Name change possible for award-winning Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site

The Dresden, Ont. historic site won the Harriet Tubman Award from the Ontario Black History Society.

There is some thought to incorporate Josiah Henson into the name

Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site is in Dresden, Ont., a community in Chatham-Kent. (Heritage Ontario/YouTube)

Days before the start of Black History Month, a historic site in Dresden, Ont. received the Harriet Tubman Award for black history preservation, programming and historical site stewardship, given out by Ontario Black History Society.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site is built on the settlement that Josiah Henson, who was born a slave and escaped to Canada, helped found in 1841.

The community grew to around 500 settlers.

Curator Steven Cook said there's "a wide array" of people who come to visit the site, even from oversea countries like Germany.

"We can't repeat that kind of past that we have," said Cook.

"And I think a study of Josiah's life and the abuses he endured, but yet, he still strove for the betterment of not only his race, but for everybody of all backgrounds, here in Canada."

Rev. Josiah Henson, a clergyman and teacher who became the inspiration for the novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' (Courtesy Uncle Tom's Cabin Historical Site)

The name of the historic site is named after the novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, where Uncle Tom was based loosely on Henson.

Even though it was a successful anti-slavery novel, it's not without its controversies.

"If you're a black person and you're called an Uncle Tom, those are fighting words. Because someone's saying you're a sellout of your own race," said Cook.

He said the success of the book saw it turned into a stage performance, what ended up happening was Uncle Tom was changed to be a "comic relief character."

When visitors of historic site realize the story is based on Henson, but he actually went back and forth to rescue people from the south, "they realize you know, he's not a sellout of his people, he's somebody we should be proud of."

Listen to Cook's conversation with Afternoon Drive's Chris dela Torre by tapping the player below.

And according to Cook, even though Henson originally embraced the connection to Uncle Tom, he later resented it.

For that reason, Cook said there are some thoughts on potentially changing the name of the historic site.

"Understanding that it's a name locally that people are quite proud of," said Cook. "But we also want this to be a good teaching tool, right from the name, right down to the artifacts here on site."

People who want to visit the site for Black History Month can pay a visit on Family Day. There are events planned from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

With files from Jonathan Pinto