Nova Scotia

Residents in five black N.S. communities see progress on land title claims

Residents in five rural black communities across Nova Scotia have filed 144 applications with the province seeking to gain legal title to land they've claimed as their own for generations.

'It's really about correcting a past wrong,' says Nova Scotia lawyer

People in North Preston, N.S., are working with lawyers and the province to obtain legal title to their property. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Residents in five black communities across Nova Scotia are inching closer to gaining legal ownership of land they've claimed as their own for generations.

Recent figures provided by the provincial government show 144 applications have been submitted to two community navigators since they started their work with the land titles initiative of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs in July 2018.

However, one application could include many parcels requiring clarification. It means the total number of parcels involved is approximately 180.

"Well, there's definitely a demand," said Shanisha Grant, one of two Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyers helping residents obtain legal title. "There are thousands of parcels in each of those communities, so we knew that there would definitely be a demand for the services."

Shanisha Grant is one of two Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyers helping people in five black rural communities gain legal ownership of land that has been passed down in their families for generations. (Facebook)

Never held the deeds

After Nova Scotia's earliest black settlers arrived in the late 1700s, the government gave them land without providing legal documentation.

Throughout the years, land was handed down to family members. Though many pay taxes on their property, they have never held the deeds.

Lauren Grant, the manager of the land titles initiative, said the office has been working hard with the community and has seen positive results. 

"We've been building trust," she said. "Our goal is to break this cycle to ensure that we don't put ourselves back into this situation in the future.

"Without clear title, the residents don't have the ability to sell their land, mortgage their land, subdivide or bequeath their land. It also provides access to other services."

Lauren Grant is the manager of the land titles initiative with the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs. (Adams Photography)

To date, eight certificates of title have been issued by the Department of Lands and Forestry.

The two legal aid lawyers have completed 29 migrations, which is the process of moving documentation from an old system to a new one, and one certificate of claim that was issued in Cherry Brook.

"So basically what that means is that that file is part way through the Land Titles Clarification Act process," Shanisha Grant said.

"So there's an objection period that … the file would need to go through and then once that lapsed, a certificate of title would be issued and then the parcel can then be migrated into the new system."

And after that, the person who made the claim would get title to the land.

$2.7M commitment

In September 2017, the province announced it would spend $2.7 million over two years to help residents in five historically black communities obtain legal title to land.

These communities include North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon in the Halifax Regional Municipality, and Lincolnville and Sunnyville in Guysborough County.

In September 2017, the province announced it would spend $2.7 million over two years to help residents in five historically black communities obtain legal title to land. Lincolnville is one of them. (Rev. Elaine Walcott)

In addition to the two navigators and Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyers, a lead surveyor and two surveyor technicians are also providing free services. The navigators visit the Preston communities every three weeks and the Guysborough County communities once a month.

For Shanisha Grant, who grew up in one of the black communities impacted, she said it's exciting to see that the government has decided to commit to helping work through long-standing issues.

"There's definitely a need there and it's really about correcting a past wrong," she said.

In the coming weeks, the government will establish a community liaison committee to ensure that the initiative receives ongoing input from people in the five communities, to monitor progress and to provide recommendations to staff.

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About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca