Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown nears completion
South shore heritage site torched in 2006
Nova Scotia’s Black Loyalist Heritage Centre is rising out of the ashes after it was destroyed in a fire eight years ago.
"The building is a complete replica and resemblance of our story and the hardships, but the resilience of our people. We are very, very excited,” said site manager Beverly Cox.
It's been a long, hard road to this point.
The old heritage centre was destroyed by fire in 2006. At the time, police said the fire was likely deliberately set. The society also thinks it was an arson attack and it destroyed the building, library, computers, valuable genealogical data, planning documents, as well as furniture and furnishings.
"We had worked so long and so hard to get that little building and here we were. We thought we were going to move ahead and we had maybe five steps backward,” said Cox.
The community rallied, raising $2.3 million in a year and a half.
"And it was amazing, the support we received all across the province of Nova Scotia,” she said.
The centre will be the first of its kind in North America. It will present the black Loyalists’ journey as they fled revolutionary America to British Nova Scotia to build a better life during the 1700s.
For a time, Birchtown was the biggest free black settlement outside of Africa.
Many left for Sierra Leone, but a core group stayed in Nova Scotia.
Some of the early settlers are buried in an unmarked cemetery outside of Birchtown. Their story will be told through public education programs, presentations, and year-round events for visitors of all ages.
The new brick and steel building will repel fire.
"The turret is a round feature that is symbolic of African huts. There's going to be a lot of stone features in the building, which is Birchtown. When you go into the building, there's going to be a wall that sweeps through the building. That's the journey of the black Loyalists."
The building should be done by October. The new museum will open in the spring.