Nova Scotia

Historic Black church to reopen in Halifax soon after years of renovations

The government of Nova Scotia is investing $1.7M into the Richard Preston Centre of Excellence, which is the non-profit arm of the New Horizons Baptist Church.

New provincial funding of $1.7M will help finish expansion, support programs

Rev. Rhonda Britton is the pastor of New Horizons Baptist Church in Halifax. She says the $1.7M from the province will help finish the building's lengthy renovations and allow for more community programs. (CBC)

A historic church and African Nova Scotian community hub will reopen this summer in Halifax after a final push from the province.

The government of Nova Scotia is investing $1.7 million into the Richard Preston Centre of Excellence, which is the non-profit arm of the New Horizons Baptist Church.

Rev. Rhonda Britton, pastor of New Horizons, said she's been waiting a long time for someone to listen to her pleas for support.

"Years, years of trying to be heard and thinking that, you know, people just don't care, government doesn't care," Britton said Wednesday after the funding announcement at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library.

"It's just exciting for us. It means that we can be who we think we're supposed to be in terms of serving our community."

The money will go to social programs and help finish the church renovations, which have been ongoing for the past four years. 

The original church, which is a heritage property, remains on Cornwallis Street, while the adjoining office space was torn down and replaced with a new one. The expansion includes classrooms, a technology room, a library, a kitchen and community space with large windows overlooking the street.

The church traces its origins to 1832.

New Horizons Baptist Church on Cornwallis Street in Halifax is expected to reopen after renovations by July 2022. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

A lift will be installed outside to bring people into the sanctuary from the old front door, as well as an internal elevator to bring people to any floor.

Britton said moving into the updated space will be "uplifting" for the whole congregation and larger community, since they've had years of hopping from one church to another. They had to move out of their former temporary home in Northwood's long-term care centre during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pat Dunn, the province's minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, told reporters he was "elated" to make Wednesday's announcement.

"The work that they have done over the past, and the opportunity they're going to have going into the future, gives you a pretty warm feeling," Dunn said.

Pat Dunn, minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, speaks with reporters after Wednesday's announcement at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library. (CBC)

There was some community concern when Dunn, a white man, was appointed last year to lead the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs. Britton said the issue was never about Dunn as a person — rather the need to have Black representation in that office.

Having associate deputy minister Dwayne Provo bring that aspect has been vital, Britton said, adding that Provo was a key advocate for the project.

In his remarks Wednesday, Provo said one of his top priorities in the role has been increasing communication so the African Nova Scotian community knows what the office is working on and how it is trying to serve them.

"This is fundamental for the prosperity and growth of our communities, but also our province," Provo said.

Dwayne Provo, associate deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, speaks during a provincial funding announcement for the Richard Preston Centre of Excellence. (CBC)

Britton said the funding has lifted a weight from her shoulders, since they have been looking for the last million to finish their overall $3.8-million expansion since the fall.

They ran into various problems during the build, including a buried oil tank, roof collapse, and laying new water and sewer lines.

Britton said they hope to open the doors this July. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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