Nova Scotia

After racist graffiti shows up near Shelburne, a community bands together

Racist graffiti that uses historic tropes has popped up again near Shelburne, N.S., a town with a long black history. But after a photo of the scrawl appeared on Facebook, the community condemned it and got rid of it.

Woman who posted photo of racist graffiti calls it hate, and within hours it's condemned and removed

Racist graffiti on this boulder was spotted Monday by somebody out for a walk near Shelburne, N.S. It included the N-word, which has been blurred. (Lorrell Williams)

Anti-black racist graffiti spray-painted across a large rock near Shelburne, N.S., has been removed thanks to people who took a stand after seeing it on Facebook. 

The graffiti, which used the N-word and a stereotype about black people having an appetite for watermelon, was spotted by Vanessa Hartley's mother on Monday. She was out for a walk by the old naval base at Sandy Point, about 10 kilometres outside the town.

Hartley, 20, who is black and lives in Shelburne, immediately posted the photo with the N-word covered up.

"I just characterize it as hate, and I, being a person of colour, I've experienced so much hate that I don't understand how one person could do it any more," she said.

She also expressed her disappointment that racism, which she's faced throughout her life, had reared its head again. She said the graffiti used a stereotype that's rooted in historic racism.

"Anybody that is familiar with any black history will know that typically watermelon, chicken, grape pop are stereotypes depicting black people," she said of the trope that originated in America's Deep South during the late 1800s.

Vanessa Hartley, who was born and raised in Shelburne, N.S., worked as the programming co-ordinator at the Black Loyalist Heritage Site. (Vanessa Hartley)

Shelburne, which is located not far from the Black Loyalist Heritage Site in Birchtown, has its own deep racial history. Birchtown was settled by black people who were loyal to the British during the American Revolution.

Lorrell Williams, who is white, is among the hundreds of people who reacted on social media to the graffiti. Just a few hours after Hartley's post, he drove with a power washer more than half an hour from his home in Sable River to fix something he said was disrespectful.

"Racism in any form, it's just something that everybody wants no part of," said Williams.

He was looking for a vandalized rock that he thought would only take a few minutes to clean up. But when he arrived, he was surprised to find the words scrawled on a boulder about three metres in diameter. "Few curse words in my head, like you can't believe it," he said Tuesday.

Williams had filled his power washer with 190 litres of water, but almost ran out after nearly half an hour of work cleaning away the graffiti. 

"There is so much ignorance out there that the best way to deal with it is to erase it, to educate people about it, and just be positive," Williams said.

The graffiti has been removed from the boulder, which is located in a spot that offers a view of the harbour at Sandy Point. (Lorrell Williams)

The old naval base is located in the Municipality of the District of Shelburne, outside of the town limits. But the town's mayor, Karen Mattatall, fielded complaints anyway.

Mattatall, whose partner is black, took deep offence to the "ignorant meanness" she said is "heartbreaking" for the community.

She's worried it will stoke tensions after a recent documentary about well water and environmental racism in the community. She hoped that people would not paint the entire community as a racist place because of it.

Hartley does not believe the graffiti is linked to the divisive well water issue. She thinks it stems from a long pattern of racism. The first race riot in North America took place in Shelburne in 1784.

Hartley has traced her ancestry to Joseph Hartley, a slave from Virginia who is listed in the Book of Negroes, a document recording the names and descriptions of Black Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia during the American Revolution.

She hopes her post has created an opportunity for people to denounce racism, and embrace the town's racial roots. 

"When are we going to appreciate the deep culture that is Shelburne, because a lot of our culture is black history," said Hartley.


Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at