History of struggle focus of new Black Loyalist Heritage Centre

Amy Woolvett
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Museum to host official opening with celebration on June 6

BIRCHTOWN -Years of fierce struggle and dedication to keep and share the memory and history of the journey of the Black Loyalists will be celebrated with the grand opening of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre next month.

A significant addition to the Nova Scotia museum family and a part of Canadian history, people from across the province and beyond will be coming to Birchtown to mark the museum’s official opening on Saturday, June 6 with celebration through music and a recounting of history. 

“We view the opening as a universal invitation to people all over the world to visit the centre and participate in this celebration of community and equality,” said the BLHC’s manager Beverly Cox.

Cox said visitors would come from far and wide to experience what people are calling the journey back to Birchtown.

The days celebrations will include performances by Juno award-winner JRDN, Jeremiah Sparks, Dutch Robinson, Shelley Hamilton, Cyndi Cain, Joe Sealy, the Nova Scotia Mass Choir, Shauntay Grant, Hillcrest Academy Djembe Drumming Group and much more.  The program will also feature John Franklin of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and the Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill.

Hill will also be broadcasting Live at 5 at the centre on June 5, an event open to the public as a part of a live studio audience.  Afterwards there will be a 7 p.m. ticketed event with Lawrence Hill and a Q and A about the book.

On June 6 there will be public tours of the museum in the morning only and the celebrations will begin rain or shine from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

A procession will start the event and those who participate will march with drummers, choirs, dignitaries, families, black leaders and black RCMP members from the burial ground to the stage area.

“The new centre beautifully captures our history and fills a gap in a story too few of us have known,” said minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage Tony Ince.  “Birchtown is a treasured centre for freedom throughout the entire African Diaspora, and I know that it will soon become a draw for visitors from all over the world.”

In 1783, over 3,000 Black Loyalists migrated from New York to Birchtown in search of freedom.  Port Roseway was the first landing site of the Loyalist fleet that carried 936 free blacks.

Eight years after their arrival, having struggled against harsh conditions and further discrimination, many of the Black Loyalists relocated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone.  They became known in Sierra Leone as the Nova Scotian settlers and were integral to the creation of a new nation by establishing Freetown.

Those who remained in Nova Scotia persevered and developed their own communities, churches and unique culture.  They have gained international attention for their achievements and role in the civil rights movement in Canada.


Community planning

Eyra Abraham, tourism and events coordinator, said the community should think ahead on how to accommodate the influx of people for that weekend.

She said many of the area’s accommodations are already fully booked for the opening weekend.

“People will be driving from Halifax and will want to get something to eat before and after the event,” she said.

She said restaurants should be prepared for a lot more volume than what they are used to.

The event is being heavily promoted for the weekend including a commercial that will air on CTV from May 11 to June 15 as well as a radio ad.  Watch the commercial here.

“It’s better to be prepared than surprised,” said Abraham.

She said she has been hearing talk from other provinces as well, as it is viewed not only has a Nova Scotian story but a Canadian story.

“There is going to be a lot of interest,” said Abraham.

The weekend will also be the same weekend a the Shelburne County Lobster Festival.  Anyone wanting to invite out of town visitors to their lobster event only need to tweet on Twitter using the hashtag #JourneyBacktoBirchtown.

People are being asked to take pride in their community and give a great first impression so visitors will want to come back and explore further.

Cox said there are bus tours from June 5 to 7 coming from as far away as Texas.

People are also being asked not to drive to Birchtown for the opening.  Instead, there will be a shuttle bus available that day at the community centre in Shelburne going back and forth into Birchtown.

“Remember that everyone in the community is an ambassador,” said Abraham.  “We will need to be at our best as the world learns about our unique history.”

Organizations: Nova Scotia museum, Hillcrest Academy, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History RCMP CTV

Geographic location: Birchtown, Lawrence Hill, Nova Scotia Sierra Leone New York Shelburne County Freetown Canada Halifax Texas

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