Authentic stories of hardship and triumph are told in Chatham-Kent’s notable museums on the Ontario Underground Railroad Tour. This region became home in the mid 1800s to successful black settlements and the greatest populace of former slaves in Canada.
A tour of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site includes a visit to Rev. Josiah Henson’s cabin, smokehouse, sawmill, Henson family cemetery, and other exhibits. Josiah Henson lived in the cabin during much of his time in the area, from 1841 until his death in 1883. Henson was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The 5-acre complex is part of the original 200 acres of land purchased in 1841 to establish the Dawn Settlement, a community for escaped slaves.
The Buxton National Historic Site & Museum is truly a hands-on experience. See remnants of the community built by fugitive slaves and free persons of colour, founded in 1849. Tour the last standing school house built by slaves, an 1852 log cabin, churches, and a museum displaying original shackles worn by children and adults. Prepare to be inspired by achievements made by those who overcame the shackles of slavery to build the most successful planned Black settlement in Canada.
Black Mecca: The Story of Chatham’s Black Community is a self-guided interactive exhibit that highlights struggles and achievements during the period of slavery, early Chatham settlement, and the Civil Rights Movement.
The BME Freedom Park marks the first site of the first British Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada. Here, Abolitionist John Brown gained supporters for his attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The park’s focal point is a bronze bust of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an abolitionist, editor, attorney, educator and suffragette who dedicated her life to improving the lives of everyone, regardless of race or gender.
“Chatham was not a mecca only. In a broader and truer sense, it was the colored man’s Paris. Even now, after the experience and growth of 20 years of liberty we scarcely know a city of the land blessed with a society more varied and refine, more opulent and gay, than was this little Canadian city during the decade that opened up the second half of the century.”
Stated in 1857, by Reverend R. R. Disney of the B.M.E. Church in the United States, after visiting Chatham.