A delapidated African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, erected in 1848 on Thames Street in London, Ontario, one of the “destinations” of the Underground Railroad and the first Black church in the region, has been renovated and moved to Fanshawe Pioneer Village.
The Fugitive Slave Chapel, as the church came to be known, was recently re-opened.
From 1848 to 1869, the AME Church on Thames Street served as a “beacon of hope” for those fleeing enslavement in the United States via the Underground Railroad. This clandestine network of safe houses provided a pathway to freedom in Canada. The church’s role as a station on the Underground Railroad was vital in saving lives and perpetuating the fight for freedom and equality.
In 1856, the AME Church evolved into the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church, creating a distinct Canadian Conference separate from its American counterpart. The BME Church continued to serve as a spiritual and communal center for London’s Black residents, strengthening their sense of identity and unity.
In 2014, the “Fugitive Slave Chapel” faced the prospect of demolition. To preserve its legacy, the building was saved and restored with plans to relocate it to Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Despite financial challenges, the London &Middlesex Heritage Museum, along with dedicated community partners, successfully raised funds for the relocation and restoration project.
The recent restoration ceremony celebrated the Chapel’s historical significance, uniting people in acknowledging its role as a symbol of faith, freedom, and resilience.
Lindsay Mathyssen, Member of Parliament for London-Fanshawe, emphasized the Chapel’s importance as a sanctuary on the Underground Railroad, honoring the bravery of those who sought refuge within its walls. The event began with an indigenous land acknowledgement, highlighting the importance of learning from the past to create a more inclusive future.
Pews for the chapel were provided by the London Carpenters Union local 1946.
Chris Campbell, Director of Equity, Diversity an Inclusion at the Carpenter’ District Council of Ontario, who attended the re-opening of the Chapel, thanked the union members for providing the pews.
He also said that he is proud that “we are not concealing the past but learning from it.
“Generations to come will see that as a turning point we stand united for freedom liberty justice and respect for all.”