The Wounds Run Deep: McNeil acknowledges history of racism in Nova Scotia

Published on February 13, 2017

Annapolis Royal Mayor William MacDonald, local resident Linda Bailey, and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil unveiled a poster Friday, Feb. 10 marking African Heritage Month with the theme Passing the Torch: African Nova Scotians and the Next 150 Years. MacDonald proclaimed that February is African Heritage Month in Annapolis Royal.

©Lawrence Powell

ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - The wounds of racism run deep in Nova Scotia and for generations African Nova Scotians have been left in poverty, said Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen McNeil.

He took part Friday in Annapolis Royal’s proclamation that February is African Heritage Month.
He was proud of Nova Scotians who fought against racism and became icons for equality – like Viola Desmond, Rose Fortune, and Daurene Lewis.
“The theme of this year’s African Nova Scotia History Month is Passing the Torch: 150 Years,” said McNeil, “but we know that history is much deeper than that. Quite frankly some of the wounds are much deeper than that.”
He said many came to Nova Scotia looking for a new life but unlike the province’s white settlers weren’t welcomed in peace and friendship -- like Membertu had welcomed the French.
“For generations, quite frankly, they’ve been left in poverty,” McNeil said, adding that dealing with the issue of the Home for Coloured Children was a stark reality.
“It was a stark reality standing there looking at my ancestors and your ancestors quite frankly, (we) treated those young African Nova Scotia kids differently because they weren’t white,” he said.
He said people who were looking after them weren’t trained as well, the amount of money used to make sure they were being fed properly wasn’t as much as it was for white children who were taken into custody.
“We had to acknowledge that,” said McNeil. “Had to acknowledge the wounds that are there. And also take a look at the fact the institutions that you and I value so much – the institution of law, the institution of government – there are a lot of people in this province who don’t see themselves reflected in those institutions because of racism.”

If the virtue of adversity is fortitude, that action is perhaps no more exemplified than in the struggles and successes of African Nova Scotians. Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald

McNeil was speaking in the very council chambers where Daurene Lewis became the first black female mayor in Canada.

“It’s been a hard-fought struggle,” he said. “Daurene fought that struggle here in your town and the residents of this town responded in such a positive way making her the first African Nova Scotia mayor, making a first for your community.”

McNeil said he was privileged and pleased last week to appoint the first Mi’kmaq woman to the bench in in the province’s history and the third African Nova Scotian. McNeil believes those appointments will have the longest lasting impacts of decisions his government has made because young people in both the Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities will finally see themselves reflected in some of the province’s highest offices.

“If we want them to aspire to achieve what we want our children to aspire, they have to see themselves in it,” McNeil said. “Have we made great strides? Absolutely. Do we have lots of work to do? Absolutely.”

Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald read a proclamation that February be African Heritage Month.

“I encourage residents, businesses, and community groups to participate in the activities and celebrations, and to take the opportunity to reflect on the story of Nova Scotia’s vibrant African Nova Scotian Community,” he said.

“It is my honour to acknowledge the important contributions African Nova Scotians have made to our province and our country,” said MacDonald. “Contributions which are made all the more remarkable when considering the brutality and challenges that they endured, as the Premier talked about, and they overcame. If the virtue of adversity is fortitude, that action is perhaps no more exemplified than in the struggles and successes of African Nova Scotians.”

The mayor introduced Linda Bailey who read from New York playwright George Cameron Grant’s play Fortune based on Black Loyalist Rose Fortune who landed in Annapolis Royal at 11 years old and through her character and determination built her own business on the wharves of the town. Daurene Lewis was a descendant.

But while she played the part of Rose Fortune, Bailey wasn’t necessarily keen on the idea of African Heritage Month. She would rather all people be treated equally all the time.