Nova Scotia

Former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children to be transformed. But what of its past?

Former residents say they have many questions about how the darker aspects of the building's history will be preserved as it's transformed into a beauty salon, office space and art studio.

$1.2M will update building to code so it can become a business incubator

Renovations to the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children will include structural supports, siding and a roof. (CBC)

The former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children building is undergoing a $1.2-million renovation designed to turn it into a business incubator — but former residents say they have many questions about how the darker aspects of the building's history will be preserved.

The building in Cherry Brook, N.S., was built in 1921 and has been empty for many years. Former residents received an apology from the province in 2014 for physical, psychological and sexual abuse by staff that occurred there over a 50-year period. 

The building is owned by Akoma Holdings, the organization that runs the Akoma Family Centre. Akoma runs a residential-care home for children between the ages of 12 and 16. 

Akoma board member David Hendsbee says the organization is in the middle of renovations to turn the building into an "inter-generational service centre." 

Bringing income to Akoma

Hendsbee says talks have started with some potential tenants, and the building will contain a restaurant, beauty salon, seniors drop-in centre, art studio and office space. The target opening date is in September 2019, and the goal is to bring income to Akoma and "to better utilize" its assets. 

David Hendsbee is an Akoma board member and Halifax councillor. (CBC)

"We had our annual general meeting just last week and had great interest and great turnout at the meeting," Hendsbee said Monday.

"People want to know what's going on. When people start seeing the shingles being lifted and new windows being put in people started asking what's going on. And we're saying the old home is going to get a new birth." 

Listening to Voices

Some of the people who lived there are uneasy with the restoration project.

"We have heard a lot of things: people want it to be destroyed, they're ashamed of it," said Tony Smith, the spokesperson for an association of former residents called Voices. "Other people want the building to stand, because they don't want people to forget what happened to us."

Tony Smith says he hasn't received much information about the renovation. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Smith is also a co-chair of the council leading the restorative inquiry into the abuse that happened to residents of the home. 

"I don't think the public has been that much involved in the decision-making process," Smith said. He said he's interacted with Akoma officials but hasn't received much information about the home renovation. 

"That's the only concern I have, is that I want to make sure that whatever does happen, it's in sync with why the home came to light in the first place, and why the black community got the land, and that's to serve the black community."

'Still working' on addressing the past 

Hendsbee, who's also a city councillor, said there will be an acknowledgement of the home's history, but couldn't say yet what that will look like. 

"We plan to have some acknowledgement of the past, what the old facility was. So we're planning to look at that as maybe some of the work on the inside, some pictures of the old home and some history. We're still working on that information," he said. 

Renovations include bringing the building up to code by putting in metal beams to bear more structural weight, installing metal siding on exterior walls and adding a metal roof.

The building also needed an on-site septic system, a new parking lot and extensive upgrades to electrical and mechanical systems.

The cost is being covered by funding of $250,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, $25,000 from the municipality and $10,000 from the province. Akoma will finance the rest.

Read more stories at CBC Nova Scotia