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Lakeshore Council tours Walls historic site



by Garrett Fodor

Nestled along Puce Road, the John Freeman Walls Historic Site is passed by hundreds of area residents each and every day.

  On Tuesday, August 6, Dr. Bryan Walls and his wife, Anna, opened the grounds and invited members of Lakeshore Town Council to enjoy a tour of the facility.

  This is the first time Lakeshore Council toured the grounds as a group, Walls noted, and he was thrilled to host the tour. The Town of Lakeshore has been very supportive since the museum was launched, he added, and he is optimistic that they can continue to build and grow that relationship.

  Since 1846, the Walls family has looked after the 20-acre grounds. The site was the final destination for John Freeman Walls and Jane King Walls on the journey where they used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery. Their journey began in Troublesome Creek, in Rockingham County, North Carolina.

  Upon arriving in Canada in 1846, the two purchased 12-acres of land from the Refugee Home Society, which they used to create their homestead.

  In 1989, the site opened as a museum, drawing thousands of people from all over the world visitors are educated on the Underground Railroad, the Walls’s personal journey to escape, and the process former slaves went through.

  The site features seven different buildings, from the Freedom Train, which signifies the end of the Underground Railroad, to the Peace Chapel, built to honour Rosa Parks, and John and Jane Walls’s original two-storey cabin, which was built in 1846. The house served as the first home for First Baptist Church, Puce.

  Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Tracey Bailey said visiting the grounds made an impact on her.

  “I found the experience very moving. It was a powerful surge of emotions,” Bailey said. “The visualization was intense, in particular when we came upon the wagon that really showed how people travelled, lying and hiding [in between a layer of a wagon, often carrying manure and soil, to cover up the scent and throw off dogs], to find a place of safety and refuge.”

  Walls said the site is unique, since it is so well documented and details the love-story of John and Jane and the adversity they overcame at the time being a biracial couple John was a black man, who was formerly a slave, and Jane was white. He added the family cemetery on the land dramatically lends itself to presenting the importance of mutual respect, reconciliation, and keeping love in our hearts for one another. 

The Walls have plans of growing and maintaining the site for many more generations to come. As Bryan Walls is a fifth-generation descendant of John and Jane, he is hopeful to add a pole barn, which can serve as a secure museum building. He would also like to add a theatre for plays, with Theatre Alive donating the equipment to the Proverbs Heritage Organization, a non-profit organization Walls and Anna have setup, along with an educational classroom with a retreat-like setting. They added how important it is to share the site and John and Jane’s story with the public to ensure it lives on long past Wall’s and Anna’s lifetime. 

  Since opening the museum, the site has employed approximately 105 summer students of different races and faiths. Walls added that many have been members of the church, and of Métis status, who have gone on to be respected leaders and citizens in the community. He said it is important to get the youth involved in the site and for them to help preserve the site. 

  “I am excited to work with the Walls Museum and promoting awareness and attracting donors who will help the long-term sustainability of the site,” Bailey said. “It is important to Lakeshore that the Legacy of this important piece of history continues on beyond the life of Bryan and Anna. Our community is so generous and I know that there are donors who will recognize this important work and that through grants and partnerships, our mutual goals can be attained.”

  The site is open for tours from May to October by appointment, to primarily accommodate teachers and school students. It is also open five days per week in June, July, and August, when assisted by trained summer students. An appointment is also recommended for these months.

  Walls is grateful to the Town of Lakeshore and his neighbours who have helped them since the creation of the museum.

For more information on the museum, visit https://www.undergroundrailroadmuseum.org/ and to support the museum, and its future projects, email: bryanugrr@aol.com. 


© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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