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.