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‘Celebrate Emancipation Day 2020 Virtually’

Photo credit: Ontario Heritage Trust

There is no annual program for Emancipation Day in Southern Ontario this year, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a historic site in Dresden, Ontario is welcoming people to take a Virtual Tour of the facilities.

Emancipation day recognizes the anniversary of the Slavery Abolition Act which became law on August 1, 1834.  This act abolished slavery in most of the British Colonies,  Canada included.

Site Manager, Steven Cook says that for at least the last 30 years, some kind of event has been held at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but the site is closed this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the virtual tour of the premises will only take ten minutes.

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The Ontario Black History Society is behind the initiative. The Site is owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust. The usual tour is about two hours long…but the ten minute Virtual Tour is just a “teaser”. “Enough,” said Steven Cook, “to get people inspired and to keep us in mind when COVID finally allows us to travel more freely.”

Mr. Cook is the site manager. The “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”  book, by Harriet Beecher Stowe tells the History of the Dawn Settlement.  Rev. Josiah Henson, who escaped from slavery in Maryland, came to Southwestern Ontario in 1830 and founded the settlement.  While this was 4 years before the proclamation of official Emancipation, in 1791, Ontario enacted legislation to prohibit the importation of slaves.   In 1854, Frederick Douglass, the U.S. abolitionist came to Dresden and talked about the day, it’ meaning, and to speak to former slaves who came through the Underground railway.

The Underground Railroad stretched in Canada from Windsor to Dresden…and North as far as Parkhill and Lucan.

There was also a branch from Amherstburg to the Buxtons.  North and South Buxton were settled by Irish born Rev. William King, who came from Louisiana to what was then Upper Canada with fifteen slaves. He organized the Elgin Association and raised the money to buy nine thousand acres of land in Raleigh township for the re-settlement of former slaves. 

Within 15 years, the Elgin Settlement as it was first known, had many families living, working, and building houses and schools on the allotment.

The Buxton museum is on the property, and while it is closed this summer you can still visit the grounds.

I witnessed one of the last Emancipation Day Parades in Windsor, in 1968 or 69.  They were about activism, but today, Mr. Cook says, the Black Lives Matter movement would fit in with what Emancipation Day is all about.

About the Ontario Heritage Trust

The Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. The Trust identifies, protects, promotes and conserves Ontario’s heritage. The Trust conserves provincially significant cultural and natural heritage, interprets Ontario’s history, educates Ontarians of its importance in our society, and celebrates the province’s diversity. The Trust envisions an Ontario where we conserve, value and share the places and landscapes, histories, traditions and stories that embody our heritage, now and for future generations.

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