Lack of 'Welcome' sign raises racism, land claim fears in North Preston
Lack of priority indication of 'blatantly obvious' systemic racism in Nova Scotia, says resident
If you drive down Lake Major Road into the historic black Nova Scotia community of North Preston, there's not a single municipal sign to welcome you.
But there's one that tells you when you leave.
The delay by the Halifax Regional Municipality in installing a "Welcome to North Preston" sign is infuriating some residents, who say it amounts to racism.
But it's also raising concerns about how the municipality delineates North Preston's boundaries and whether that has implications for the control of unclaimed land surrounding the community.
"Every other day there's somebody coming to me asking, 'What's happening in our community? How come we don't have a welcome sign?'" says Neville Provo, a community worker at the North Preston Recreation Centre.
'Blatantly obvious' systemic racism
After two years of planning, the municipality installed two sets of signposts on Lake Major Road late this summer. They were meant to display welcome signs indicating the boundaries of North Preston and Westphal.
The Westphal sign went up. The North Preston sign has not.
Dwight Adams, a resident of North Preston, says it's another indication of "blatantly obvious" systemic racism in Nova Scotia, and the city should move quickly to install the sign.
He also works with the North Preston Land Recovery Initiative and is worried the municipality is stalling in order to shift the community boundaries and "eat up the space that we live in."
The land recovery initiative is trying to help homeowners in North Preston who don't have clear title to land their black loyalist ancestors settled in the early 1800s.
Adams says there's also unclaimed land in North Preston that was granted to the community. If boundaries aren't clear, he says he's concerned the municipality could ultimately take control of it.
'People are really concerned'
Municipal spokesman Brendan Elliott says the boundaries are now fixed. He says a two-step consultation process began in 2009 during planning to move the boundaries.
Boundaries were set as a result of the municipality's "civic addressing corrections program," meant to clarify community names and addresses for efficient use by 911 first responders and Canada Post.
Maps detailing the proposed changes were mailed in 2012 to residents of North Preston and on Lake Major Road whose addresses would be affected. If no responses were received to contest the changes, the plans would be approved. The municipality says input was received from the North Preston Ratepayers Association and area councillor David Hendsbee.
The same program saw the community of Lake Major, including the homes and businesses along the one-kilometre road into North Preston, absorbed into Westphal.
Hendsbee says the changes and the sign delay have nothing to do with racism, but were simply the result of the civic addressing project.
"The communities were consulted, they had opportunities for input. The reports show the time and effort that was taken by the staff to get this input," he said.
'Ties with Africville'
Still, some say there are broader historical fears at play.
"You got to understand, a lot of our residents do have ties with Africville so we know what happened in the 1950s, and here we are in 2016, so we don't want those types of things to happen to our community because we're not going nowhere," said Provo.
Halifax bulldozed Africville, a historic black community on the Bedford Basin, in the 1960s. In 2010, Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly apologized for the injustice.
Provo and Adams say the municipality and Hendsbee, the councillor for Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore, didn't properly consult North Preston residents on the sign and boundary issue.
For his part, Hendsbee says he's frustrated with how long it's taken to install the sign, but he's satisfied with the amount of community consultation and says he's done all he can.
"The consultation has gone forth, the reports have already gone to regional council to clarify where those boundaries would be. So, my role as a municipal councillor has all been done in regards to these were the lines we determined, this is where they'll be set, this is where the signs shall go."
The municipality says the "Welcome to North Preston" sign has been made, but couldn't say when it will be installed.
The North Preston Land Recovery Initiative has drafted a petition to have the "Welcome to North Preston" sign installed immediately.