John Holmes escaped enslavement in Virginia and made his way to London. In 1876, he lived at 199 Maitland Street and worked as a railroad engineer. His story comes from Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book, The Refugee: the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada.
I have lived in Canada twenty-four years, and have made out pretty fair since I have been here. I came here expecting to work, but have not had to work so hard here as I did at the South. I know all the old settlers, but a great many have come lately, whom I am not acquainted with. Those that will work, do well–those that will not–not: it is the same here as everywhere. It is the best poor man’s country that I know of–if a man comes without a shilling, he can get along well. There is no more idleness among colored than other people–there are idlers among all nations. I came here with money enough to buy a hundred acres of land. My money was stolen, but I did not get discouraged. I now own this house and land–ten acres here, and twelve in another place. I had a house and land which the railroad took, and I got a good price.
If I had had any knowledge how to calculate and scheme, as I should if I had learning, I should be worth ten thousand dollars. London has grown up since I came here. I had an opportunity to buy land in the heart of the city, but did not bother about it. Many of our people remain poor for want of education. It cannot be expected that men who have just got away from slavery should look far ahead: they are only looking for to-day and to-morrow. The colored people are mostly given to hard work: for the time we have been here, we have made great progress in this country. They have many good farms about Wilberforce. There is some prejudice, but not so much as there used to be. There is no separate school here.
There are a Baptist and a Methodist church exclusively for colored people. Whether this is best, I cannot say. I used to persuade the colored people to go into the white folks’ churches. They came near making me say I would never go to church any more: on coming out, the colored people were insulted: things were said then that would not be said now. Colored people attend at every church in London.