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‘Canada’s best-kept secret’: N.S. cultural center says many unaware of slavery here

Click to play video: 'Emancipation Day celebrations getting ready to take place across N.S.' Emancipation Day celebrations getting ready to take place across N.S.
Emancipation Day celebrations are going to take place across Nova Scotia. Reporter Amber Fryday was at the Black Cultural Centre where she learned about slavery in Nova Scotia and the effects still felt today. – Jul 30, 2021

Most Black people brought to Nova Scotia between 1749 and 1782 were slaves of English or American settlers. Of the nearly 3,000 inhabitants of Halifax in 1750, around 400 were enslaved people.

The executive of the Black Cultural Centre, Russell Grosse, said it’s “Canada’s best-kept secret.”

“A lot of people feel that slavery is something that only occurred south of the border. There is evidence and research that shows that there was slavery right here in the Maritimes. Here in Halifax, Nova Scotia,” said Grosse.

“We live in a more diverse world today. So, having a greater understanding of that past hurt helps us be better people today,” he added.

Read more: The history of Canadian slavery goes back 400 years, except we’re blind to it

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Nova Scotia observes Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day, recognizing the anniversary of the abolishment of slavery across the British Empire. Ceremonies in the province began with a virtual launch event that was held Wednesday.

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which took effect on Aug. 1, 1834, legislated the official end of the enslavement of about 800,000 people of African descent throughout the British colonies. However, slavery unofficially continued in some colonies beyond this date.

On April 21, 2021, the Province of Nova Scotia voted unanimously to designate August 1 as Emancipation Day.

According to the Emancipation Day website, the day is important because it allows “all Canadians to acknowledge and hold open discussions about our shared history of the enslavement of people of African ancestry here in Canada.”

Click to play video: 'Black N.S. election candidate’s signs burned in Truro' Black N.S. election candidate’s signs burned in Truro
Black N.S. election candidate’s signs burned in Truro – Jul 26, 2021

Grosse said it’s also a day where people can learn more about the haunting effect of the transatlantic slave trade still felt among African Nova Scotians.

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“I think it’s always something in the back of our minds as people of colour. That, you know, that’s what we came through. That struggle, that adversity,” said Grosse.

READ MORE: N.S. introduces bill to mark end of slavery in British colonies with Emancipation Day

Grosse believes there hasn’t been enough work done across Canada to showcase Black history and Black culture, though, leaving many Canadians unaware of the country’s dark history.

“As we move toward making that history become more mainstream. Once it gets into schools and educational institutions and it becomes commonplace as part of Canada’s history, as part of Nova Scotia’s history, I think that we will get to a place where there is more understanding of those diverse issues,” he said.

On Sunday, Cherry Brook, Beechville and North Preston have come together to organize a virtual run to spread awareness about the implications that slavery has on the social determinants of health of people of African descent.

Throughout August, municipalities and communities will hold in-person and virtual Emancipation Day ceremonies, activities and projects, while following COVID-19 protocols.

For a list of events happening around the province, visit http://emancipationdayns.ca/.

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