Nova Scotia

Atlantic Fringe Festival tells African Nova Scotian historical tales

Speaking In Tongues — African Nova Scotian Storytellers, debuting at this year's Atlantic Fringe Festival, showcases local stories.

Stories show 'an essence of who we are as a people,' says playwright

David Woods, creator of Speaking In Tongues – African Nova Scotian Storytellers, interviewed people over a decade to collect stories. (Supplied by David Woods)

Some Nova Scotian's stories that can't be found in books are being showcased in Halifax for the first time this week. 

Speaking In Tongues — African Nova Scotian Storytellers, debuting at the Atlantic Fringe Festival, tells a few of these tales, which play creator and artistic director David Woods spent over a decade collecting.

"Our stories come from experiences people have had, not only contemporary stories, but over time," Woods said before Sunday's first performance.

"That perhaps shows an essence of who we are as a people, and who we are as Nova Scotians." 

The legacy of Viola Desmond, right, who became a civil rights icon for her actions in the late 1940s, has been kept alive over the decades by her sister, Wanda, left. (Submitted by Wanda Robson)

'A lot there for us to share'

A man abandoned on a Halifax pier becomes the father of twins, who went on to be known as the Marble Mountain Maxwell brothers. The two spoke Gaelic and Mi'kmaq, but little English, and had great adventures. Their descendants still live in Whitney Pier.

A woman, after years of suffering, walks across Canada to cope with her grief. A matriarch from North Preston crashes a Catholic church service and converts the congregation. 

"There's a lot there for us to share in and to learn from and really enjoy as stories. We're not preachers, per se," Woods said.

"These are stories that you would enjoy on their own merit."

Civil rights icon's sister performs

Actors from across the province — from Shelburne to North Sydney — are performing, even Wanda Robson, the youngest sister of civil rights icon Viola Desmond.

At 89 years old, Robson may be the oldest actor to take the stage at the Atlantic Fringe Festival, Woods said.

Wanda Robson at a 2010 ceremony where the government of Nova Scotia apologized and granted a special pardon to her sister, the late Viola Desmond. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

'Widen the palate'

Her stories and others will be shared over the next week during the festival, rotating for each performance.

"They still reside in the oral culture, but they haven't been recorded. Part of Speaking in Tongues' mission is to sort of widen the palate of the stories that we share as a community," Woods said.

"I'm just glad to be a conduit to bringing them forward to the public."


Rachel Ward


Rachel Ward is a journalist with The Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at