Membertou First Nation to commemorate its ancestral home

The people of Membertou First Nation will celebrate their community with a ceremony on the Sydney waterfront commemorating the place where Mi'kmaq people made their home for centuries.

Reserve relocated in the 1920s to following legal battle

Sister Dorothy Moore and Chief Terry Paul at the new monument to remember those who lived on the Kings Road Reserve. (George Mortimer/CBC)

The people of Membertou First Nation will celebrate their community's history Sunday.

A ceremony will be held along the Sydney waterfront at 5 p.m. to commemorate the place where Mi'kmaq people made their home for centuries.

The Exchequer Court of Canada ordered them off the land in 1916 at the end of a lengthy court case.

"When the steel boom was in full force, there were a tonne of people moving into Sydney," said Membertou senior adviser Dan Christmas. "A residential area was beginning to develop around the Kings Road reserve.

"One of the property owners, Joseph Alexander Gillies, became a very strong voice about having the community relocated. He argued the community was driving down property prices."

An old photo of the Kings Road reserve, circa 1900. (National Archives of Canada)

Court-ordered move

The court was convinced in 1915 to conduct a judicial review, and the following year ordered the relocation.

The band was moved in 1926 to a site on a hilltop overlooking Sydney Harbour, when Christmas's grandfather was chief.

The site of the former reserve is now home to a medical office building, where the commemoration ceremony will begin.

"We're going to have an open house," Christmas said. "We have a number of displays about what the community looked like back then."

Christmas says there was an Indian day school at the old Kings Road Reserve before it moved to Membertou in 1926, and it stayed in Membertou until the early 1960s. (National Archives of Canada)

Membertou Chief Terry Paul will unveil a monument bearing the names of the families affected by the relocation.

At the conclusion of the Kings Road ceremony, there will be a candlelight walk to the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.

"Sunday night, it's a celebration and reconciliation to bring people together and to remember our ancestors," said Jeff Ward, the manager of Membertou Heritage Park.

"It's very symbolic," he said. "We're bringing our ancestors home." 

A display depicting the history of the Kings Road reserve and the creation of the new community of Membertou has been installed at the park.