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Black Loyalist history goes up in flames

The Story

In this 2006 CBC Television news item, reporter Norma Lee MacLeod reports on the devastating fire that destroys the offices of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society in Birchtown, N.S. The office housed photographs, genealogies and some artifacts. The society (originally the Shelburne County Cultural Awareness Society) was formed in 1999 to preserve Birchtown's historical significance as the first free black settlement in North America. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC News at Six
Broadcast Date: April 21, 2006
Guests: Richard Gallion, Debra Hill, Stan Jacklin
Host: Norma Lee MacLeod
Duration: 2:39

Did You know?

• Birchtown was founded by Black Loyalists in 1783.

• In 1991, part of Birchtown was slated for use as a landfill site. The Black Loyalist Heritage Society was formed to block the landfill. It was successful, and immediately sponsored an archaeological dig of the area, which began in 1993.

• In a 1999 New York Times article on Birchtown and black history in Nova Scotia, museum researcher Carmelita Robertson is quoted as saying, ''There was collective amnesia, no memory, no stories ... There was only a very superficial knowledge that people were slaves and came up from the states on boats."

• The fire destroyed thousands of photographs. Genealogical records that were soaked in the fire-fighting effort were sent to Quebec to be freeze-dried and in 2009 were being copied and filed. 85 per cent of the society's computer records were recovered, and their library, which was destroyed, was enthusiastically replaced with donated books and money. As of 2009 the library was double the size it was at the time of the fire.

• Many historic artifacts that would normally have been stored in the burned office were off site at the time of the fire, and were thus preserved.

• The fire brought attention and support from across Canada, the U.S., and as far away as Germany. In 2009 the Black Loyalist Heritage Society was seeking funding for an interpretive centre.

• Birchtown was named after British general Samuel Birch.



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