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Emancipation Day being marked at Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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In the first year since the Canadian government designated Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day, the site manager of a museum commemorating a former enslaved person has said he hopes more people will take notice.

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Steven Cook with Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden said the passing of the legislation by MPs earlier this year was meant to “recognize the African-Canadian story in Canadian culture.

“I hope that now that that has been designated that it’s going to translate into lessons that are taught in the school systems and just in the family,” he said. “We can’t always depend on the education system to teach everything.”

Emancipation Day commemorates Aug. 1, 1834, when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, freeing over 800,000 Africans and their descendants across the British Empire.

The passing of the act also ensured Canada as a free territory for enslaved people from the United States. Earlier legislation from 1793 also made importing slaves illegal.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, named after the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel, is located at the Dawn Settlement, founded by Josiah Henson after he escaped to Canada from slavery in Kentucky in 1830. Henson later served as the inspiration for the titular character in Stowe’s book.

The Dawn Settlement became a community for Black Canadians. It featured a school where students could learn trades while also spending time in the classroom. Henson also became a leader with the Underground Railroad, helping to bring enslaved people from the U.S. to Canada.

Cook said staff at the historic site, which is operated by Ontario Heritage Trust, see Emancipation Day as an opportunity to recognize Black Canadian culture and history.

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“Still today we come through the education system not knowing about a lot of these achievements that were done by people of African-Canadian heritage,” he said. “We really want to give them a voice and give them their proper due and let people learn from history.”

As with last year, events held by Uncle Tom’s Cabin will be held virtually at www.uncletomscabin.org.

Virtual guided tours were scheduled for July 26 and July 30, with registration available on the above website.

Steven Cook, site manager at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, stands in the exhibit area at the Dresden museum July 21, 2021. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week
Steven Cook, site manager at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, stands in the exhibit area at the Dresden museum July 21, 2021. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week Photo by Tom Morrison /jpg, WC

An interview with Kramer Wimberley, the lead diving instructor with the organization Diving with a Purpose, will be featured on July 27. Cook said the organization explores sunken ships on the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

“He (Wimberley) has got an interesting perspective because it’s like an archeological dig,” Cook said. “We think of that on land, but don’t often think about it on the ocean floor. That’s where he estimates there is at least 1,000 ships that have sunk. He wants to give a voice to these nameless Africans.”

On July 28, chef Patience Chirisa, a Canadian resident originally from Zimbabwe and founder of the Wine Dine Africa cooking show, will demonstrate with Uncle Tom’s Cabin programs assistant Jackie Bernard how to make fried okra.

The website will also share an interview Cook conducted with filmmaker Moses Latigo Odida about his documentary Why We Protest, which is about racism in Canada, on July 29. The filmmaker visited Uncle Tom’s Cabin last year “for a historical perspective of the African Canadian presence here,” Cook said.

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“The documentary is going to be an interesting exploration of where we’re at today and how far we’ve come too.”

On July 30, author Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore will speak about her children’s book, Trailblazers: The Black Pioneers Who Have Shaped Canada, which features over 40 notable Black Canadians, including Henson. Cook said Ridley-Padmore will read a poem about Henson and speak about the importance of commemorating the freedom granted in 1834.

All of the videos will then be brought together in a playlist on Aug. 1.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin will also reopen to in-person visits July 31. Those who pre-register will be able to visit Fridays or Saturdays for guided tours at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.

“We know that there is the appetite for it because every day as we’re getting the site prepared, there are several cars a day that are pulling through and wanting to visit now,” Cook said.

Virtual tours will continue to be available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Steven Cook, site manager at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, is shown next to a photo of Josiah Henson inside the museum July 21, 2021. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week
Steven Cook, site manager at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, is shown next to a photo of Josiah Henson inside the museum July 21, 2021. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week Photo by Tom Morrison /jpg, WC

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