By RON FANFAIR
Harriet Tubman has finally received her due in Canada. The country which became the destination for many slaves the African-American abolitionist and humanitarian helped to free recognized her as a Person of National Historical Significance last Friday with the erection of a plaque in St. Catharines. Tubman lived for a few years in that city during the 1850s before moving to Auburn, New York after most of the northern states passed liberty laws protecting the rights of fugitive slaves.
A dispute over Tubman’s birth date delayed the recognition by six years after Parks Canada made her the second person in St. Catharines – William Merritt, who was one of the Welland Canal builders, was the first – to receive the national honour.
The large metal plaque however indicated she had been born in 1820.
Noting that a person born into slavery would never know their birth date, the British Methodist Episcopal Church objected to the marker and insisted that a c. (it means approximately, when referring to a date) be placed beside Tubman’s presumed 1822 birth date.
“Harriet Tubman played a significant and central role in the functioning of the Underground Railroad,” said Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Peter Kent. “We are very proud to celebrate her legacy as one of Canada’s leading abolitionists. Ms. Tubman was instrumental in freeing hundreds of slaves and guiding them safely into Canada. Today, her sacrifices continue to serve as an inspiration to all Canadians.”
St. Catharines Member of Parliament Rick Dykstra played a key role in solving the dispute.
“One of the early leaders of the abolition movement, Harriet Tubman played a pivotal part in bringing American slaves safely to St. Catharines,” he said. “Ms. Tubman worked tirelessly to free slaves from the American south. Today we are very proud to remember her sacrifice and celebrate her achievements.”
The plaque reads: “Born on a Maryland plantation, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to become one of the great heroes of the 19th century. The most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, she courageously led many of the people she rescued from American slavery on dangerous, clandestine journeys to safety and freedom in Canada. Tubman helped these Black refugees settle after their arrival and played an active role in the fight to end slavery.”
Tubman joins Sam Langford, Portia White, Mary & Henry Bibb, Thornton & Lucie Blackburn, Rev. Josiah Henson and Mary Ann Shadd as Persons of National Significance from Canada’s Black community with plaques erected to celebrate their historic achievements.