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In her first year of travelling south to free slaves, Harriet's passengers found their freedom in the northern American free states. However, with the advent of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Tubman was forced to start guiding her passengers further north into Canada. She conducted her passengers across the Niagara River to freedom and then led them to St. Catharines where she introduced them to Reverend Hiram Wilson who operated a refugee relief station in the city. "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything." (quote from when she escaped in 1849 for the first time)
To Her Biographer, Sarah H. Bradford (1868)

In 1851, Tubman moved to St. Catharines and started using the city as a centre for her abolitionist activities. She rented a boarding house near the BME Church on Geneva St., and enlisted the help of many of the city's abolitionist societies. One of these organizations was the Refugee Slaves' Friends Society that included William Hamilton Merritt and Elias Adams Esq., the Mayor of the city, as members. Tubman also met with the popular abolitionist John Brown in 1858 when he visited the City of St. Catharines to recruit members for his upcoming raid on Harper's Ferry.

While living in St. Catharines, Tubman made eleven return trips to the southern United States. Throughout her travels, she wore several layers of clothing to give herself a heavier appearance and to protect herself against cold weather and tracking dogs. Tubman always told her passengers, "If you're tired, keep going, if you're hungry, keep going, if you're scared, keep going, if you want to taste freedom keep going."