Sobering Testament to a Shameful Past

Nancy Payne, editor of Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for kids, shares her experience visiting Buxton National Historic Site and Museum and learning about slavery.

Written by Nancy Payne

Posted February 27, 2014

I can’t keep the tears from springing to my eyes, or my throat from constricting so much I think I might stop breathing. Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, has just put a pair of actual shackles used on an actual human being into my hands, and the sobs well up from nowhere.

The community of Buxton, just south of Chatham, Ontario, represented freedom for those who had been enslaved and made it north to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Former slaves and free Black Americans settled in the village, which was founded by Rev. William King in 1849 as a place where his people could find dignity and fellowship. Its outstanding school educated generations of youngsters, and descendants of the original residents still live in the area today.

Prince is one of those descendants. Her warm and compassionate presence brings humanity to the story of the journey from horror to hope. Visitors can visit the small museum, the well-preserved schoolhouse and the cabin built according to the rules of the settlement. Visit the museum’s website for more information.

And if you’re in the area, be sure to visit other nearby sites to learn more about the Black pioneers and personalities who helped build our nation. Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of Rev. Josiah Henson, believed to be the model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel. The Chatham-Kent Historical Society highlights the surprising history of invention, perseverance and pride among members of the area’s Black community over several generations. At the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum near Windsor, meet Walls’ great-grandson Bryan Walls, who describes his ancestors’ struggles to make it to freedom in Canada.



There are many other sites in the area that make our shared Black history come alive. Visit Ontario Heritage Trust’s Slavery to Freedom site to learn more.

In this video Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton Museum and National Historic Site, demonstrates how these shackles were used on enslaved Africans.

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