Nova Scotia

Founded by former slaves, Beechville becomes provincial heritage site

Beechville, N.S., founded by former slaves in the early 1800s, now a provincial heritage site.

Halifax-area community was settled by black refugees escaping slavery in the United States

African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince announced Tuesday that the Halifax-area community of Beechville, N.S., has been designated a provincial heritage site. (CBC)

Beechville, N.S., a Halifax-area community founded by black families in the early 1800s, is now a provincial heritage site.

The community was settled by black families who came to what was then British soil to escape slavery in the United States.

One of the reasons for the designation is the existence of records attesting to the founding of the settlement, African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince said Tuesday at the Beechville Baptist Church.

"It's one of the few places in the province that has actual plots, land that has evidence of folks coming here around 1812, between 1812 and 1816 as refugees coming up from the U.S.," he said.

The Baptist church, a baptismal path to Lovett Lake, a graveyard and former school are all considered historically important. It hasn't yet been decided where the plaque to indicate the heritage designation will be placed.

Residents were at the Beechville Baptist Church to hear about the province's decision to designate Beechville as a provincial heritage site. (CBC)

The recognition is not expected to affect plans for a development on the land adjacent to the church.

Armco Capital wants to build close to 1,300 homes as well as offices and stores between the Bayers Lake Business Park and Lovett Lake, located just north of St. Margarets Bay Road.

The company has said it plans to transfer ownership of part of that land to the church, to create space between the development and the heart of Beechville.

Danielle Wright-Jackson of the Beechville Community Development Association has lived in the community since she was seven-years-old and said the community has shrunk over the years.

A choir of young people perform at Tuesday's announcement in Beechville, N.S. (CBC)

Residents don't want to see the significance of their community eroded any further, she said.

"Historically, Beechville used to run from the Armdale Rotary out to Five Islands Lake. Currently now, if you blink, you drive through Beechville. So we are actively staying involved with the developers as well as HRM planners to ensure the community has a relevant voice and is well informed of any movement that is taking place."

She said the heritage designation "is a step in the right direction of righting some of the wrongs."

Wright-Jackson hopes there will be a halt to any development plans that would see current and future residents, especially descendants of the founders, pushed out and being unable to afford to live in the area.

Danielle Wright-Jackson, a member of the Beechville Community Development Association, says it is important that any development in the area allows for long-time residents and others to be able to continue to live there. (CBC)

"Basically what we want ... is if the development does go forward, to make it attainable. We have many residents and descendants who would like to actually reside in Beechville and currently, there's not adequate housing for that," she said.

"And most importantly, there's the pricing, the pricing of it is so steep. So we feel our lands were given to us initially because they were unsettled, they were rocky, they were watery, not well sought-after lands."

Now that Beechville is a desirable site to developers, "we are being cut out ... we're very concerned that people who want to retire, that our seniors have a place to stay in their own community," she said.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia