African Nova Scotians in the Canadian Mosaic
By Denise Allen
African Nova Scotian Activist, SRDC Nova Scotia(Canada) Facilitator
The primary purpose of this article is to inform the readers irrespective of their race, ethnicity, religion, geographical location, socio-economic class background and/or political ideology that African Nova Scotians have been in this Canadian province for centuries, and that they have been marginalised and relegated to the lowest socio-economic strata of the society. In this the year of ‘African descendents as declared by the United Nation’, we intend forge ahead to improve the appalling conditions of African Nova Scotians in this country, which we have contributed much to its development. We will no longer accept socio-economic exclusion and marginalization as an accepted way of life for African-Nova Scotians.
Remember the Indigenous-Black Community of Nova Scotia, Canada.
In 2004, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, Dr. Dou Dou Dienne, in his assessment of the status of African Canadians in the mosaic of Canadian society, inferred that Canada has not recognized the accomplishments and contributions of Blacks in the formation and development of Canada. He succinctly implies that “The history and culture of Black-African Canadian are not woven into the fabric of Canadian society.” He noted also that there is a need to establish programs and strategies to address racism that would not be limited to the mere equalitarian and democratic superimposition of communities. He advocates suggestion that would facilitate interactions, mutual respect, interpersonal and intercommunity awareness, and respect for the contributions made by African Canadians to Canada’s development, and by implication to the expansion of the British Empire. His report inferred that Canada has not come to grip with or accepted its history facts, which is rooted in racial inequality against African Canadians. If Canadians continually ignore this fundamental reality, because it is considered a taboo and damaging to the image of Canada, then the social malignancy would be virtually impossible to address and deal effectively with. This social malignancy of systemic and institutional racism that negatively affect the lives of African Canadians at all levels. Like the proverbial ostrich we keep, our heads bury in the sand to avoid dealing with the reality, and if Canadian politicians, leaders and decision makers do not recognize and address that fact its effects will remain out of reach and irresolvable.
In his address to the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nation in Geneva on 23 March 2004, Oscar Brathwaite of the African Canadian Legal Clinic said succinctly that there are many social issues that are damaging to African-Canadian. “Issues such as the continuing legacy on descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, poverty, the criminalisation of Black people, racial profiling, police violence, education rights and media bias reflected the reality of African descendents in Canada, which was one of social exclusion and economic marginalisation. The Special Rapporteur was commended for highlighting the issues relating to the racial discrimination of African Canadians, but a cautionary note on the reliance on the official policy of multiculturalism espoused by the Canadian Government was required. An effective anti-discrimination strategy should include a vigorous anti-racist agenda accompanied by programmes of action designed specifically for African Canadians.”
Unbeknownst to most Canadians in general and Nova Scotians in particular, African people were brought to this country (Canada), and they were made slaves to serve the socio-economic interest of the white ruling class. Their social status created socio-economic barriers to them, and for other Blacks/Africans who came later fleeing from the horrors of overt racism and terror of Canada’s southern neighbour. Whether they were free or enslaved, they encountered many hurdles and obstacles towards equal opportunities in this province and country for over two hundred and fifty years. The ‘Black Loyalists’, the Black/African American who fought on the British side in the American war of independence were brought to this country (Nova Scotia) after the American war of independence, and they were promised freedom, land grant and a brighter future in this country. The legacy of that unfulfilled promised still reverberates in the socio-economic exclusion in the society today.
We as oppressed and marginalised descendants of that earlier generation in this province (Nova Scotia) must ask ourselves some fundamental questions to ascertain why we are in the present socio-economic and political situation today. For example, did the government of that time fulfilled it’s promises of land grant to the Black Loyalists on equal terms, and was the quality and quantity of land equal to that granted to the White Loyalists? Did this country provide a brighter future for African Canadians? Did Blacks/African-Canadians faced the same kind of racism as in the USA, or was it a more dangerous and insidious form or racism? How has the inequality of that time affected the development of the African Nova Scotian communities today and how it will affect African Nova Scotians-Canadians in the future? Reparation is the latest buzz term that is now added to lexicon of African people worldwide resistance to address the debacles of slavery, colonization and racism. The legacy of that pass is still being manifested in anti Black-African racism in the form of discrimination in the socio-economic areas, business opportunities, pervasive unemployment and underemployment, marginalization, and an over representation of African Nova Scotian youth in the criminal justice system. We as an oppressed people know that it is a taboo to mention racism in the Canadian social lexicon and it more taboo to even hint that the enslavement of Africans in Canada is a part of the country’s history. White Canadians like to assume that those two anomalies racism and slavery are the realities of Canada’s southern neighbour (USA), but definitely not in Canada. How can anyone be so presumptuous to label this country with such barbarous act, after all, this country gave refuse to Africans fleeing from the USA using the tremulous journey on the infamous underground railroad to freedom in the snowy north. The effects of this oppressive legacy are felt to this day and contemporary human rights violations in Nova Scotia provide clear examples of the pervasiveness of racism in Canadian society. The roots of racism are buried deep in historical patterns of race based exploitation and marginalization. A cursory reading of the media will show that there are still acts of aggression including attacks against African Nova Scotian institutions and individuals.
The history of Black/African people in Canada is far more complex than it appears on the surface through the media, where it is sanitize to reflect a harmonious racial compassionate image if Canada. In contrast to the intentions of white colonizers who came to pillage, rape, enslave and destroy, the oral history of Indigenous-Black/African Nova Scotians attests to the arrival of African Peoples traveling the North Atlantic to share resources and knowledge. In one documented example, Black/African explorer Mathieu Da Costa was the interpreter and navigator for Pierre Dugua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century. This suggests that free Africans traveled the Atlantic and settled there long before the aforementioned white Europeans. However, the narrative of black subjugation has overwritten these examples in the Canadian mainstream education system. This and the many other misconception and myths must be debunked and rectify. Africa Canadians will and must continue to established and develop and strengthen institution that will foster new paradigms in the education of Black-African Nova Scotians-Canadians. For example, organizations in the form of the Nova Scotia Black Education Association (NSBEA), Council on African Canadian Education (CASE), The Nova Scotia Africentric Summer Learning Institute (ASLI); The African Canadian Services Division (ACSD). These institutions will empower the African Nova Scotia learners and the youth across the learning and education continuum. In Nova Scotia, we are aware that our very survival in this potentially hostile environment is preparing African Nova Scotian youth of today for the challenges of tomorrow.
The unemployment rate among Black/African Nova Scotians is endemic and very dangerous. It creates a myriad of social pathologies, resulting in our youth over representation in the criminal justice system, and the expansion of the prison industrial complex, which may be making some entrepreneurs richer and more powerful at the expense of Black/African people. Therefore, we have to establish, develop and strengthen enterprises and businesses that will provide much better business, employment and career opportunities for African Nova Scotians. The Black Business Initiative (BBI) is one example in Nova Scotia, and the Black Business and Professional Association in Ontario is another.
To move forward it is very important that in Nova Scotia we establish and build alliances within and beyond the local and provincial jurisdictions. It is necessary to establish ties and working relationships nationally and internationally. This approach would aid in capacity building. For example, Sixth Regional Diaspora Caucus (SRDC) is an organization that is involved with the Africa Union (AU). That great Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey said, “We as a people are responsible for our own advancement, because no other racial group will do it for us”. Perhaps one of the major errors that has been made in the pass is we placed our welfare in the hands of other racial groups.
Nova Scotia was home to 47 Black owned communities. In stark contrast to the white empire loyalists, our ancestors of African origin were permitted entry into Canada solely on the basis that they provide advantageous protection and development for the betterment of Canada. Once the battles were fought and the mission accomplished or completed, Britain’s rule and expansion was secured, all deals were off. Where are the land grants that we were promised in 1783? Is it too late to rekindle that fire, in this year of the UN declaration of the year of African Descendants for us to demand immediate redress for the Black Loyalists Land Grants to be settled? Although Blacks kept their end of the bargain, the promises made to them by the British were mostly abandoned.
Britain and your proxy Canada we the descendants of those who you deceived are now demanding that you redress the imbalance of two hundred an twenty-five years of injustice and the dreams that were deferred. We were given the worst land that was unsustainable, ensuring that the status quo remains, that is cheap available labour to the powerful white oligarch. Where is the justice? We are demanding justice! Despite the harsh terrain comprised of mostly bedrock, Blacks were able to cultivate and settle the Halifax areas of Africville, East and North Preston, Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Porter’s Lake, Cherrybrook, Lakeloon, and the Lucasville Road, as well as the Windsor area. Today, only 43 Black Communities remain throughout the province of Nova Scotia; a strong indicator that the Indigenous-Black Community is decreasing.
There is no community of People in Canada, perhaps that are not many Indigenous/black Canadian in comparison to the Indigenous-Black Nova Scotians. Above all, the contribution of our settlement to the benefit of Nova Scotian and Canadian society must be borne in mind. Although Canada is rich in Black history and accomplishments, most Canadians (let alone the global community) are not aware that Black People’s ancestry and enslavement in Canada predated and continued beyond Confederation (1867). Black People’s history and contributions to the establishment of Canada have yet to be incorporated into Canada’s national museums of history. Our oral history, despite its legitimacy, is marginalized and treated as inconsequential, and at times even dismissed as dreaming. History from a white Eurocentric (supremacist) perspective places white Europeans as the only explorers to Atlantic Canada, and Black people as their slaves. It must be emphasized that there is a desperate need for a radical paradigm shift in the education of all students in general and African Nova Scotians-Canadians students in particular. Remember one of those clarion calls made by that great leader Marcus Garvey concerning the issue of education
”Negroes, teach your children that they are direct descendants of the greatest and proudest race who ever peopled the earth; and it is because of the fear of our return to power, in a civilization of our own, that may outshine others, why we are hated”
I should also add the wisdom of another great African American Scholar who advocated for our advancement through the kind of education as one of the pathways that will guide us in the right direction to free our mind from mental slavery and liberate Africa and Africans from all form of entrapments and oppression by our forced state of mind.
“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks, you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that, he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to seek an inferior status, and he will do so without being told”
Our unique cultural characteristics were intricately shaped by refugee slaves from the Southern United States, skilled workers from Barbados and Trinidad, master carpenters from Great Britain, Maroons from Jamaica, and free African explorers. Our distinct history is one of overcoming more than 400 hundreds of years of betrayal, neglect, and systemic racism.
I would be remised if I did not mention the debacle of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the force removal that was executed by the white overlords who treated the residents worst than discarded garbage.
A brief synopsis of Africville a black/African Nova Scotian community:
Over its 120-year history, perhaps 90 to 100% Blacks with a few white families, permanent residents and transients. At its peak, Africville had perhaps 400 residents. It was a small, self-contained, tight-knit Black community within the city limits of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At its peak, just before World War I, it was made up of approximately 80 families / 300 residents. Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the northern edge of the Halifax peninsula, beside the Bedford Basin.
1830s – 1970. Developed slowly after the War of 1812, grew after the American Civil War, thrived from the 1890s to the 1920s. Endured a bad phase during the Depression; rebounded during the late 1930s and after World War II. During the 1950s, it began a slow downturn until the late 1960s. Relocation occurred between 1964 and 1967. The last house was bulldozed January 2, 1970.
The controversy following the relocation, the spirit of the former residents, and the fact that it was a unique community has made Africville a national and international legend –- a lost community gone forever. It is also an enduring symbol of racial intolerance, the myth of urban renewal, and the value of community culture.
In conclusion, I believe that the Black/African readers will be able to identify with the issues, challenges and problems that African-Nova Scotians encounter in their daily lives in this part of Canada. It is identifiable; because this is the reality of the Black people/Africans experience, any place in the world where Euro-centrism is the dominant determinant. In this the year of African descendents as declared by the United Nation, we must reverse this trend through collaboration, cooperation, unity and the resolve to make this decade the decade of self determination and monumental advancement locally, nationally and internationally. We as African-Nova Scotian resolve to chart a new and more assertive course in this decade to guarantee our advancement and provide a brighter future for our descendents in this country. Lastly, do remember that united we stand together against all foes-enemies, because divided we will fall and be trampled upon. We intend to build a solid foundation, and SRDC could be that corner stone. Forward ever, backward never.
 United Nations, Press Release, Commission on Human Rights 23 March 2004 Independent Expert, Chairperson-Rapporteur of Working Group, on Right to Development Present Reports.
2 Map of Black Communities (Black Culture Centre – _ HYPERLINK “http://bccns.com/”http://bccns.com/_)
3 “Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey”
4 Carter. G. Woodson, “The Mis-education of the Negro”
5 For a comprehensive history of People of African decent in Nova Scotia, Canada, please visit the BlackCulture Centre Website at – http://bccns.com
6 (http://www.dacosta400.ca/cavalcade/africville.shtml); Africville: Canada’s Most Famous Black/African Canadian Community.