Black community centre in Digby County gets $3M boost from province
Project needed more money after cost ballooned during the pandemic
A community centre imagined more than a decade ago by a Black community group in Digby County is one big step closer to reality with an injection of $3 million from the provincial government.
Now, with about $9 million committed to the project, the first phase of the Jordantown-Acaciaville-Conway Betterment Association Center of Excellence could break ground as soon as this summer, said association president Kerry Johnson.
It will include a 250-seat community room, a preschool, an area for seniors, and eventually — after a second phase of construction — a gymnasium.
Johnson said the space will promote learning about the history and culture of the Black communities for which the association is named.
"Our history needs to be told. We've lived segregated since 1783.… We don't get the most high-paying jobs. Most folks who wanted to make a living moved to the city or across the country," he said.
"So what we want to be able to do is basically re-establish a community."
Open to everyone
The centre will be located in Acaciaville. Johnson estimates that Jordantown, Acaciaville and Conway have a combined population of 200 to 300 people.
However, the space will be open for everyone in the Digby area to use.
"I think it's time, in 2022, that we become part of the whole community in Digby County."
Johnson said the wider community is supportive of the project.
"Everybody is seeing and wanting change," Johnson said.
Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland said the centre will be an asset to the area, which is why his council has pitched in about $44,000 over the past four years.
"It addresses the injustices that have been ongoing for a long, long, long time, and gives [Black Nova Scotians] a facility they can be proud of, but it's also a facility that the community as a whole should be proud of."
Cleveland said existing community centres in Digby are often fully booked and he expects the new centre will be a welcome addition to the mix.
He's also expecting the space to draw tourists.
"A lot of people of Black heritage are now travelling and learning about their culture that they've missed out on for a long, long time. So this could be similar to maybe the [Black Loyalist Heritage Centre] in Shelburne."
Pandemic pushed constructions costs up
The association secured $5.56 million from the local, provincial and federal governments several years ago, but the pandemic put a stop to the centre's progress, and then construction costs ballooned.
Johnson said it would have been impossible to raise the funds to cover the shortfall without more government support. The increase in cost also precipitated the plan to build the centre in two phases.
The province announced the additional $3 million contribution on Friday. Johnson said it allows his group to open the construction project to bids. The association will be doing additional fundraising to pay for the second phase.
The association started designing the community centre following the 2011 settlement of a human rights complaint over anti-Black racism in Digby-area schools.
Johnson said that case reflected hundreds of years of racism and racial segregation, starting when Black loyalists first settled in the area in the 18th century.
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.
- An earlier version of this story said the centre would be build in Jordantown. It will be built in Acaciaville. The story has been updated.Mar 27, 2022 5:23 PM AT