Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site set to be renamed

(Photo courtesy of Ontario Heritage Trust)

One of Chatham-Kent’s most well-known Black historical sites is up for a name change.

An official announcement has not been made yet about the rebranding of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden, but Chatham-Kent council did hear Monday night that the Ontario Heritage Trust intends to change the name of the museum.

The new name is set to be revealed during Emancipation Day celebrations on July 30, 2022.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site Manager Steve Cook said in order to change the name of the museum the road leading to it needed to be changed as well — and that happened Monday night.

Chatham-Kent council approved the name change, from Uncle Tom’s Road to Freedom Road, by an 11-7 vote.

“There is a great relief from those in the Black community after hearing this was passed,” said Cook.

Officials with the Ontario Heritage Trust said the term ‘Uncle Tom’ has come to embody many of the prejudices and biases at the root of anti-Black racism.

The site’s new name will reflect and recognize Josiah Henson, who was born enslaved in the U.S. and escaped to Canada.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site is built on the settlement that Henson helped found in 1841.

“We wanted to focus on Josiah Henson because that is the story that is told here at the site,” said Cook. “It’s not the story about Uncle Tom that is a character on the literary pages of a book.”

Henson was a teacher and an author who made the journey on the Underground Railroad in reverse to save the lives of enslaved Black people.

“That’s really the genesis behind wanting to change the name,” said Cook.

According to Cook, a lot of groundwork needed to be laid before even considering changing the historical landmark’s name.

“We really wanted to work on the research of Henson’s life because there were some parts that needed to be filled with deeper research,” said Cook. “We also wanted to enhance and upgrade some of the exhibits at the site. Now that most of it is complete, we feel that we’re in a better position to make this announcement of the new name.”