Nova Scotia

Home for Colored Children site gets council OK for redevelopment plan

Halifax regional council approved the rezoning for part of the property where the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is located after a public hearing on Tuesday.

About a dozen people spoke in favour of proposal at public hearing

The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children building is shown in 2016. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Halifax regional council approved the rezoning for part of the property where the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is located after a public hearing on Tuesday.

The 129 hectares in Dartmouth is now owned by Akoma Holdings. It asked to change the designation of 28 hectares adjacent to Highway 7 from urban reserve to rural commuter to allow redevelopment to take place. The group also asked to have water and sewer extended to the site.

Shelley Fashan, a member of Akoma's property committee, told council the plans include a community centre, commercial space and a mix of housing that benefits African Nova Scotians.

"This will enable us to restore the old home building that will eventually host a variety of programs and services," said Fashan. "Other possible developments, based on community input, could include a senior's complex and a long-term care facility."

Another Akoma board member, Spencer Colley, said Broom Lake and other wetlands located on the property will be protected.

"More than 60 per cent of the property will be retained as green space with trails," said Colley.

'This is a big deal'

The Home for Colored Children, which opened in 1921 and closed in the 1980s, was the subject of a recent multi-year inquiry into abuse at the orphanage for Black children.

About a dozen people spoke in favour of the development proposal at Tuesday's public hearing.

"This is a big deal," said Yvonne Atwell. "It is so important for us to take the lead in housing and employment."

Rustum Southwell said this was a move "too long in the making." And Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard said "economic development is economic justice."

Two members of Voices, a group that represents people who were abused at the former home as children, asked councillors to delay voting on the proposal.

Tony Smith and Gerald Morrison suggested not enough consultation with African Nova Scotian communities across the province had taken place. They also questioned Akoma's ownership of the property, pointing to provincial legislation of 1915 that put the property in the hands of African Nova Scotians.

But municipal planner Stephanie Salloum told councillors that information about the proposal had been sent to Black communities across Nova Scotia and people outside Halifax had asked questions and sent in comments. Shalloum also said planners had checked and Akoma Holdings is the legal owner of the land.

Trauma of the past

Coun. Becky Kent said she recognized that this is a "complex field having to navigate the trauma of the past," but added that she was happy to support the proposal.

Coun. Trish Purdy represents the district where the property is located. "I was told to trust the process and focus on the facts," said Purdy. "And I see the benefits of this development project."

Coun. Iona Stoddard said the proposal was a "way to move forward" and "mend hurt feelings" by making a better place for everyone.

Regional council voted unanimously in favour of the rezoning and the water extension. Akoma Holdings now has to complete a traffic study and apply for a development permit.

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.