Uncle Tom’s Cabin

When I hear or read the phrase “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” I think of the book by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Most people in the United States who are at all familiar with 19th century American history probably have the same association. Canadians may have a different view on the matter, however.

Ontario has the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, run by the Ontario Heritage Trust. It sits at a site where Rev. Josiah and Nancy Henson lived and lead the Dawn Settlement–a Black settlement mostly of people who had escaped from slavery in the United States, as the Hensons did. Indeed, Rev. Josiah, Nancy, and their four children escaped along the Underground Railway from New Orleans up to Canada in 1830–this after he had arranged to purchase freedom but was betrayed.

Two story house with porch; three men in foreground
The Henson House (the men in the foreground are arranging festivities to celebrate Emancipation Day)
Two old rocking chairs with an enlarged photo of the Hensons nearby.
Two old chairs in the museum, with a photo of the Hensons.

The museum hosts a group of buildings including the Henson’s house, another house, a church, sawmill, smokehouse, and a family cemetery.

Here are three views of the sawmill. It’s open-air with a very high roof.

A smokehouse made from a roof being placed over a very large hollowed out tree trunk, with a small door below

And here’s the smokehouse. This gives an idea of the size of the trees that were cut down and turned into logs in the sawmill! It must have been a stunning site to see–all the old-growth trees before the forests were cut down.

The church was quiet when I visited — on Emancipation Day in Ontario, as it happens, and later in the day there were a number of events at the museum! All things considered, not at all a bad day to go — but I recommend visiting anyway. It’s in the middle of farms and fields, a lovely quiet drive with a well-done a museum at the end.

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