Freedom Riders

In Featured, From The Blog by Melanie Cons


Freedom Riders were African-American and white volunteers who traveled throughout the southern United States on regularly scheduled buses for seven months in 1961 to test a 1960 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers illegal. The original Freedom Riders group numbered 13 (seven Black/six white), but eventually grew to over 400. They experienced extreme physical hardships and cruelty in their struggle for racial justice. Their work was integral in helping to transform the civil rights movement in the United States.

Another, earlier dramatic protest in the history of the United States resulted from the enslavement of millions of Africans by southern slaveholders. Soon after the introduction of the first enslaved person to the North American continent in 1619, resistance to slavery sprang up. A diverse network of abolitionists who were committed to human rights and equality offered assistance to fleeing slaves. They included free Blacks, fellow enslaved persons, white and Aboriginal sympathizers, Quakers and many men and women, Americans and Canadians.


Ride the freedom trail on a journey of discovery into Dresden and area’s remarkable connection to the Underground Railroad and Ontario’s early Black heritage.


During the 19th century an estimated 40,000 fugitives fled from slavery in the United States and followed the North Star to a life of freedom and equality in Canada. Many used the silent tracks of the Underground Railroad in stealing their freedom. The Underground Railroad was a clandestine, loosely organized network of sympathetic abolitionists who hid and guided freedom seekers as they made their way to the North.

Immerse yourself within the proud communities they helped to establish in southwestern Ontario by becoming a Freedom Rider. Your two day Underground Railroad experience includes:

  • First Baptist Church, 135 King Street East, Chatham
    In 1858, abolitionist John Brown held one of his clandestine meetings here at this Church in an attempt to recruit soldiers for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Enjoy the uplifting service and fellowship luncheon with members of the congregation, many of whom trace their ancestry back to former Underground Railroad refugees!
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, 29251 Uncle Tom’s Road, Dresden
    The memoirs of Josiah Henson, a fugitive slave from Maryland, elevated the status of Canada as a safe haven for freedom seekers from U.S. slavery. Take a behind the scenes tour of the Henson house and museum gallery exhibit, I’ll Use My Freedom Well.
  • TJ Stables, 837 Gregory Drive East, Chatham
    Home to the Canadian Cowgirls, this sprawling 50 acre farm is an award winning, recreational, fully accessible equine facility providing a fun and educational introduction to horseback riding. You’ll enjoy a three course barbecue chicken and rib dinner, including drink, veggie, bun or biscuit, potatoes, salad and cake, followed by your choice of either touring the facility and meeting the various farm animals, or a 30 minute horse-riding session. Your day ends with stories of escape and bravery on the Underground Railroad told around the campfire by Underground Railroad descendants.
  • The Dawn Settlement Tour, Downtown Dresden
    This special tour, conducted by horse drawn wagon, will introduce you to important historical figures and artifact buildings linked to the Dawn Settlement. Josiah Henson used his freedom to help establish the Dawn Settlement – a community where Blacks could share their skills, labour and resources to help each other and give aid to newly arriving settlers. Many freedom seekers who called Dresden home were freemen of considerable means, and important figures connected to the Underground Railroad abolitionist movement.
  • Chatham Kent Black Historical Society, 177 King Street East, Chatham
    Once known as “the coloured man’s Paris”, by 1850 one-third of Chatham’s population consisted of people of African descent. Located in the Heritage Room of the Woodstock Institute Sertoma Help Centre (W.I.S.H. Centre), the Chatham Kent Black Historical Society houses a collection of artifacts and exhibits detailing Chatham’s rich Black heritage. Browse their extensive collection of genealogy and land survey records of early Black residents from Chatham and surrounding area.
  • Comfort Inn Hotel, 1100 Richmond Street, Chatham
    Between the shores of Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, this hotel is a 33 km drive from Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site. Newly renovated in the spring of 2016, these contemporary rooms feature free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus coffeemakers. Some rooms offer pull-out sofas, mini-fridges, microwaves and work spaces. There’s free continental breakfast, plus complimentary passes to a nearby fitness centre. Free parking.

ITINERARY – DAY ONE – August 14th/September 18th 2016
11:00 A.M. Arrive at First Baptist Church Chatham
Welcome and Sunday Worship Service
12:15 P.M. First Baptist Church Chatham
1:00 P.M. Depart for Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, Dresden
1:30 P.M. Arrive at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site
Board horse drawn carriage for Dawn Settlement tour
2:30 P.M. Return to Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Guided tour
4:00 P.M. Depart for check-in at Comfort Inn Chatham
6:30 P.M. Arrive at TJ Stables, Chatham
BBQ chicken and rib dinner
7:15 P.M. Horseback riding/facility tour
8:00 P.M. Campfire stories
9:00 P.M. Depart for Comfort Inn Chatham

ITINERARY—DAY TWO—August 15th/September 19th 2016
8:00 A.M. Breakfast buffet at Comfort Inn Chatham
9:30 A.M. Check out and depart for Woodstock Institute Sertoma Help Centre (W.I.S.H. Centre)
10:00 A.M. Arrive at Heritage Room (Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society) in the W.I.S.H. Centre, Chatham
Guided tour
10:45 A.M. Walking tour to Freedom Park and neighbourhood, featuring original Black settlement homes
11:30 A.M. Depart Chatham-Kent/Conclusion of Freedom Riders experience

Option: Continue your exploration of local Black heritage by visiting the Buxton National Historic Site, 21975 A.D. Shadd Road, North Buxton (519-352- 4799)

Admissions to all sites
1 night accommodation, Chatham Comfort Inn
1 complimentary breakfast buffet
1 lunch meal
1 dinner meal
Uncle Tom’s Cabin novel
Water bottle

DATES PACKAGE AVAILABLE: August 14/15 2016 and September 18/19th 2016
PRICE: $285/PERSON or $349/couple
MINIMUM: 10 registered persons required in order to run this package
MAXIMUM: 20 persons

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site
Contact: Steven Cook
Address: 29251 Uncle Tom’s Road, Dresden, Ontario, N0P 1M0
Phone: 519-683- 2978