A Guelph church, which served as a destination for black slaves to escaping to freedom in Canada, will be officially designated a heritage site on Saturday.

The former British Methodist Episcopal Church at 38 Essex St., in Guelph, was built of limestone in 1880 by fugitive slaves who arrived in the region through the Underground Railroad, and abolitionists.

"They were not accepted in regular churches. It was segregated," Marva Wisdom, founder and president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Friday.

"The schooling happened in the basement of the church as well. You needed a blacksmith, you needed a doctor, this is where you would come. You would have socials, or dances, this is where you would come because you were not accepted down the street," she said.

Legal battle delayed church purchase

The church was listed for sale in 2011. Wisdom said the society tried to buy it, and secure the heritage designation, but a legal battle between a former pastor and the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada delayed the process.

Then in December 2012, the sale went through.

"One of the reasons why we needed to purchase this church, and one of the reasons why we formed the Guelph Black Heritage Society, is because we did not want it to become a condominium," said Wisdom.

Between 1820 and 1860, 30,000 escaped slaves entered Canada through the Underground Railroad, after Lt.-Gov. John Simcoe outlawed slavery in Upper Canada, now Ontario.

Wisdom says the society is working to get Ontario Trust Heritage status for the church as well. The city of Guelph heritage designation ceremony will take place Saturday at 2 p.m.

With files from the CBC's Jackie Sharkey