Black Loyalists Heritage Centre chronicles turbulent history

A new Nova Scotia museum hopes to inspire East Coasters to remember part of their history, and think about it differently.

The impressive new museum opened this month. It tells the story of the Black Loyalists

An exterior view of the new Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, about a 10-minute drive from Shelburne, N.S. (CBC)

The root word of museum is muse, and it means to think, to remember.

A new Nova Scotia museum hopes to inspire East Coasters to remember part of their history, and think about it differently.

The Black Loyalists Heritage Centre and Historical Site first opened in the late 1980s. But someone burned it down in 2006.

The impressive new museum opened this month. It tells the story of the Black Loyalists.

It starts with the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s. Any slave who abandoned her American master was offered a free future behind British lines.

The Black Loyalists were people who embraced this offer and escaped slavery to seek a better life in Nova Scotia. But life in Nova Scotia was not much better.

After just a few years, some of the Black Loyalists began organizing another migration — this time back to Africa, to the enticingly named Freetown in Sierra Leone.

We'll meet the descendents of those who stayed in Nova Scotia. On Atlantic Voice, we'll join Haley Cox, a descendent of Black Loyalists, sailing aboard the Amistad to Freetown in 2008.

We'll learn why Beverly Cox — her mother and the site manager of the new museum — thinks the time is ripe for all Maritimers to embrace Black Loyalist history as part of the collective story.

Midway through the documentary, we'll detour to Queen's University.

Ian McKay, a history professor and the author of In the Province of History: The making of the public past in 20th century Nova Scotia, will show us that it's happened twice before.

Nova Scotia had all but forgotten about the Acadian Expulsion when a smash-hit poem compelled a generation of Americans to visit the Land of Evangeline.

The province quickly created that half-fictional landscape.

We'll also discover how that most Nova Scotian of identities — the Scottish Highlanders — largely came about as a result of a government-driven tourism campaign from the 1930s.

Could the same thing happen today with African Nova Scotian history? Lawrence Hill's smash-hit novel, The Book of Negroes, drew international attention to Birchtown and the Black Loyalists.

A new CBC TV series told that story to Canadians. Do you think the new Black Loyalists museum could become the new Grand Pré?

Listen to the documentary, and then share your thoughts below.


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