Rick Bell, a proud member of the Thorold fire department, sat for this formal portrait featuring four generations of his family. Included are his grandmother Josephine Butler Sloman, his mother Iris Sloman Bell and his two children.

In the mid-1980s, Rick Bell, a professional firefighter, went to his mother’s house in St. Catharines to look through some old boxes in her attic that were destined for the trash.  What he found still amazes today. 

Within the boxes were approximately 120 items that chronicle his ancestors back to the 1850s. The Bell, Tyrell and Sloman families descended from former slaves who came to Niagara and other parts of Southwest Ontario around the time of the Civil War.

These records offer a glimpse into how these families kept their familial networks alive while building a new, productive life in Canada.

After years of using these materials as a teaching tool in schools all across Ontario, Rick Bell donated his collection to Brock University in 2010.


Rick Bell on his photographs in Free Black North.

In 2017, Rick Bell was interviewed by the Archives of Ontario about the discovery and meaning of the family photographs discovered in his mother's attic.   

David Sharron, Head, Archives and Special Collections, Brock University, examines the Bell legacy.

Read more about the donation of the Bell family records to the Brock University Archives and Special Collections