Due to derogatory ties to slavery, a well-known rural roadway near Dresden is getting a name change.
Uncle Tom’s Road will soon be known as Freedom Road after the municipality’s council endorsed a request by the Ontario Heritage Trust in an effort to fight anti-black racism. Council approved changing the name of Uncle Tom’s Road to Freedom Road by an 11-7 vote.
Councillors Mark Authier, Michael Bondy, Anthony Ceccacci, Marjorie Crew, Aaron Hall, Melissa Harrigan, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, M. Clare Latimer, Brock McGregor, and Trevor Thompson all voted in favour of the name change, along with Mayor Darrin Canniff.
Councillors Joe Faas, Amy Finn, Jamie McGrail, Carmen McGregor, Steve Pinsonneault, Doug Sulman, and John Wright voted against the change.
Uncle Tom’s Road is located southwest of Dresden and features the property containing Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site. The site was part of land purchased in 1841 to establish the Dawn Settlement – a refuge for the many fugitives from slavery who escaped to Canada from the United States.
“Over many years, the Ontario Heritage Trust has worked with the municipality and Black history sites in the area to showcase Ontario’s Black history and promote tourism in the region,” read the report that went before council. “Through this work, the trust has made a significant commitment to anti-Black racism education and inclusive programming.”
The change is slated to go into effect on July 25th. However, Mayor Darrin Canniff says staff are continuing to look into how the renaming process will be reflected through online maps and GPS devices.
According to the municipal staff report, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is maintained for the public by the Ontario Heritage Trust, an agency of the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, which conserves provincially significant cultural heritage.
Since the museum is dedicated to retelling the story of Henson, a well-known abolitionist who helped fugitive slaves find freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad, the trust indicated the continued use of the term “does a disservice to honouring (Henson’s) inspiring and instructive legacy.”
“As identified by the trust, new opportunities exist to address issues of racism and biases reflected in the term ‘Uncle Tom,’” the staff report stated. “As the collective understanding of the Black presence in Ontario continues to evolve, the trust is able to interpret the story in a more respectful and sensitive manner. The term ‘Uncle Tom’ embodies many of the prejudices and biases at the root of anti-Black racism.”
Following the name change of the road, the renowned Black historic site in Chatham-Kent is making changes to honour its history better.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden plans to announce its new site name during Emancipation Day celebrations on July 30th.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News