Did you know Chatham-Kent once proudly served as a premier destination for fugitive slaves seeking their freedom and a better life? The northern terminus of the Underground Railroad resulted in one of the most successful black settlements in Canada. Experience the rich history on the Freedom Trail route through the quiet rural roads of Chatham-Kent perfect for motorcycle riders or those looking for scenic drives. Three historic sites on this trail all serve as windows into the past; each allowing visitors to touch, feel, see, and hear the stories of those who took heroic journeys, following the North Star to freedom.
NOTE: Please call each location ahead of your journey to learn their opening hours during this time.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site
This route starts at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site. The five-acre site celebrates the accomplishments of abolitionist Josiah Henson with interpretive videos, exhibits, artifacts and tours reflecting the experience of Black settlers in Canada. Tour the restored period church, sawmill, and two cemeteries. Feel history come to life in the Harris House and the original Henson dwelling, known internationally as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
As you head south towards the next historic site, take a refreshment break and make a visit to Early Acres Estate Winery. Walk the vineyard and grab some award-winning wine to sip at the hotel later in the evening.
Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society
Next we arrive at Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society. The site of the Black Mecca Museum, it shares the story of Chatham’s Black community from the end of the 18th century until the present day. Tour the displays that contain a wealth of historical information, local artifacts and genealogical information on the achievements and struggles of Blacks in early Chatham. When available again, be sure to call ahead and ask about the guided walking tour of the surrounding area to learn even more.
By this point in the day after all the exploration, you’ll be thinking ahead to where you will rest your head for the night. Check into the luxurious Retro Suites Hotel with its individual styled suites and reserve your dinner spot at the on-site Chilled Cork restaurant. Before dinner though, make a trip to nearby Sons of Kent Brewing Co. for some great local brews.
After a night of restful sleep and reflection on all that you’ve learned so far, head to Chatham Breakfast House and Grille Churrascaria to fuel up for the day. We recommend their popular eggs benedict.
Buxton National Historic Site & Museum
Our final stop on the Freedom Trail in Chatham-Kent is Buxton National Historic Site & Museum. Tour the 1850 log cabin and 1861 school and view the museum’s many original artifacts including shackles and schoolbooks. Be sure to take a picture of the Liberty Bell. Established here in north Buxton was the Elgin Settlement, founded by Reverend William King in 1849. It was the largest Black settlement and classified as the most successful of the planned settlements in Ontario. The museum is fortunate to be supported and staffed by people who have an ancestral tie with the community.
As you conclude this educational tour, if you are heading east on your way home, make a little detour to Blenheim, ON to visit Red Barn Brewing Co. that just opened its doors and grab a bite at a local favourite Comfort & Soul BBQ. If you want to extend your learning, head west to Windsor-Essex to visit Amherstburg Freedom Museum, The John Freeman Walls Historic Site & Underground Railroad Museum, and Sandwich First Baptist Church. Each of these sites share more stories of the Underground Railroad and those you took its path to freedom.
If you love to ride, discover all of the routes of Cruise the Coast. There are 12 routes to choose from that take you across Ontario’s Southwest on the best riding roads. They make for amazing scenic driving routes too!