Bertie Hall was built in 1830 and is still one of the regions outstanding landmarks. It stands looking out over the great Niagara River just 18 miles south of Niagara Falls.
Under the guidance of a William Forsyth Sr. the structure was built using stone quarried from the land directly in front of the home for the foundation, and bricks for the main house from the City of Hamilton, just 60 miles north.
Legend states the Forsyth family were well known smugglers and in an attempt to hide their trade, a tunnel was built from the basement of this home, under the road, and came out at the shoreline of the river. This tunnel was reportedly used for a different purpose years later.
It was 1619 when Africans were first brought to the American colonies to be used as slaves, and it was the sight of America that pushed these people to immediately try to escape. Then in 1641, the State of Massachusetts legalized slavery at which point other colonies followed suit. In 1776 The Society of Friends (Quakers) in Pennsylvania ordered its members to free their slaves.
In 1786, it was a group of Quakers from Pennsylvania who helped a group of slaves out of Virginia towards freedom. This act may be the first recorded ‘underground railroad’ event. The escapes continued and the name ‘underground railroad’ came from a slave master who thought that one of his slaves had literally disappeared as if he had entered an underground railroad. That master reported that the slave was never found.
The journey north from slavery was hard. They endured much on their travels and quests for freedom.
There is a stretch of the Niagara River that was a major entry point for freedom seeking slaves coming into the country from the United States. It was a dream come true to reach the Canadian border, to experience freedom and be under the protection of British Law.
Stories have it that Bertie Hall used their infamous tunnel to guide slaves to freedom. Crossing the river they would head for the large wrought iron gate at the rivers shore. Through the gate and into the tunnel they would pass directly into the basement of the great house where they were fed and cared for until proper arrangements could be made for the rest of their journey. Crossing the Niagara River represented a new beginning, a huge change in the next phase of their future. Their lives were finally their own.
My interest in this big old building dates back to my school days. It is situated within half a mile of all three schools I attended. I have been in the basement of the Hall and have seen the room where the slaves were cared for. The entrance to the tunnel has since been blocked up and cemented over due to rumours that a family member drowned while attempting to traverse through. The house in which I grew up is just up and around the corner. This amazing structure has been in my life for all of my life and I didn’t really think too much of it till I met a friend in High School. She informed me with much pride that her great, great grandmother was one of those slaves that made it ‘home’.