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Wayne Desmond: Whose shoulders I stand on – New Glasgow’s rich Black heritage

Dr. Carrie Best. Photo via Chronicle Herald

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – While attending the former Temperance Street School, I remember playing the African drum, reading skits and singing The Black National Anthem. I remember our African Nova Scotian student support worker teaching us to embrace our heritage and Blackness. As she would say, “Black is Beautiful”. From that point on, I knew that my people came from greatness. 

We often learned about the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ms. Rosa Parks, Malcom X, and other well-known historical figures, but seldom did we hear about Canadian born activists and trailblazers, let alone ones from Nova Scotia. It was not until later that I began researching the unsung heroes that hailed from my own community in New Glasgow. 

Dr. Carrie Best was the co-founder of “The Clarion”, one of the first newspapers in Nova Scotia owned and published by Black Canadians. She used it to fight for the rights of Black people. Dr. Best became a well-known human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher, broadcaster and recipient of the Order of Canada and Order of Nova Scotia awards. In February of 2011, Canada Post featured Dr. Best on a stamp for her strong voice and commitment to fighting against racial inequality. 

Ms. Cherry Paris was the first Black school teacher in New Glasgow. Ms. Paris also worked for an organization called the Black United Front and served as Deacon at Second United Baptist Church. (Jackson Productions, Saltscapes)

Ms. Berma Marshall, former educator at Temperance Street School Elementary for 33 years. Ms. Marshall became one of the first Black Teachers in New Glasgow. Her passion and love for her students has left a footprint in many of their hearts. (Rosalie MAcEachern, Saltscapes)

Mr. Francis Dorrington, the first Black Councilor in the Town of New Glasgow to serve Ward One and served as the first African Nova Scotian Deputy Mayor of New Glasgow. Mr. Dorrington served as the Executive of the Nova Scotia School Board, and to serve as a Director of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. He is a recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia in 2019. (Photo NS Government)

Jocelyn Dorrington. Photo Photo Brendan Ahern, Saltwire

Ms. Jocelyn Dorrington, the daughter of Francis, was a schoolteacher and held various administrative positions with the School Board, Black Education Association and African Canadian Services Division of the Department of Nova Scotia. More recently, Ms. Dorrington has became the first woman of African Nova Scotian ancestry to become a councillor. 

Mr. Russell Paris and Mrs. Annie Paris ran the first Black owned and operated grocery store that served the Black Community. 

Mrs. Isabel Izzard was a businesswoman who was co-owner and operator of Izzard’s Grocery store located off the Vale Road in New Glasgow for over 50 years. Mrs. Izzard’s grocery store served the Black community and allowed individuals in the community to run “tabs” until payday, so that they did not have to go without the basic essentials. 

Mr. Henderson Paris started the Run Against Racism here in Pictou County. As well, for 16 years he was a councilor in New Galsgow. 

Outside of people, I recall hearing the stories of the Coloured Wonders, which was well known in local sports leagues. 

The New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming started in 1990, with the help and support of the community. The Homecoming has been running for 30 years, although 2020 we were not able to reunite due to the Coronavirus. The Homecoming is a celebration that renews acquaintances and carries on the legacy of the Black Community for generations to come. 

In 1990 there was the creation of the Africentric Heritage Park with the unveiling of the monument with the inscription “Blood, Sweat & Tears”. Later a large structure was placed in the park, which my generation called “The Pyramid”. 

The Black Community of New Glasgow has been progressive and contributed to the greater Nova Scotia Black Community. Let their contributions and achievements be known. Because they did, I know I can. 

So, when I think about African Heritage month, I don’t just think about the famous Black icons that are celebrated. I think about the trailblazers of my hometown, whose shoulders I stand on. 

The hate that you gave, came from the exploitation of the Motherland and the people that inhabited it. 

The hate that you gave, enslaved countless kings and queens. 

The hate that you gave, brought us to cold Nova Scotia, where the deer did not play. 

The hate that you gave, sentenced us to generations of oppression and trauma. 

But if we allow the hate that you gave us to consume and discourage us, our legacy of Black History would not exist.

See also: Review: Jim Crow also lived here – Growing up Black in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

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  1. This was a great article Wayne and a good many black people in New Glasgow also contributed well. I think of Catherine Clark who I used to call to sit on the Appeal Board when I worked at Community Services for one. Her daughter Laura was in my grade in school. I knew and still know a lot of black people in our community and have been friends with them as long as I can remember. Colour does not influence me I take people as I find them. Keep up the good work Wayne. All the Best, Sheila Chisholm

  2. Growing up in Pictou County I do remember the ridicule young black men and women were subjected to during the sixties and seventies. While I never joined in, I knew early on in life that it was wrong. I could give many examples of where I saw and heard it but the people who set such a negative example know who they are. I was too afraid to speak up.

    I did grow up with a belief in equality and now I do speak up. I am sorry it took so long.

  3. She was my neighbour, my friend ,

    What a woman ! She did so much for everyone who came in contact with her! I love her to thi day

  4. I first got to know Mrs. Best, as I called her back in the mid sixties. I worked at Sobey’s West Side and was a young guy of 18. Somehow as time went by I would end up carrying her groceries out to her car more than anyone else. She had an air about her that I liked and we would talk each time I carried her groceries out over the years. She was a Classy Lady, but I picked up a vibe from her that said “ Don’t Cross Me.”

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