A labour of love

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Buxton National Historic Site & Museum curator Shannon Prince recently received an Ontario Heritage Trust Award.

A well-known guardian of Chatham-Kent’s rich Black history has garnered a prestigious Ontario Heritage Trust award.

Shannon Prince, the curator of the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum recently received the Thomas Symons Award for Commitment to Conservation.

The news came as a complete surprise to the Buxton resident.

“I have no idea who nominated me,” Prince said in a recent interview.

“It’s really an honour,” she humbly noted, but as always when carrying out her work, she emphasized she’s only able to tell the story of the Underground Railroad because of the “incredible people who paved the path before me.”

Prince, a descendent of freedom seekers, has served as the curator at the Buxton site since 1999.

Her insight gives the veteran storyteller a unique perspective in bringing the story of the Elgin Settlement and the Underground Railroad to life.

Prince, a farmer with her husband Bryan, has been steadfast in conserving many physical relics and records relating to the period prior to the American Civil War, when enslaved people travelled on the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.

Bryan Prince is also a prolific historian who has authored several books and scripts relating to Black history and the Underground Railroad.

The couple is renowned for its work preserving Black history on the international stage, belonging to and sitting on the boards of many prestigious academic organizations.

Today the pair farm on land that was part of the Elgin Settlement – a haven for slaves seeking freedom founded by a white Protestant minister.

They have lectured around the world and have organized and taken part in many historical re-enactments.

Prince said the Thomas Symons Award is about conserving the “tangible and intangible” components of history and culture.

Prince, who holds a certificate in Museum Studies from the Ontario Museum Association, said her role doesn’t feel like work.

“I love what I do,” she added. “I ask myself about the kind of legacy I want to leave, and sharing this invaluable history is part of it.”

Like every other public facility, Buxton was closed to visitors during the pandemic, however Prince and staff were able to continue to reach their audience virtually.

Through Zoom and pre-recorded information tours, the Buxton site was able to offer educational programs.

Prince said the schools from across North America have continued to learn about Buxton and its importance to Black history and the Underground Railroad.

She also helps co-ordinate the annual Labour Day Homecoming event that draws Buxton descendants from around the globe.

In 2023, Prince said, the Homecoming celebration will mark its 100-year anniversary.

Now that COVID-19 safety protocols are relaxed, the Buxton Museum will again open its doors to the public.

In March, guests may come by appointment only, but in April, the museum will be open to the public Monday to Friday.

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