Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church National Historic Site of Canada

St. Catharines, Ontario
General view of Salem Chapel, showing its central entry door on one gable end, set between two large pointed-arch windows, 1998. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1998.)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1998.)
Address : 92 Geneva Street, St. Catharines, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 2000-03-28
Dates:
  • 1851 to 1855 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Harriet Tubman  (Person)
  • John Brown  (Person)
  • Underground Railroad  (Organization)
  • Frederick Douglass  (Unknown)
Other Name(s):
  • Salem Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church  (Designation Name)
  • St. Catherines British Methodist Episcopal Church  (Other Name)
  • Harriet Tubman Centre for Cultural Services  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 1999-054, 1998-SUA Dec

Plaque(s)


Also known as Salem Chapel, the St. Catharines British Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1855, was an important centre of 19th-century abolitionist and civil rights activity in Canada. Salem Chapel is also traditionally associated with Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous Underground Railroad "conductors" who lived near the church from 1852 to 1857. Many of those aided to freedom became church members and put down roots in the local community. The auditory-hall design is typical of the style of Underground Railroad churches in Ontario.

Description of Historic Place

Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church National Historic Site of Canada is a gable-fronted church set on a high foundation. Located at 92 Geneva Street, in St. Catharines, Ontario, this stucco-clad building is distinguished by its regularly arranged pointed-arch windows, modest scale and overall simplicity. Official recognition refers to the church on its footprint at the time of designation.

Heritage Value

Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1999 because: it is typical of the auditory-hall design of underground railroad (UGRR)-related churches; through its association with famed UGRR conductor Harriet Tubman, it was an important locus of abolitionist activity in Canada.

Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church was an important centre of 19th-century abolitionist and civil rights activity in Canada. Built circa 1855, it replaced a smaller log church in order to accommodate St. Catherines’ growing community of refugees arriving via the underground railroad. Among them was Harriet Tubman, the famous UGRR conductor, who lived near Salem from 1852-1857 and personally led many refugees from the southern United States to safety in Canada. The heritage value of this church resides in its exceptional associations with the anti-slavery movement and the early UGRR black community to which it bears witness as illustrated by the church with its auditory-hall form, typical of early African Canadian churches.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1999, June 2001.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: the corner siting in the heart of old St. Catherines; its rectangular footprint and cubic massing under a gabled roof; its central entry door on one gable end, set between two large pointed-arch windows and approached by a split staircase; its four regularly spaced pointed arch windows on each side elevation; its wood construction materials, wood trim, and stone foundation; its high basement; its open auditory-hall design with three-sided gallery; its simple interior finishes and surviving original fittings including the long single-log walnut benches.