Former Nova Scotia orphanage for Black children marks 100th anniversary

Click to play video: 'Rebuild of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children nearly complete' Rebuild of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children nearly complete
NS Home for Colored Children opened its doors a century ago – Jun 6, 2021

The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is marking its 100th anniversary of first opening its doors on June 6, 1921.

To mark the centennial anniversary, a committee had hoped to do so with an open house, but pandemic safety measures don’t allow it.

Read more: From stories of racism and suffering, inquiry crafts call for fundamental change

Shelley Fashan, co-chair of the 100th-anniversary committee, said they did the next best thing and planned a virtual celebration.

“The pandemic has just reshaped the whole world, including our world,” said Fashan.

The 100th anniversary was also to coincide with an open house and unveiling of a replica home, rebuilt in the place of the former orphanage, but the pandemic has impacted the construction timeline and the rebuilding of the home is not quite finished yet.

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A virtual ceremony got underway at 2 p.m. Sunday with performances by local artists and included remarks from local dignitaries and community members who said it was important to commemorate the event, even if the pandemic guidelines wouldn’t allow people on-site.

“It’s important to the history of Nova Scotia,” said Fashan. “So we are really happy with what we have put together.”

Click to play video: 'Restorative inquiry into N.S. Home for Colored Children released' Restorative inquiry into N.S. Home for Colored Children released
Restorative inquiry into N.S. Home for Colored Children released – Nov 28, 2019

The NSHCC first opened as an orphanage to support Black children who were not allowed in white institutions and was celebrated by the community when the doors officially opened.

“You picture 100 years ago, 3,000 Black people, meeting for one exciting thing and that, at that time, was big,” said Spencer Colley, a board member of AKOMA who is rebuilding the former orphanage. “It’s important because the Black kids, coloured kids, as we said back then weren’t allowed in any other orphanages, and so they built their own.”

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The orphanage closed in the 1980s when stories from former residents began to emerge of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, shedding some light on the racism and racial segregation that existed at the time, prompting lawsuits, a settlement, and apologies.

In 2014, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil apologized on behalf of the government for the systemic racism that forced Black youth to be segregated to the former orphanage.

In 2019, a restorative inquiry into the abuse at the home was released in a 600-page report and helped validate the stories of the survivors. McNeil offered another apology to the African Nova Scotian community.

Read more: Virtual reality teaching about N.S. group home abuse transforms shame into respect

Colley feels like the work that was completed in the restorative inquiry and the groundwork at the former site is paving a new way forward for the Black community.

“Things have happened and not everything ran smooth in the later years, but we have to move on and try to make a difference,” said Colley. “It’s not just here it happened, it happened in all institutions of its type.”

Colley says the new home will operate as a community centre and hub for all generations in the community, and believes this development can help lead to the creation of an Afrocentric community.

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“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Fashan. “I know that there is so much opportunity that is yet to be realized and I just can’t wait, I am so excited.”

The 100th-anniversary virtual celebration can be viewed online here. Organizers say it will remain online for those who didn’t have the chance to view it Sunday.

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