I’ve driven by the signpost for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”:https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/index.php/properties/uncle-toms-cabin numerous times and this year I was determined to get there. Last month my sister and I managed to make it. If you’re familiar with the book of the same name by Harriet Beecher Stowe, her story is based on the life of Reverend Josiah Henson (1789-1883) and Uncle Tom’s Historic Site is where you will find his story (sold twice and beaten so severely he was maimed for life) and the house he used to live in. Beecher used Henson’s diaries to inform her anti-slavery novel in 1852.
A plaque on site about The Dawn Settlement states that “Henson and other abolitionists sought ways to provide other refugees from slavery with the education and skills they needed to become self-sufficient in Upper Canada [now Ontario]. They purchased 200 acres of land here in 1841 and established the British American Institute, one of the first schools in Canada to emphasize vocational training. The community of Dawn developed around the institute. Its residents farmed, attended the institute, and worked at sawmills, grist-mills and other local industries.” It isn’t that Canada didn’t have slavery; it did. However, it was abolished in Canada in 1833 when Britain abolished it in its empire. Therefore, until it was abolished in the US in 1863, Canada became a safe haven for those slaves (almost 30,000) who were able to make their escape through the Underground Railroad.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site is located on the outskirts of what is now the town of Dresden. There is an interpretive centre/museum where you will see a short film about Henson’s life as a slave in the United States and his later life working on the underground railway helping other slaves to flee to freedom in Canada. There is also a fair bit of information in the theatre but we weren’t able to see much of it as we were moved along to another room and there always seemed to be another group in the theatre watching the film so we couldn’t get back in to explore. There is another room detailing important events in his life in the main building and there are a few buildings onsite to see as well – homes, a sawmill, a smokehouse and a church. Just outside the grounds there are a couple of small cemeteries as well, one of which is the Henson Family Cemetery.
The obligatory gift shop has lots of books on slavery for varying ages along with African and Canadian art and souvenirs.
From the Victoria Day weekend in May until the last weekend in October the site is open from 10-4 on Tuesdays to Saturdays and from noon-4 on Sundays. In July and August it is open on Mondays as well from 10-4. Admission is $7 for adults and $6 for seniors.
There are other historic sites in the area as well related to the “Underground Railroad”:http://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/slaverytofreedom.