According to the secret system of codes used by freedom seekers and abolitionists in the clandestine network known as the Underground Railroad, Detroit was known as “Midnight” and Canada, on the other side of the Detroit River, was known as “Canaan.” The North Was Our Canaan tells the rich story of Sandwich, Ontario (now part of the city of Windsor).
We learn about those who crossed the Detroit River into Sandwich, seeking freedom from slavery and about the abolitionists who made Sandwich the base of their anti-slavery activism. These stories are told by descendants of those who undertook this daring quest for freedom and sought to forge a new life in Canada.
The North Was Our Canaan takes us along the banks of the Detroit River, through the streets of Sandwich, to end up at Sandwich First Baptist Church, a congregation whose roots extend back to the 1820s. Sitting in this church, built with bricks made by the early Underground Railroad travellers, the descendants recount the Underground Railroad journeys of pioneers such as Caroline Quarlls and Allen Watkins, the anti-slavery work of Sandwich-based activists such as Henry and Mary Bibb, how the church served as a safe space and meeting place, and why the efforts of those engaged in Underground Railroad-era acts of resistance in Sandwich continue to have an impact today.
In presenting these narratives, The North Was Our Canaan tells an important—and too often overlooked—chapter of Canadian history and the story of freedom.