, 1855 and November 7, 1855
[9] Parks Canada, Salem Chapel, BME Church. Retrieved from  Parks Canada, Harriet Tubman. Retrieved from

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Salem Chapel BME Church NHS
St. Catharines, ON

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