Tuesday, November 14, 2017

We Remember

African Nova Scotians have a unique history of service in WWI. When the First World War broke out, Canadian black men wanted to serve their country by joining the armed forces as their fellow whites did, but faced a long uphill battle.  In spite of official Canadian government policy—which clearly stated black volunteers could be accepted—many suffered rejection.

After two years of perseverance and tireless lobbying by black community leaders—assisted by supportive whites—the government authorized a black unit, allowing patriotic blacks an opportunity to serve King and Country. 

The Black population of Canada at the time numbered about 20,000, with some 7,000 in Nova Scotia.  Because of this, the army chose this province as the location of No. 2 Construction Battalion, formed on July 5, 1916, with headquarters at Pictou.

Construction units built and repaired trenches, roads, bridges and railways, among other tasks.  No. 2 Construction Battalion became the first and only black unit ever established in the Canadian armed forces.  Although made up of blacks, the officers were white, with one notable exception.  The unit chaplain, the Rev. Dr. William White, became one of a handful of black officers in the entire British Empire during the First World War.

Half the unit, about 300 men came from Nova Scotia.  The unit sailed to England in March 1917, where it reorganized as a 600-man company.  In May, No. 2 Construction Company crossed the English Channel to France, where it spent the rest of the war in the Jura Mountains, near the Swiss border.

Soldiers of the units assisted Canadian Forestry Corps companies in logging, milling and shipping.  During the First World War, lumber was a much more critical commodity than in later wars, used for trenches, duckboards, huts and many other items. 

The legacy lives on.

Community Remembers at the North Preston Remembrance Day Ceremony (Nov. 11 2017)
- Russell Grosse

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Community Outreach in Upper Big Tracadie

On Saturday, October 1st we had the opportunity to visit the community of Upper Big Tracadie. The session was held in the church hall, which featured many historic community images and content. The community that was formed by the migration of the Black Loyalist in the 1780's is located in Guysbrough County.

October 1st Community Session
During the session community resident Jack Desmond provided some history on the community and the efforts being made to preserve the history.  He also shared information on past projects such as the documentary "Seven Shades of Pale" produced in 1975 by the National Film Board about the community. There is also lot of great history on the community found on this website link: http://gccans.ca/community-history/upper-big-tracadie/ 

Tracadie Baptist Church
Freedom Quilt

As part of the session community resident Mary Desmond present the Black Cultural Centre with a framed painting that resembles the train station in Monastry, as many members of the Upper Big Tracadie community were employed as sleeping car porters.

(l-r) Russell Grosse, Mary Desmond, Craig Smith and Catherine Hartling
- R. Grosse

Friday, September 29, 2017

Visit to UNIA Museum in Glace Bay

UNIA Hall (Glace Bay, Cape Breton)

While in Cape Breton, conducting community outreach events (September 29th), the Black Cultural Centre Staff and I had the opportunity to meet with the organizers of the UNIA Museum in Glace Bay.

BCC Staff with UNIA Museum Representatives
(l-r) Ben Thomas - BCC, Chantel Reid-Demeter - ANSA, Theresa Brewster - UNIA, Rielle Williams - BCC 
This museum tells the important story of of the African Nova Scotian Community in Glace Bay and their connection to the steel industry in Cape Breton.  The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) Museum has a strong history. The hall was built in 1918 as part of a movement started in 1914 by leader and activist Marcus Garvey. Garvey, originally from Jamaica, became an internationally known promoter of social, political, and economic freedom for the Black community. In 1914 Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica. Soon associations were established throughout the United States and Canada. 

Early in its existence the hall served as a hotel for workers who came from the West Indies to work at a near-by coal mine. Unable to afford a home of their own, as miners had to repay the costs of their travel to the mine company, the hall was a home for months and sometimes years to many Black miners. The building also served the spiritual needs for the Black community of Glace Bay as it held wakes and weddings. 

Today a plan is in place to enhance the content within the space to share the history of the Black community. We got a sneak peak at the improvements that are planned for the Museum. 

UNIA Museum

Personally for me it had been over 10 years since I had visited the UNIA site and was very pleased with the work that was being done to preserve this important part of history by Ms. Brewster. I look forward to the upgrades in the near future.

- R. Grosse

Community Outreach in Whitney Pier

With clear skies and beautiful weather the entire Black Cultural Centre staff and Black Cultural Society board of Directors, hit the highway for the fourth community outreach visit. This visit would include Whitney Pier in Sydney Cape Breton and Tracadie, in Guysbrough County.

The first visit took place at the Menelik Hall Community Center. We were welcomed by the local community and discovered the remarkable history of the community of Whitney Pier and the contributions that were made to the steel industry by African Nova Scotians. Communities in this area of Nova Scotia were settled as early as the 1920's through migrations from the Caribbean and Alabama.  

Menelik Hall, Whitney Pier
The community is the noted home of several African Nova Scotian trailblazers, such as Clotilda Yakimchuk who in 1954, became the first Black graduate of the Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing. She also received a post graduate midwifery diploma from Colony Hospital, Grenada, West Indies, a post graduate psychiatric nursing certificate from the Nova Scotia Hospital and a diploma in adult education from St.FX University. Ms. Yakimchuk spent 50 years in the nursing profession. She began her career as Head Nurse of the Admission/Discharge Unit of the Nova Scotia Hospital. From there she moved to Grenada, West Indies, where she was the Director of Nursing at the Psychiatric Hospital. Ms. Yakimchuk moved back to Canada in 1967, where she took a position as Staff Nurse at the Sydney City Hospital. She later became Nursing Supervisor and later Director of Staff Development at the Cape Breton Hospital. She then served as Director of Education Services at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital until her retirement from nursing in 1994. We were fortunate to have her present at the event. 

Also from Whitney Pier was the late Carl “Campy” Crawford, a long time resident of Whitney Pier, who had also made history. “Campy” joined the Sydney Police Service in 1964, becoming the first black municipal police officer in Nova Scotia and east of Montreal.

Whitney Pier is also the home of former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Mayann E. Francis, who was the first woman ombudsman of Nova Scotia and when she became lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in September 2006, she became the first Black Nova Scotian and the second Black Canadian (after Lincoln Alexander of Hamilton, Ontario) to hold this position.

The African Nova Scotian Community of Whitney Pier is steeped in history and we were grateful for the history that was provided by Reverend Mother Phyllis Marsh-Jarvis, who shared details about the culture and history of the area as well as her life growing up in the community. Music was also provided by the talented Eddie Paris.

The weekend road trip continued on with the Black Cultural Society holding a board meeting in Sydney on the next morning as well as a visit to the UNIA Hall Museum (see separate blog post about this visit). We were truly blessed by the warm welcome we received and the history we discovered.

Black Cultural Society, Board Meeting in Sydney

Eddie Paris "Green Grass of Home"

- R. Grosse

Friday, September 1, 2017

New Glasgow Community Outreach

On Thursday August 31st, 2017 our community outreach series took us to New Glasgow to visit the African Nova Scotian Community at Second United Baptist Church. There was a full house on hand to share the history of the area.

New Glasgow has a special place in African Nova Scotian history as the home of such historic icons as Dr. Carrie Best was a Nova Scotia journalist, author and human rights activist who published The Clarion, the first black-owned newspaper in Nova Scotia, starting in 1946. She had a radio show that ran for twelve years across the maritime provinces called The Quiet Corner.  She became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1974, and in 1979 was further honoured by being made an Officer of the Order of Canada.  Dr. Best died in 2001 but was posthumously awarded the Order of Nova Scotia in 2002 and was remembered on a Canada Post stamp in 2011.

Community Outreach Session in New Glasgow
The host and emcee for the evening was Sandra Andresen and remarks were given by provincial MLA's Pat Dunn - Pictou Centre and Tim Houston - Pictou East, New Glasgow Mayor, Nancy Dicks. An overview of the history of the African Nova Scotian community was provided by Francis Dorrington, former city councilor and resident of New Glasgow.  We were also treated to the sounds of the Umoja Drummers who performed.

- R. Grosse

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Captial Improvments Well Underway

Through the gracious support of all levels of government (Provincial, Federal and Municipal) the Black Cultural Centre is undergoing major capital improvements to the facility to ensure that the building is sustainable for years to come. The Centre originally built in 1983 has been showing its age recently and was in desperate need of upgrades. The new upgrades will also provide energy efficiency to the facility and help reduce energy consumption and operating costs.

New Boiler Heating System
 The upgrade work started earlier this spring and included some of the following upgrades:
  • Addition of Heat Pumps
  • New energy efficient furnace system
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • Upgrades to computer network and telephone system
  • Security upgrades
  • Washroom and meeting space upgrades
Building Control System Upgrade
We expect all upgrades to be complete over the next 8 - 12 months. The board and staff at the Centre are grateful to all those who have support this major undertaking over the past few years as we worked to secure support and funds to invest in the facility.

- R. Grosse

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

We Welcome Ben Thomas to the BCC Staff

The Black Cultural Centre / Society is pleased to welcome Mr. Ben Thomas to the staff as an Education Program Developer. After spending two summers (2015 & 2016) at the Centre as a summer student, Ben was glad to return in this new role. 

Born and raised in Dartmouth, NS, a graduate of both Acadia University and the University of Windsor (Ontario) where he earned bachelor's degrees in Theatre Studies and Education respectively. As the Education Program Developer Ben will join Executive Director Russell Grosse and Program Coordinator Rielle Williams in fostering a greater level of educational resources and program at the Centre and resources to share African Nova Scotian Culture and Heritage.

Ben is looking forward to improving the programming the Centre offers to schools on field trips.

"I also look forward to engaging with school boards and educators, both locally and province wide, with a goal to help make African Nova Scotian history a bigger, and more important part of classrooms in Nova Scotia. For too long, it seems as though the rich and vibrant history of African Nova Scotian people has been on the back burner in our school system, and I hope to be able to help the next generation of students be the most educated and inspired generation of students yet. Since a young age I have had a passion for education and teaching people, and I look forward to my time at the Centre."
-Ben Thomas
We are pleased to have Ben as part of the team at the Centre. Welcome Ben!

- R. Grosse

Friday, August 11, 2017

Welcoming Visitors

During the summer the Black Cultural Centre welcomes visitors from around the world who want to discover African Nova Scotia culture and history. This summer has been no different with the Centre seeing a record number of visitor this summer. During some of these visits we had special guests that participated.

In August we had a group of visitors from Kansas City and special guests Wayn Hamilton, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and artist / musician Sobaz Benjamin as they performed a African Libation Ceremony outside the Centre in front of the freedom stone.

Visitors from Kansas City

Earlier in the month former Toronto Raptors NBA player Jerome "Junk Yard Dog" Williams paid a visit to the Centre to learn about African Nova Scotian history and Culture.
BCC Employee: Rielle Williams with Jerome "Junk Yard Dog" Williams
Photo Credit: Lou Gannon

Community Outreach In Truro

On August 10th, 2017 we visited the community of Truro and were hosted by Zion Baptist Church and Pastor Brian Johnston. Several community members attended the event and viewed the display.

Black Cultural Centre display in Truro
A historical overview of the community was provided by Dr. Lynn Jones and various public officials such as the Mayor of Truro, Bill Mills and MP Bill Casey also attended. Board member Anne Simmons along with the Black Cultural staff took part as we gathered valuable history and learned about the Black communities in Truro, know in the areas as "the Bog, the Marsh and the Island". 
Dr. Lynn Jones sharing history

During this period the traveling exhibit was on display at the Museum of Industry in Stellarton. The African Nova Scotian community in Truro has a rich legacy including some of the well know historical figures such as Portia White, Stan "Chook" Maxwell, Jeramiah Jones, Rev. William White and Burnley "Rocky" Jones to name a few. 

- R. Grosse

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Gibson Woods Homecoming... A Welcoming Experience

Our very first community outreach session took place in Gibson Woods, a rural African Nova Scotian community in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia today (July 28, 2017).
Gibson Woods was once know as "Gentlemen's Bridge". It was renamed Gibson Woods after the name the influential Gibson family who settled in the region. Early records indicate a Black settler by the name of George Gibson purchasing forty acres of land in 1804 for a King's fortune of 40 pounds. Gibson died in 1847 at a healthy 93 years of age. It is believed that Gibson was a Black Loyalist.  - Black Cultural Centre Collection
 Our visit took place during the Gibson Woods Homecoming 2017, we were welcomed with open arms and learned a lot about this community. A community that has a long reaching history and genealogy of some of the surnames: Gibson, Clements, Jackson and Browning to name a few. During the opening ceremonies history was shared by community members.

Dennis Jackson, Community Elder, (l) with
Homecoming Committee Co-Chair Craig Gibson
The Black Cultural Centre board and staff were on hand to record the history and capture the stories that were shared. Black Cultural Society, President Craig Smith addressed the crowd and presented the Gibson Woods Homecoming Committee with a special certificate honouring the work they have done in preserving the history.

Doris Evans, descendant of Gibson Woods being interviewed by
Black Cultural Centre summer employee Gabrielle Everest
In addition to the Gibson Woods Homecoming the Black Cultural Centre also launched a traveling exhibit on African Nova Scotian Culture and Heritage that is touring the province at various Nova Scotia Museum sites. During the Gibson Woods Homecoming the display was shown and remained in the region at Prescott House Museum for an additional week. 

The Gibson Woods Homecoming continued for the rest of the weekend with activities on Saturday and Sunday. We were also glad to attend the special outdoor church service that featured Pastor Stephen Gough and the musical group Shoulder To Shoulder.

A wonderful and welcoming first remote visit. We learned a lot and gathered some great history and content for the achieves of the Black Cultural Centre. 

The beauty of Gibson Woods at sunset, with the historic
Gibson Woods Baptist Church
- Russell Grosse

Friday, July 28, 2017

Community Outreach Starts

And we're off. Today (July 28, 2017) we began our journey of visiting select African Nova Scotians communities, 12 this year in particular.  In recognition of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia’s, 40th Anniversary, the Black Cultural Centre (BCC) is embarking on a province wide community outreach and pop-up museum project entitled: “Inspire: The History and Legacy of African Nova Scotians”. Between July and December 2017, the BCC will collaborate with various African Nova Scotian communities to organize engagement sessions to discuss its mission “To Protect, Preserve and Promote the history and culture of African Nova Scotians” and gather feedback on its future direction and its role serving communities across the province. This project will also include a traveling exhibit that will be hosted by participating Nova Scotia Museum sites across the province.

In addition, the sessions taking place in African Nova Scotian communities will provide an opportunity for the public to share stories, artifacts and photos associated with one of Nova Scotia’s founding cultures. Individuals can bring in artifacts for us to photograph and record, old photos to be scanned or oral histories to be recorded.

Peoples of African descent are a vibrant part of Nova Scotia’s past, these individuals made Nova Scotia home and contributed to the fabric and success of today’s province. Nova Scotia can be said to be the birthplace of Black Culture and heritage in Canada, boasting the largest indigenous Black community in Canada.

During the first year of this special outreach project the BCC plans to visit the communities of Gibson Woods, Truro, New Glasgow, Whitney Pier, Digby, Shelburne, Upper Big Tracadie, Amherst, and various locations in the Halifax Region.

- R. Grosse

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Great Music and Food

The Black Cultural Centre celebrated with Jazz Music with a BBQ and Live Concert on July 15th as part of the TD Halifax Jazz Festival - Jazz Connects Series. The featured performers were local artists Keonte Beals, Jody Upshaw , Kristen Olivia,  and Maje.

All performances took place on the grounds of the Centre on the TD Halifax Jazz Fest Portable Stage. It was an amazing atmosphere, beautiful weather and great food.

Maje Performing

In addition to the live music and family BBQ, Halifax Councillor Lorelei Nicoll was on hand to make a special presentation to the Black Cultural Centre. A special funding grant as part of the Halifax Community Grants program was presented to the Centre to support upgrades to the basement community space that will take place this fall.

(l-r) Howard Riley, Councillor Lorelei Nicoll, Russell Grosse, Executive Director
and Twila Grosse, Board Member

This wonderful event brought folks of all ages together as they enjoyed great music and a BBQ. Looking forward to next year's activities. Stay tuned!

- Russell Grosse

Saturday, July 8, 2017

No. 2 Construction Battalion... 101 Years Later

This year marks 101 years since the formation of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada's first and only all Black regiment that served in WWI. 

When the First World War broke out, Canadian black men wanted to serve their country by joining the armed forces as their fellow whites did, but faced a long uphill battle.  In spite of official Canadian government policy—which clearly stated black volunteers could be accepted—many suffered rejection. 
After two years of perseverance and tireless lobbying by black community leaders—assisted by supportive whites—the government authorized a black unit, allowing patriotic blacks an opportunity to serve King and Country. 
 Formed on July 5, 1916, with headquarters at Pictou, the construction unit built and repaired trenches, roads, bridges and railways, among other tasks.  No. 2 Construction Battalion became the first and only black unit ever established in the Canadian armed forces.  - John Boileau, Historian
On July 8, 2017 at the deCoste Centre along the Pictou waterfront we held our 24th annual commemoration and remembrance ceremony. Despite the damp overcast skies close to 200 people showed up to take part including many Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel. The event started with an honour parade along Caladh Ave. adjacent to the monument. 

This year's keynote speaker was Lieutenant Commander Paul A. Smith, CD, Commanding Officer - Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship SUMMERSIDE. LCdr Smith shared detail about his recent historic visit to Western Africa and the impact it had on him and the link between Sierra Leone and Nova Scotia. Remarks were also given by various dignities including Douglas Ruck, son of the late Senator Calvin Ruck, who brought the story of the Battalion alive in his book "The Black Battalion - Canada's Best Kept Military Secret".

(l-r) Russell Grosse, Dolly Williams, LCdr Paul Smith, Sgt, Craig Smith,
Anne Simmons, Bernadette Hamilton-Reid and Douglas Ruck
To learn more about the No. 2 Construction Battalion, be sure to visit our extensive exhibit on the second floor of the Black Cultural Centre. Truly an inspiring legacy. 

- Russell Grosse

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A New Way To Keep You Updated...

This summer season at the Black Cultural Centre has been extremely busy (we're not complaining 😀). We wanted to develop a way to keep you up to date on the latest news, updates, initiatives and happenings at the Centre. Rather it be highlights from our across the province community outreach road trips, our personal thoughts and reflections, or special visitors that have dropped by the Centre, we want to keep you informed.

Established in 1983 by the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia has a focus to Protect, Preserve and Promote, African Nova Scotian culture and heritage.

It is our hope that this blog, which will have various staff members and board members contributing will provide some insight on some of the amazing things that happen at the Centre and throughout the province of Nova Scotia.

Be inspired and stay connected with us.

- Russell Grosse