Nova Scotia

Segregation 'even after death' for African Nova Scotians, researcher says

As recently as 50 years ago, black people were not allowed to be buried alongside the general population in some Nova Scotia cemeteries, says a researcher of African Nova Scotian history.

Black people who died were relegated to outskirts of cemeteries, or not allowed in at all

This headstone was found in a forgotten African Nova Scotian cemetery in Granville Ferry, N.S. (Tony Colaiacovo)

A researcher of African Nova Scotian history says shocking examples of systemic racism can be found in the histories of the province's cemeteries, where "even after death, there was segregation."

As recently as five decades ago, black people were not allowed to be buried alongside the general population in some Nova Scotia cemeteries, said Tony Colaiacovo, a publishing consultant with the Delmore "Buddy" Daye Learning Institute. 

In most cemeteries, black people were buried on the outskirts of the property, he said. In some cases, they were excluded entirely.

"There are many, many examples of systemic racism," Colaiacovo told CBC's Information Morning. "And where people are buried is actually one of them."

Black people were relegated to the outskirts of Camp Hill cemetery in Halifax. (Tony Colaiacovo)

In the St. Croix cemetery near Windsor, Colaiacovo said there was a bylaw in place until the late 1960s that prevented black people from being buried there.

A story printed Oct. 11, 1968 in The Globe and Mail spoke of a three-year-old black girl who died and was refused a plot at St. Croix because of the bylaw, which had been in place since 1907.

The bylaw was rescinded weeks later after outcry from the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 

Viola Desmond an exception

At the Camp Hill Cemetery, at the corner of Robie Street and Veterans Memorial Lane in downtown Halifax, the black community was relegated to an area "described as N Hill," said Colaiacovo, "which was quite shocking."

There was one exception to that rule, he said. 

An exception was made for Viola Desmond's grave, located in the centre of the Camp Hill cemetery. (Tony Colaiacovo)

Viola Desmond — who is soon to become the new face of Canada's $10 bill — is buried in the Davis family plot almost at the centre of the cemetery.

Colaiacovo said he thinks that's because her family was "solidly middle class, which really wasn't the norm."

In some cases, African Nova Scotian graves are being destroyed, Tony Colaiacovo says. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

Headstones plowed under

In some cases, black communities had their own cemeteries located next to community churches, said Colaiacovo.

He said the original cemetery next to the Tracadie United Baptist Church in Monastery "was literally plowed over by a developer ... including all the headstones" in the late 1960s.

African Nova Scotian families could not always afford grave markers, which makes their history even harder to document, said Colaiacovo.

In some cases, African Nova Scotian families could not afford headstones, which makes that history even harder to document. (Tony Colaiacovo)

With files from the CBC's Information Morning