It is not well-known that the Sydenham River was one of the final destinations of the Underground Railroad. This was especially true between 1830 and 1860, when the American government introduced harsh new measures to recapture escaped slaves. In 1834, Britain had passed the Emancipation Act, ending slavery throughout the British Empire (which included Canada). Thousands of black refugees made the journey from the Deep South to cross the border. Most refugees came to Ontario, especially at St. Catherines, Windsor, Sarnia, and Owen Sound.

Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Henson
Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Henson
Once in Canada, many Blacks created settlements of their own. In 1841 Josiah Henson, an escaped slave from Maryland, started the Dawn Settlement. The Dawn Settlement was near Dresden, where some of its original buildings can still be seen. In 1842, Henson helped to start the British American Institute for escaped slaves. This was the first vocational school for Blacks in North America.

Students at the school spent four hours working in the farms, gristmills, sawmills and other local industries. The rest of the day was spent at the school, learning basic skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Henson encouraged the students to establish their own farms and industries, and to hire one another.

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