New Brunswick

'Our history began here:' Elm Hill's black community reunites

A small community outside of Gagetown, N.B., is one of Canada's earliest black settlements. About 50 people got together for a reunion on Saturday to connect to their heritage.

Once a thriving farming community, fewer than 50 live there now

Skip Talbot is one of the organizers of the annual Elm Hill picnic reunion. (Gary Moore/CBC)

A sign at the start of Elm Hill road, near Gagetown N.B., welcomes visitors to one of Canada's earliest black settlements.

Once a thriving farming community for hundreds of people, fewer than 50 live there now.

A short distance up the road there are plaques outlining the community's history that were installed a few years ago. They contain details about churches and a school that were once in the community.

On Saturday afternoon, about 50 people gathered just a few hundred metres from those plaques to talk about their heritage. 

It's an annual reunion that Skip Talbot, 87, helps to organize each year.

He can recall what Elm Hill was like when he was a child. He remembers a close-knit community.

"People were very supportive to each other and they were hard working people who worked on their small farms," Talbot said.

About 50 people got together Saturday in Elm Hill for a reunion. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Black history runs deep in the community. Elm Hill was established by black Loyalists, who were promised freedom in exchange for their loyalty to the British Crown.

Talbot never lived in the community, but his mother's family is from there. Saturday's picnic was on the property of his grandmother's house.

Talbot said the reunion offers an important opportunity for family and friends to connect.

Ralph Thomas is with the New Brunswick Black History Society. (Gary Moore/CBC)

"Once a year we can get together, and you know, we don't see each other that often because we're so scattered out all through the province."

Ralph Thomas, with New Brunswick's Black History Society, doesn't have any family connections to Elm Hill, but said its story is important to the province. 

"Elm Hill is one of the major parts of our black history — our history began here," Thomas said. 

One of six plaques in Elm Hill detailing part of the community's history. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Thomas said that there's not enough information out there about Elm Hill, but he hopes the picnic will inspire people to share their stories of the community. 

"And we've got to find that story really because everybody has it in their head and that if they don't write it down we're going to lose it."

Talbot said even though Elm Hill isn't the bustling community it once was, it's a special place for him and his family. 

"I feel so comfortable here, I feel like I belong here. I always felt that when I came here in my youth and I still feel it today."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.

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