Oro-Medonte, Ontario – I set off in search of the most northerly stop on the Underground Railroad, and Iʼm still not sure if I found it. About an hour north of Toronto, at the corner of the Old Barrie Rd and Line 3, sits a little log building which has served as the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church for more than 160 years.
Tourism literature says that it was built by black Empire Loyalists, and black settlers who were former slave families – which is why it is often referred to on the Internet and in tourism information as the most northerly stop on the Underground Railroad. (The Underground Railroad was a network of people that helped and estimated 100,000 slaves escape to freedom.)
However, a representative of local historical society says it was not actually part of the Underground Railroad, that some of the community were former slave families, but had settled elsewhere before arriving here. It is, he confirmed, on land that was set aside after the War of 1812 for members of regiment of Blacks known as the Coloured Corps, and it’s importance to black settlers including former slaves has earned it recognition as a National Historic Site.
The church is normally only open Saturdays during July and August. Itʼs staffed by volunteers. If you want to be able to go inside, check with local tourism for current hours and opening dates.
The church is in an area known as Ontarioʼs Lake Country – a region of farms, lakes and rolling countryside, which begins just one hour north of Toronto. The area encompasses the northern area of Lake Simcoe and reaches west towards Georgian Bay, and includes Orillia, Oro-Medonte, Rama, Ramara, and Severn.
1521 Simcoe 11, Shanty Bay, Ontario, Canada (on old Barrie Rd at Line 3, Oro-Medonte)