Niagara-on-the-Lake, capital of Upper Canada (1792-1796), has had Black residents since the 1780s. It is also where the first anti-slavery legislation was introduced in the British Empire.
In the 1780s, following the American Revolution, United Empire Loyalists settled in the area. Many brought the Africans they enslaved with them. The post-revolution migration also included Black Loyalists who fought in “Butler’s Rangers” and received their freedom and land.
When Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe arrived in 1792, there were two classes of Blacks in the province: those who were enslaved and those who were free. Slaves outnumbered the free, until the early 1800s when freedom-seekers migrated into the area. A large number of the Black population settled in the “coloured village,” roughly south of William Street and between King and Butler Streets. However, racism and discrimination were a reality, and they struggled to become truly “free” and equal.
From 1796-97 until 1803 when he sold it to the Crown, David William Smith, acting surveyor general, owned the park land.
In 1803 the land was acquired by the colonial government of Upper Canada.
October 16, 1812 General Sir Isaac Brock and Colonel John MacDonnell lay in state at the Government House on the Regent Street block and it was from this site that their funeral procession began.
In the 1850s the land was transferred to the town.
Between the 1850s and 1913, the site remained unoccupied.
In 1913 the Niagara-on-the-Lake Lawn Bowling club leased the site and occupied it until 2011.
In 2011, The Niagara Foundation provided critical leadership to prevent development on the site and preserve it as a public space.
Between 2014 and 2017, town council and co-mmunity voices embarked on a path that led to the adoption of the current plans for Voices of Freedom.