Nova Scotia

Elizabeth Cromwell remembered as 'visionary' for preserving black N.S. history, culture

Elizabeth Cromwell, who helped found the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, N.S., has died. She was 75. The Order of Canada recipient served on the Black Loyalist Heritage Society's board until her death.

Cromwell was a member of the Order of Canada, Order of Nova Scotia

Elizabeth Cromwell, the founding president of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, has died. She was instrumental in getting the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, N.S., built. (CBC)

Many Nova Scotians are mourning the death of Elizabeth Cromwell, the matriarch and heartbeat of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, N.S.

Cromwell, who died in hospital on Oct. 2, was 75.

"I do believe that we in Nova Scotia have lost a really great visionary, but also as someone who passionately, and continued right up until she passed, believed in blacks in Nova Scotia, the broader black community across Canada and that we all have a voice," said Cynthia Dorrington, the site manager of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre.

Cromwell was the founding president of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society and served on its board as vice-president right up until her death. She helped establish the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, which acts as a hub of Black Loyalist history in Nova Scotia.

In the 1780s, Birchtown was the largest free black community in British North America with over 3,000 settlers.

Elizabeth Cromwell, left, was appointed to the Order of Canada as a member in 2017. (CBC)

Dorrington said the most valuable lesson Cromwell taught her was to have a vision and to surround herself with people who have the same vision.

"She was still serving because she believed our community can be a better community, as long as we can continue moving forward," Dorrington said.

In 2017, Cromwell was appointed to the Order of Canada as a member for her contributions in preserving black heritage and education in Nova Scotia. She was also honoured with the Order of Nova Scotia, the province's highest award.

According to Cromwell's online obituary, she was a retired social worker who spent her career in Shelburne. She worked tirelessly for her community and served on the board of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia.

Many accolades

Cromwell's other accolades included being awarded the Canada 125 medal, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and two honorary degrees.

Craig Smith is president of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia. He said Cromwell's contributions, which resulted in a new centre opening in 2015 after the former one burned down, had an impact provincially and nationally.

Cynthia Dorrington, site manager for the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, calls Elizabeth Cromwell a great visionary for her work in preserving black history and culture. (Submitted by Cynthia Dorrington)

"There's no question that the Loyalist centre, that Lawrence Hill's book, The Book of Negroes, in telling the story of the Black Loyalists … raised the profile of who the Black Loyalists were internationally, really," Smith said.

He spoke to Cromwell last month for a book he's working on that recognizes black people from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick who have been Order of Canada recipients or provincial order recipients.

"She'd said she'd had surgery and it was going to be a long road back," Smith said.

Cromwell is survived by four sons and one daughter. A celebration of life for Cromwell will be held at a later date.

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

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