Should the Fugitive Slave Chapel in London Ontario be mover again

The 1847 chapel may be moving for a 2nd time

Dawn Miskelly, executive director of the Elgin County Railway Museum

The London and Middlesex Heritage Museum is consulting with the Black community about potentially moving the historic Fugitive Slave Chapel a second time, to the Fanshawe Pioneer Village, which is owned by the museum.

The chapel, which was built in 1847, had been a place of worship for Black refugees who escaped the United States through the Underground Railroad.

“We have had some preliminary conversations with different members of the Black community just to gauge their feedback,” said Dawn Miskelly, executive director of Fanshawe Pioneer Village. “One of the things we want to do is make sure we have this community forum where we can hear from the entire community if this is something that they support.”

The chapel was first moved in 2014 from Thames Street to the Grey Street location, beside the Beth Emanuel Church. The British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada owns the chapel. 

The intent was to redevelop and restore the chapel, but “since then, both the needs of the local church [Beth Emanuel] and the vision for the chapel restoration have changed,” officials say.

The chapel was given to the museum, but the move is not a done deal.

“The building was offered to us and before we consider if we’re going to accept it and move forward, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes due diligence that we need to do,” Miskelly said. “The first step is really making sure that we’re involving the Black community in the decision-making on the future of this building.”

Slave chapel

Delta McNeish was a Beth Emanuel pastor when the Fugitive Slave Chapel was moved next door. Seeing the older chapel making its way to its new home brought her and her sister to tears.

“This old building that we call now the Slave Chapel, that was the oldest,” she said. “That was the building where people of colour came into London and started their roots here. They put their roots down.”

McNeish considers the Fugitive Slave Chapel the mother of the Beth Emmanuel Church, because those who attended the chapel eventually built the church. She doesn’t want the chapel to move.

“To move it to Fanshawe Pioneer Village would be almost like saying to the daughter church, goodbye,” said McNeish. “The connection is there. Leave it there.”