Re­build­ing trust in Beechville

Armco hires Joachim Stroink to help ease ten­sions with his­toric Black com­mu­nity.


Re­gional coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved a mo­tion Tues­day to move for­ward with Armco Cap­i­tal’s sub­di­vi­sion pro­posal in Beechville, pro­vided the de­vel­oper ad­heres to sev­eral amend­ments de­signed to re­build trust with the area’s African Nova Sco­tian com­mu­nity.

Armco is hop­ing to build nearly 1,300 res­i­den­tial units north of St. Mar­garet’s Bay Road, be­tween Lovett Lake and the Bay­ers Lake In­dus­trial Park. It’s an ex­pan­sion of a pre­vi­ously ap­proved land-use agree­ment from 2014, and the lat­est bat­tle­ground in an ero­sion of Beechville’s her­itage that’s been go­ing on since be­fore the his­toric Black com­mu­nity was first set­tled.

Among the 2,000 Black refugees who ar­rived in Nova Sco­tia from the War of 1812, 23 were granted a li­cense to live on a 10-acre lot called Refugee Hill. The 1948 book, A Doc­u­men­tary Study of the Es­tab­lish­ment of the Ne­groes in Nova Sco­tia, re­counts how the orig­i­nal set­tlers were told that if their con­duct was “in­dus­tri­ous, peace­able and loyal” their land grants would be con­firmed by the gov­ern­ment. But deed and ti­tle never came and the com­mu­nity was even­tu­ally pushed out to a larger plot of land called Beech Hill, later Beechville. There they built homes, farms and a school. Richard Pre­ston founded the com­mu­nity’s bap­tist church in 1844. But over the cen­turies a pat­tern of ex­pro­pri­a­tion and land-use changes whit­tled away bor­ders at the ex­pense of her­itage.

Wa­ter­shed man­age­ment caused a grow­ing Hal­i­fax to ex­pro­pri­ate sev­eral prop­er­ties in 1917 and push Beechville res­i­dents fur­ther into county lands “for the preser­va­tion of the pu­rity of the city’s wa­ter sup­ply.” Fam­i­lies were of­fered “gro­ceries for land,” as one res­i­dent put it, to give up their prop­er­ties. Huge chunks were carved off for the Bay­ers Lake and Lake­side in­dus­trial parks. Un­like Africville, Beechville wasn’t de­stroyed overnight, said for­mer res­i­dent Carolann Wright-Parks when speak­ing to The Coast back in May. It took many per­sis­tent plan­ning de­ci­sions.

“I used to call it a high-tech bull­doz­ing,” Wright Parks said. “Africville was bull­dozed overnight. For us, it took sev­eral years.”

The ex­pan­sion of Armco’s new sub­di­vi­sion dredged up those his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices when it came to coun­cil back in May. The mat­ter was de­ferred by area coun­cil­lor Richard Zu­rawski pend­ing a sup­ple­men­tal re­port on its im­pact to the Black com­mu­nity.

As es­tab­lished in the mo­tion ap­proved Tues­day, the de­vel­oper is now re­quired to pro­duce a Her­itage Im­pact State­ment for the Bap­tist Church, en­sure the pro­tec­tion of the church’s prop­erty and her­itage as­sets and work with Beechville res­i­dents through a newly formed com­mu­nity li­ai­son group.

To help ease ten­sions, Armco has also hired for­mer Lib­eral MLA Joachim Stroink to act as a go-be­tween. Stroink tells re­porters his first meet­ing with com­mu­nity mem­bers last week was a “great first step” but there’s still a lot of work to be done in get­ting Beechville res­i­dents on-board with Armco’s plans.

“I want to hope that we can ex­ude the trust that needs to come for­ward on this,” he says. “That’s why I’m play­ing a part of that role. To re­ally have that con­duit of a re­la­tion­ship and lis­ten­ing to their needs.”


The Beechville Bap­tist Church on St. Mar­garet’s Bay Road.

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