What happened to them once they got there? Did the Canadian government and/or citizenry reach out to help them with getting jobs or land or housing or whatever? Were they basically considered illegal aliens and were on their own? Something in between?
Well, there really wasn’t much of an “illegal alien” idea back then, which is to say that there really weren’t many restrictions on immigration in either the US or colonies in Canada. Of course, along with that, there wasn’t much government assistance either. If the escaped slaves were lucky, they were able to get help from the churches or from the Canadian black community, but they were largely on their own.
Is there a distinction population of people descended from those slaves in Canada today?
There are a lot of varied answers to “what happened to them”. Many “black Canadian” communities were established. During the Civil War, many of them enlisted in the Union Army. After the war, some stayed in Canada (and to answer Derleth’s question those communities do still exist today), some returned to the U.S. but stayed in the north, and others returned south, either to be re-united with lost family or hoping for work and a better way of life during reconstruction.
Wikipedia’s article on black Canadians:
Many found that while slavery had been abolished in Canada, blatant racism hadn’t, and in many cases the escaped slaves found that work was difficult to find and that living conditions for blacks weren’t necessarily all that great. This is why many ended up returning to the U.S. after the war.
There were cases where citizens would reach out and help the slaves. For example, the Society of Friends (aka Quakers) purchased several hundred acres of land in Canada, helping to form the Wilberforce Colony.
Wikipedia’s article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilberforce_Colony