Nova Scotia

An exploration of Black communities around Nova Scotia

A profile of four different African Nova Scotian communities across Nova Scotia and their historical significance.

Kings County, Digby County, Guysborough County and Cape Breton all have connections

Geraldine Browning lives in Gibson Woods, named after George Gibson, who was a Black Loyalist. (Submitted by Tony Colaiacovo)

CBC Radio's Information Morning explored the history and makeup of African Nova Scotian communities outside Halifax. 

Tony Colaiacovo, a writer and publishing consultant working with the Delmore "Buddy" Daye Learning Institute, was consulted for the project. 

Here are four communities that were highlighted:

Pine Woods and Gibson Woods

Gibson Woods Church is a black Baptist church. (Submitted by Tony Colaiacovo)

Pine Woods and Gibson Woods are north of Kentville in Kings County. Gibson Woods was founded by George Gibson, a Black Loyalist. In 1802 or 1803, he paid £40 for 40 acres of land, an "enormous sum" for the time, notes Colaiacovo.

Dinah Powell and Chloe Landsey founded Pine Woods at the turn of the 19th century. The sisters had been slaves of Benjamin Belcher, a planter from New England.

The planter slaves actually pre-date the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. When Belcher died in 1804, it's unclear if the sisters were set free or if they walked away.

"Walking away from slavery was endemic at the turn of the 19th century in Nova Scotia because Britain had gone from being the largest slave-trading nation on earth 20 years prior to enforcing anti-slave laws," said Colaiacovo.

There is some evidence of the history of Pine Woods, where Camp Aldershot is now, including Lanzy road named after Chloe Landsey.

The two communities were closely connected, according to Geraldine Browning, who lives in Gibson Woods, is a community historian in Centreville and director of the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association,

"There used to be a little bridge, called Gentleman's bridge, that divided them," she said. "When I first moved to the area in the 1960s it was gone, but that's where they say the people used to meet for dates on Gentleman's Bridge."

Jordantown, Conway and Acaciaville, Digby County

This newspaper clipping is from The Times of African Nova Scotians, Volume Two, printed by the Delmore "Buddy" Daye Learning Institute.

When the Black Loyalists first settled in the area their community was called Brindley Town. Most noteworthy of them was Thomas Peters, who eventually led many Black Loyalists to Sierra Leone.

While grants were being handed out to whites in other parts of the province, far fewer were going to Black people in places like Brindley Town. Peters got so fed up waiting for their land grants, he traveled to England and petitioned the King directly.

As a result, Peters led a third of the Black Loyalists out of Nova Scotia, and that significantly depopulated Brindley Town. But there were waves of subsequent Black immigration, especially in the Annapolis Valley.

Brad Barton, a retired educator who was appointed to the Order of Canada, was born and raised in Jordantown. 

"The thing I remember growing up in the Digby-area is the resilience of our community," he said. "A number of people, even though they have left the area to go for employment elsewhere, most of them come back to Digby for various events throughout the year.

"We went through a lot of things while growing up: segregation, being isolated. But we were still proud of who we were and in our small communities we did a lot of things together, directed by the parents and the community, so we were a unit.

"The challenge came as we students moved from a segregated school environment to an integrated school environment. The positive thing about a segregated school environment was we had everyone from our small community, all the same.

"We felt together and relaxed. And then I remember going in from Grade 6 to Grade 7, we had to write exams at the integrated junior high school, and I remember going into the room and only seeing a sea of white faces. And it was hard for a lot of our learners to make that transition.

"To make a long story short, there were many situations that happened in the school system in Digby, and in our community we were very persistent and sure that we should move forward to make sure all our students had opportunities to reach their full potential."

Louisbourg, slavery on Cape Breton

There are outdoor interpretive panels commemorating the black experience at Louisbourg. (

Approximately 277 Black slaves were brought in during the French regime at Louisbourg, and at any one point no more than three percent of the population would have been enslaved, according to Ken Donovan, a retired Parks Canada historian.

One of the most notable Black residents at the time was Marie Margurite Rose.

Rose was bought by Louisbourg naval officer Jean Loppinot in 1736 and worked for his family for 19 years, bringing up his 12 children. After she was freed, she married a Mi'kmaq hunter. The couple ran a tavern.

"Piecing together Marie Margurite Rose's life meant digging through the documents," Donovan said. "There were almost a million pages of documents from that time, so you just keep picking away."

There are outdoor, interpretive panels commemorating the Black experience at Louisbourg.

"The people bringing up Black slaves from the West Indies are merchants, the local elite," said Colaiacovo. "One point about these enslaved Africans ... these were multilingual individuals capable of carrying on all of the trades and skills to keep Louisbourg going.

"And if it wasn't for these enslaved Africans then Louisbourg wouldn't have thrived the way it did. These were people of agency and skills that were essential to the colony." 

Meadowbrook Hill, Monastery, Upper Big Tracadie, Lincolnville and Sunnyville, Guysborough County

The church at Tracadie is one of the oldest black churches in Nova Scotia.

The first Black residents in Guysborough County were originally Black Loyalists who arrived from New York in 1783, according to Colaiacovo.

About 600 were at first settled in Port Mouton in Queens County. The following year the settlement in Port Mouton burned down and all the Black Loyalists were relocated to Guysborough County.

There they established Tracadie, Lincolnville, Sunnyville, Boylston, Mulgrave and other spots. They started to petition for their land.

A few years later 73 Guysborough Black families received 3,000 acres of land from the government. Essentially, they each received 40 acres and a sheep, said Colaiacovo. In 1799, the government re-granted those original grants, mostly to white settlers.

"I grew up in Meadowbrook Hill, just outside of Mulgrave," said Sylvia Parris, CEO of the Delmore "Buddy" Daye Learning Institute. 

"Lots of family and relatives and kinship, lots of good memories growing up there in that neighbourhood. There was definitely a sense of a community of Black communities in Guysborough in multiple aspects.

"While it would have been a bit challenging to get around in those days in terms of travel, there definitely was this larger thinking that we're not just this geographically a Black community, we're culturally a Black community." 

The No. 2 Construction Battalion was an African-Nova Scotia unit in the Canadian Army that was largely made up of Black men from Guysborough County. They were not welcomed in the armed forces and had to battle to be included in the World War 1 effort.