Nelson Mandela, one of the world's most beloved and important statesmen, is being remembered by Nova Scotians who say his legacy has left a deep impact in the province.

The former president of South Africa died Thursday at the age of 95.

"I was quite shocked, taken aback," said Tony Ince, the minister responsible for African-Nova Scotian affairs. "We all know that he’s been ill for some time, but still, that doesn’t take away from the shock of this."

Members of the Legislative Assembly had a moment of silence in the house after learning of Mandela's death.

"For the black community, I think it's a real blow. He's had a very inspiring life with all the challenges that he had," said Ince. "It means a lot to African-Nova Scotians, but I think all Nova Scotians in general."

'His legacy, I think, is one that's very inspiring: that you don't give up, you keep on trying.'- Tony Ince, minister responsible for African Nova Scotian Affairs

Ince actually met the anti-apartheid activist in the late 1990s, when he took students on a trip to Toronto, Ont.

"It was just amazing, awe inspiring.… His legacy, I think, is one that's very inspiring: that you don't give up, you keep on trying," he said.

Premier Stephen McNeil also issued a statement on Thursday night.

"There are few people who will leave a mark as indelible on this earth as Mr. Mandela," said McNeil. "His message of peace, forgiveness and acceptance is one we should all aspire to in whatever way we can, in tribute to his memory."

McNeil said Mandela had an unwavering commitment to freedom.

"I ask that Nova Scotians take a moment to pause, reflect on the life of this great man and all he has given to the global community."

'Ultimate hero'

CBC Nova Scotia employee Lorne Izzard was overwhelmed to learn of Mandela's death as he was driving home from work.

"I actually had to pull over to the side of the road because I became quite emotional about it," he said. 

Nelson Mandela invitation

Lorne Izzard kept his invitation to the event where he met Nelson Mandela. (Lorne Izzard)

Izzard was invited to a state dinner in Toronto, Ont. honouring Mandela on June 18, 1990. 

At the time, Izzard was working with a cultural awareness youth group which went into high schools, teaching Halifax teens about apartheid. 

"I think that he was the ultimate hero. Not only did he move the struggles of what was happening in South Africa, but he moved a world movement."

Izzard said at the time, young African Nova Scotians had few leaders, and he encouraged them to learn from the messages from Mandela. 

Then, one day at work, he received a phone call from the Prime Minister's office.

"I thought it was a joke," Izzard said of the invitation to the state dinner. Izzard made the trip, and was shocked to discover his table was near the front of the room, close to the night's special guests.

"I just decided at one point when there was mingling that I would try to walk up and meet him, and I didn't know whether security would get in the way, but I did manage to get up to the head table."

He said Mandela smiled and shook his hand. Izzard introduced himself, and Mandela thanked him for his efforts in the community.

"It was an amazing, amazing event to be able to meet him," Izzard said, calling it an occasion that will always cherish.

South Africans react

Meanwhile, a man who emigrated to Nova Scotia from South Africa in 1998 says the death of Mandela is a historic moment.

"He changed the whole face of South Africa. He changed the word apartheid," said Bruce Fensham, who now lives in Lunenburg.

"He gave every South African — black and white — hope and a vision for the future. I don't know where South Africa is going to be or going or what direction it will go but I pray every day that it's going to find its own strength from within."

Fensham also said it will be difficult for anyone to fill Mandela's shoes as the spiritual leader of South Africa.