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Family is the cornerstone of Dr. Bryan Walls’ life and work.

He and his wife, Anna Walls, have five children and 11 grandchildren.

His heroes were his parents, Cliff and Laverda, and his godfather, uncle Earl, who was the former heavy weight-boxing champ, third contender in the world.

“They instilled in me the passion to never give up,” he said.

His aunt Stella, who he says is the “Griot” of his family, which is a West African word that means “the keeper of oral history,” shared his family’s story with him and the story of their homestead, which she had inherited.

“A chill ran up my spine as Aunt Stella told me that my ancestors were traveling, hiding by day and running through the woods at night, drinking water out of the hoof prints of cattle in order to quench their thirst, all for freedom and to get to Canada,” Dr. Walls said.

Now, on their family’s property you’ll find the Underground Railroad Museum and John Freeman Walls Historic Site.

“The Government of Canada became interested in our story. They said this is something they’d like to commemorate and so in 1985 the land became an official historical site, and a plaque was erected,” Dr. Walls explained.

The plaque commemorates the story of John Freeman Walls, Dr. Walls’ great, great grandfather.

John and Daniel Walls were born on the same day in 1813 and they grew up together. The difference was that Daniel was the son of a slave owner, and John was a slave.

"Daniel was ahead of his time and didn’t take to treating John or any person less than any others,” Dr Walls said.

Daniel’s mother died giving birth to him so John’s mother, Jubal, was given the task of caring for both children who grew up like brothers.

“When Daniel died in his early thirties, he said to John, “We’ve been good friends like brothers all our lives so please take care of my wife Jane and my four children,” Dr. Walls said.

John was true to his word and he and Jane fell in love. They knew they couldn’t stay in North Carolina, so they made their way to Canada on the Underground Railroad with help from the Quakers.

“My great, great grandfather was pure African, and Jane was Irish and Scottish, and they were risking their lives not only because it was illegal to find freedom, but also for Black and White people to marry,” Dr. Walls said.

By way of Maidstone township, now the Town of Lakeshore, Ontario, they found a safe place to settle where they purchased 20 acres of land from the Refugee Home Society, who sold land at a low cost to African-American Underground Railroad immigrants.

When John and his family got to Canada, they didn’t stop there. They went on to set up an Underground Railroad Terminal that other families could use to find freedom as well.

“Scores of people made their way to freedom through this terminal. Over 70 families resided in the community. The house they built and lived in was the first church in the community,” Dr. Walls said.

John gave the property to his sons, which was then passed down to Aunt Stella’s mother Martha. When Dr. Walls purchased that land from Aunt Stella in 1976, he was determined to use his family's story to inspire and educate others.

“That really changed my life,” Dr. Walls said. “It uncovered a purpose for my life that has a great spiritual connotation. I say that because the Underground Railroad was the first great freedom movement. The first-time good people, Black and White, worked in harmony for freedom and justice, and I felt if they could do it then, we can do it now.”

Dr. Walls and his family developed a historic site by bringing in some other antique buildings that had direct relationships with the Underground Railroad.

On the site, there are eight different buildings. Visitors to the property travel from one building to the other on a guided tour with Dr. Walls and his wife Anna.

“They learn that the Underground Railroad wasn’t really a train but a secret network of good people of different races and faiths working in harmony for freedom and justice,” Dr. Walls said.

Now, the historical site and museum is open to the public six months a year from May to October.

Schoolchildren come in spring and fall and tourists in the summer months.

One of the most regular and notable visitors was Mrs. Rosa Parks. She visited every year for 14 years bringing students of her “Pathways to Freedom” program. These students were learning Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s philosophy of peaceful change making.

“I learned in bible study that the good Lord sends angels to earth in human form to give people hope and to change the course of history and that certainly would apply to Rosa Parks, a true angel. A quiet person, but when she got up and spoke you wouldn’t want to follow her because she inspired with her words and spirit of goodness,” Dr. Walls said.

You could say the same thing about Dr. Walls who has made it his mission to use his family history to promote mutual respect and reconciliation.

"I want to leave something concrete for my children and grandchildren so that they can keep working hard and appreciate that we all stand on the shoulders of incredible men and women, like John and Jane, and to inspire them to make the best of their talents today,” he said.

Dr. Walls was the first Black student council president of his entirely White high school of 800 students.

“I had the feeling I was just as good as anyone and I was there to get a good education,” he said.

One of the highlights of his presidency was having the great Louis Armstrong come to the high school and talk and inspire the students.

“I learned the importance of reconciliation and keeping love in our heart for one another which is tied to the history of The Underground Railroad,” he said. “The Underground Railroad was started as a movement and that movement continues today.”

Dr. Walls is a dentist, historian, public speaker and lecturer, sharing his extensive knowledge of history and wisdom on the topics of multiculturalism and diversity with audiences across the United States and Canada. He has been awarded countless accolades including the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

He is also the president of the Proverbs Heritage Organization, a federally registered charity formed in 1985 to raise money for the museum and historical site.

Dr. Walls’ family home is the organization’s headquarters and is behind the historical site in the rural town of Lakeshore, Ontario.

“We’ve been happy customers of Xplornet for many years,” Dr. Walls said.

They use their Internet connection to make updates to their website, invite people to visit the site, fundraise and sell products like John’s book, The Road that Led Somewhere, which tells John Freeman Walls’ story.

Dr. Walls recently used Zoom so he could be an honoured guest at a panel discussion out of Washington D.C. about the Underground Railroad, which featured six panelists from as far away as California.

“The Internet is not only a blessing, it's been a lifesaver. I have unlimited data so at the end of the month, I don’t get drained. Xplornet has been able to give us enough speed so that we don’t lose connection. We’ve been very pleased with it and the service people have been good as well,” he said.

We highly recommend purchasing Dr. Walls’ book, The Road That Led to Somewhere, with proceeds going directly to The Underground Railroad Museum and the John Freeman Walls Historical Site. And, read more about the historical site in this New York Times article which featured them in 2017.

You can also donate today at www.undergroundrailroadmuseum.org and help to preserve, protect and promote the history of John and Jane’s story and this terminal of the Underground Railroad in Canada.