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BREAKING THE ICE: The Mary Ann Shadd Story
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EPISODE: 5 "Breaking The Ice: The Mary Ann Shadd Story"
Directed by Sylvia Sweeney


This film traces the remarkable story of an American Black immigrant, Mary Ann Shadd. Through her strength and conviction, she advanced Black integration in Canadian society.


  • Role of the Underground Railroad
  • Early Black settlement in Ontario
  • Strength of personal conviction


  • Fugitive slave law
  • Social equality
  • Underground Railroad
  • Integration
  • Segregation


  • To understand the important role of the Underground Railroad
  • To appreciate the contribution of Mary Ann Shadd to Black history in Canada
  • To develop an awareness of the contribution of Blacks in Canadian society


  1. Study a map of New York State and Pennsylvania. Determine what routes you think the fugitive slaves would take on their trip to Canada. Place these proposed routes on a blank map. Justify why you believe these would be good routes.

  2. Assume you are a fugitive slave in 1857 escaping to Canada. Choosing five different dates and appropriate places, write five diary entries you might make on your journey.

  3. Working in small groups, research information about the Underground Railroad. Write and perform a brief play (5-7 minutes) focusing on one aspect of the Underground Railroad such as: the decision to leave; making contact with a support group; arriving /leaving a station; an encounter with bounty hunters for fugitive slaves; arrival.

  4. Pretend you are living in Ontario or Nova Scotia in 1854 (eg. Niagara on the Lake). In the middle of the night a group of three fugitives slaves knock on your door. What would you do? In essay form write about your decision. Now, assume you are living in your present location and in the middle of the night an illegal immigrant knocks on your door asking for assistance. What would you do? Explain your decision in essay form.

  5. Suggest the various experiences you believe a Black immigrant in the mid 1800s would experience when they arrived in Canada. Then do the same for a Black immigrant arriving in Canada in the late 1900s. Compare the two. [Chart]
    Mid 1800s Late 1900s Reasons for coming What they brought Where they settled Their initial experiences Attitudes they experienced Their level of fear

  6. Research and write a report on one of the following: A) Terms of the Underground Railroad; B) Important people in Black Canadian history; C) Places where Blacks settled in Canada.

  7. With the arrival of Mary Ann Shadd to offer a strong voice and argument for Black integration, three positions were now put forward regarding how to "cope" with the arrival of Blacks in Ontario. The integration argument was championed by Shadd, the segregation policy argued by Bibb, and the general arguments that fostered fear and prejudice against the Blacks.

  8. Many of those who helped slaves reach Canada were knowingly breaking the law, to correct a social wrong. Today there are also many individuals who occasionally break the law to right wrongs. Environmental and animal activists are two examples. Develop and present a debate on the following: "In a democratic society, there is no place for civil disobedience." Divide into three groups and research and develop arguments for each point of view. Present a three position debate.

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