Black Nova Scotians

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Black Nova Scotians
Bill White III.jpgWilliam Hall VC.jpg
Notable Black Nova Scotians:
Bill White • William Hall
Total population
2.3% of Nova Scotia's population (2011)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Nova Scotia Nova Scotia, predominantly in Halifax
Canadian English, Canadian French
Christianity (Baptist) and others
Related ethnic groups
African Americans, Black Canadians

Black Nova Scotians are people of African-American descent whose ancestors fled Colonial America as slaves or freemen, and later settled in Nova Scotia, Canada during the 18th and early 19th centuries.[4] As of the 2011 Census of Canada, 20,790 black people live in Nova Scotia,[1] most in Halifax.[5] The majority of Black Canadians are of Caribbean ancestry, with many of recent African origin and smaller numbers from Latin American countries. However, both Nova Scotia and Southwestern Ontario have a sizable number of Black Canadians who are descended from freed American slaves.

Black Nova Scotians were initially established in rural settings, and were usually very independent up until the 1960s, when some inner-city neighbourhoods were built, starting with the demolition of Africville. Some of the notable settlements include: Birchtown, East Preston, Cherrybrook, Lincolnville, Upper Big Tracadie, Five Mile Plains, Uniacke Square, North Preston, Mulgrave Park, Tracadie, Shelburne, Lucasville, Beechville, parts of Hammonds Plains and several others.


Port Royal[edit]

The first recorded instance of a black presence in Canada was that of Mathieu de Costa. He arrived in Nova Scotia sometime between 1603 and 1608 as a translator for the French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts. The first known black person to live in Canada was a slave from Madagascar named Olivier Le Jeune (who may also have been of partial Malay ancestry).

American Revolution[edit]

The end of the American War of Independence led the Black Loyalists to flee what was becoming the United States of America, many being relocated in the British colony of Nova Scotia, Canada. Following Dunmore's Proclamation, the British authorities in American colonies promised freedom to the former slaves of the rebelling Americans, who escaped and made their way into British lines. Large numbers of enslaved colonial African Americans took advantage of this opportunity to obtain their freedom and they made their way over to the British side, as did a much smaller number of free African Americans. Many of the Black Loyalists performed military service in the British Army, particularly as part of the only Black regiment of the war the Black Pioneers, and others served non-military roles. Approximately three thousand Black Loyalists sailed to Nova Scotia between April and November of 1783, travelling on both Navy vessels and British chartered private transports.[6]

Black people arrived in Canada in several waves. The first of these came with the French as free persons serving in the French army and navy, and some were enslaved. The British colonial authorities promised land grants to those who had escaped to the Crown during the American Revolution, though more promises were broken than kept. White American Loyalists fled north, bringing their African American slaves with them, while free African Americans also made their way to the colonies of British North America, settling predominantly in Nova Scotia. This latter group was largely made up of tradespeople and labourers, and many set up home in Birchtown in southwestern Nova Scotia. Many of these African Americans had roots mainly in American states like Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Maryland.[7] Some came from Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York as well.[8] The soldier's of the Black Pioneers settled in Digby and were given small compensation in comparison to the white loyalist soldiers.[9]

In 1782, the first race riot in North America took place in Birchtown, with white soldiers attacking the black settlers who were getting work that the soldiers thought they should have. Due to the unkept promises of the British government and the discrimination from the white colonists, 1,192 African American men, women and children left Nova Scotia on January 15, 1792 and established Freetown, Sierra Leone.

In 1790 John Burbidge freed his slaves.


The Governor of Nova Scotia, Sir John Wentworth, attempted to convert the Maroons to Christianity. Many emigrated to Sierra Leone in 1800.

On June 26, 1796, 543 men, women and children, Jamaican Maroons, were deported on board the ships Dover, Mary and Anne, from Jamaica after being defeated in an uprising against the British colonial government.[10] Their initial destination was Lower Canada but on July 21 and 23, the ships arrived in Nova Scotia. At this time Halifax was experiencing a major construction boom initiated by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn's efforts to modernize the city's defences. The many building projects had created a labour shortage. Edward was impressed by the Maroons and immediately put them to work at the Citadel in Halifax, Government House, and other defence works throughout the city.

Funds had been provided by the Government of Jamaica to aid in the resettlement of the Maroons.[11] Five thousand acres was purchased at Preston at a cost of £3000. Small farm lots were provided to the Maroons and they attempted to farm the infertile land. Like the former tenants that were poor, they occupied horrible and unproductive land at Preston; as a result they had minor success. A reason the Maroons found farming in Nova Scotia difficult is because the climate would not allow their customary food crops such as bananas, yams, pineapples or cocoa to grow. Small numbers of Maroons relocated from Preston to Boydville for better farming land. The British Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth made an effort to change the Maroons’ culture and beliefs by introducing them to Christianity. From the monies provided by the Jamaican Government, Wentworth procured an annual stipend of £240 for the support of a school and religious education.[12] The Maroons were not interested in converting from their own religion to Christianity. They were very strong, opinionated people, and would not work for less money than an average white person.

After suffering through the harsh winter of 1796-1797, Wentworth reported the Maroons expressed a desire that "they wish to be sent to India or somewhere in the east, to be landed with arms in some country with a climate like that they left, where they may take possession with a strong hand."[13] The British Government and Wentworth opened discussions with the Sierra Leone Company in 1799 to send the Maroons to Sierra Leone. The Jamaican Government had in 1796 initially planned to send the Maroons to Sierra Leone but the Sierra Leone Company rejected the idea. The initial reaction in 1799 was the same but the Company was eventually persuaded to accept the Maroon settlers. On August 6, 1800 the Maroons departed Halifax, arriving on October 1 at Freetown, Sierra Leone.[14][15]

War of 1812[edit]

The next major migration of blacks into Nova Scotia occurred between 1813 and 1815. Black war refugees from the United States settled in many parts of Nova Scotia including Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Lucasville and Africville.

Canada was not suited to the large-scale plantation agriculture practised in the southern United States, and slavery became increasingly rare. In 1793, in one of the first acts of the new Upper Canadian colonial parliament, slavery was abolished. It was all but abolished throughout the other British North American colonies by 1800, and was illegal throughout the British Empire after 1834. This made Canada an attractive destination for those fleeing slavery in the United States, such as American minister Boston King.

20th century[edit]

Rev. William A. White came to Nova Scotia from Virginia in 1900 and had several notable children including the opera singer Portia White.

In the late nineteenth century, there was an unofficial policy of restricting blacks from immigrating to Canada, and in the 1920s, formal racially-based immigration standards excluding blacks were developed. The huge influx of immigrants from Europe and the United States in the period before World War I included only very small numbers of black arrivals.

Another wave of immigration to Nova Scotia occurred in the 1920s, with blacks from the Caribbean coming to work in the steel mills of Cape Breton Island. The restrictions on immigration remained until 1962, when racial rules were eliminated from the immigration laws. This coincided with the dissolution of the British Empire in the Caribbean, and over the next decades several hundred thousand blacks came from that region to Canada.

Westward Migration[edit]

Beginning in the 1950s, many Black Nova Scotians migrated west to Toronto, Ontario. Initially, they felt shunned and excluded by the city's established black community, who felt embarrassed by the "backward and unsophisticated ways" of the rural Nova Scotians.[2] However, in the decades that followed, Black Nova Scotians contributed to the growth of Toronto, and today they maintain a strong presence within the city's black community.[3] Aside from Toronto, Black Nova Scotians also migrated to cities such as Montreal, which already had a long-standing black community, as well as Winnipeg, Vancouver, and other metropolitan areas in Canada.

Coloured Hockey League[edit]

In 1894, an all-black ice hockey league, known as the Coloured Hockey League, was founded in Nova Scotia.[16] Black players from Canada's Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island) participated in competition. The league began play 23 years before the National Hockey League was founded, and as such, it has been credited with some innovations which exist in the NHL today.[17] Most notably, it is claimed that the first player to use the slapshot was Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eurekas, more than 100 years ago.[18] The league remained in operation until 1930.

Separatist politics[edit]

The black separatist movement of the United States had a significant influence on the mobilization of the Black community in Nova Scotia. This Black separatist approach to address racism and black empowerment was introduced to Nova Scotia by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s.[19] Garvey argued that black people would never get a fair deal in white society, so they ought to form separate republics or return to Africa. White people are considered a homogenous group who are essentially racist and, in that sense, are considered unredeemable in efforts to address racism.

Garvey visited Nova Scotia twice, first in the 1920s, which led to a UNIA office in Cape Breton, and then the famous 1937 visit. He was initially drawn by the founding of an African Orthodox Church in Sydney in 1921 and maintained contact with the ex-pat West Indian community. The UNIA invited him to visit in 1937.[19] (Garvey presided over UNIA regional conferences and conventions in Toronto, in 1936, 1937, and 1938. At the 1937 meeting he inaugurated his School of African Philosophy.)

Despite objections from Martin Luther King Jr., this separtist politics was reinforced again in the 1960s by the Black Power Movement and especially its militant subgroup the Black Panther Party.[20][21] Francis Beaufils (aka Ronald Hill) was a fugitive Black Panther facing charges in the U.S. who had found refuge in rural Nova Scotia.[21] The separatist movement influenced the development of the Halifax-based Black United Front (BUF). Black United Front was a Black nationalist organization primarily based in Halifax, Nova Scotia that was founded by Burnley "Rocky" Jones in 1965 loosely based on the 10 point program of the Black Panther Party. In 1968, Stokely Carmichael, who coined the phrase Black Power!, visited Nova Scotia helping organize the BUF.[22] The organization remained in operation until 1996. The black separatist politics continues to be reflected in the work of Rocky Jones, Wanda Thomas-Bernard among others.[23]


Several distinct unions and organizations exist created by and serving the Black Nova Scotian community. Many were formed to answer to the needs of a distinct people in the face of discrimination. Some of these include the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia, The Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia, African Nova Scotian Music Association, Health Association of African Canadians and the Black Business Initiative.

Notable Black Nova Scotians[edit]






Abuse at a Halifax orphanage[edit]

Children in an orphanage that opened in the year 1921 suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse by staff over a 50-year period. Ray Wagner is the lead counsel for the former residents who successfully made a case against the orphanage.[25] The current Premier of Nova Scotia wrote a letter of apology and about 300 claimants are to receive monetary compensation for their damages.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "NHS Profile, Nova Scotia, 2011". 2013-05-08. Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  2. ^ a b Confederation’s Casualties: The "Maritimer" as a Problem in 1960s Toronto, Acadiensis. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
  3. ^ a b Black history in Toronto, City of Toronto. Retrieved 2014-02-04.
  4. ^ Cultural Renaissance | Nova Scotia - Come to life
  5. ^ Halifax's Black Loyalists - Halifax Nova Scotia
  6. ^
  7. ^ Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management - African Nova Scotians - Black Loyalists, 1783-1792
  8. ^ Remembering Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia
  9. ^
  10. ^ 20th Regiment - Regimental history
  11. ^ John N. Grant. The Maroons in Nova Scotia. Format Publishing Company Limited. Halifax,2002.
  12. ^ John N. Grant. Black Immigrants into Nova Scotia, 1776-1815. The Journal of Negro History. Vol. 58, No. 3 (Jul, 1973). pp. 253-270.
  13. ^ Ibid. John N. Grant. p. 260.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Ibid. John N. Grant.
  16. ^ Black hockey hall of fame proposed for Dartmouth, CBC Sports, August 26, 2006. Accessed on August 19, 2012.
  17. ^, Garth Vaughan © 2001. Accessed on August 19, 2012.
  18. ^ Martins, Daniel, Hockey historian credits black player with first slapshot, CanWest News Service, January 31, 2007. Accessed on August 19, 2012.
  19. ^ a b Jon Tattrie. Sunday Chronicle-Herald Nov. 29, 2009
  20. ^ Martin Luther King Jr. Where do we go from here: Community or chaos? (1968)
  21. ^ a b Black Panther’s story is also story of N.S. in ’70s September 16, 2012
  22. ^
  23. ^ One such example is Jones objections to a primarily Black committee hiring a white person as the executive director of the Africville Heritage Trust and calling for her resignation.(See Africville trust hiring prompts some anger Chronicle Herald September 15, 2011)
  24. ^
  25. ^ CBC news "Home for Colored Children victims tell court about rape, beatings" July 7, 2014
  26. ^ CBC news "Home for Colored Children apology: N.S. says sorry to ex-residents" October 10, 2014

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]