‘Still a continuous journey’
Black history, culture to be celebrated during Journey Back to Birchtown festival
“... the work that has been done and is continuing to be done to ensure the Black history and the inclusion of the Black history is the history of the town, the municipality, the households, the education system – there have been some changes which makes me very happy to see.” Andrea Davis Executive director of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre
The 240th anniversary of the Black Loyalists first reaching the shores of Nova Scotia will be celebrated during the Journey Back to Birchtown festival at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown Aug 5 and 6.
The festivities begin with a free concert by Juno Award winner, soprano opera singer and concert artist Measha Brueggergosman, who will be performing in the Lindsay Gallery in the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre on Aug. 5 at 9 p.m. Admission is free, but donations to support the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre are welcomed and encouraged. Seating will be limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The doors open at 8 p.m.
“There's a lot of excitement around Measha being here,” says Andrea Davis, executive director of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. “There's been so many inquiries, it's going to fill up fast.”
Davis says like herself, Brueggergosman is a descendant of Black Loyalists.
“Her ancestor John Goseman was formerly enslaved in Connecticut before joining the British in the American Revolution, eventually arriving in Port Mouton in 1783. That would have been significant because my great, great, great, great-uncle Juniper Farmer also landed in Port Mouton around the same time. It's significant how those paths would have crossed long before Measha and myself being here today,” says Davis.
On Aug. 6, the day begins with breakfast at the Birchtown Community Hall from 8 to 11 a.m.
Vendors from the Takin' BLK Market will be setting up shop for the day on the grounds of the centre, bringing their crafts and wares with them. Information booths hosted by the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and Shelburne's Museums by the Sea will also be on site.
Davis says in talking with vendors last year, the event was successful for them.
“They were very happy to be here and the sales went well for them so we're hoping it will be the same this year."
Shelburne's Museums by the Sea will be sharing their ongoing work to renew the interpretation information at the Ross-Thomson House & Store Museum. The new interpretation will explore the connections between the enslaved and indentured inhabitants of Loyalist Shelburne, the various aspects of slavery, and the part played by Loyalist Shelburne in enslavement in the Maritimes, as well as the connection to Birchtown and the Black Nova Scotian experience.
Dr. Afua Cooper from Dalhousie University will also be on-site to talk about Black history. Dr. Cooper is a leader in African Canadian studies and founder of the Black Canadian Studies Association
Indigenous drumming by Jeanette Nickerson of Acadia First Nation, and a gospel celebration with Reverend and Donna Fells at the historic
St. Paul's Anglican Church located on-site round out the day's activities. The Remembrance of the Ancestors service starts at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 6. There will be free museum admission all day.
Journey Back to Birchtown is just one event happening at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in August.
“We will have some programming for the entire month. We're also planning a service for the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on Aug. 23,” says Davis.
Davis recently marked her first anniversary as executive director of the centre. “To come home and see some of the work that has been done and is continuing to be done to ensure the Black history and the inclusion of the Black history is the history of the town, the municipality, the households, the education system – there have been some changes which makes me very happy to see,” Davis says. “It's still a continuous journey in terms of the Black Loyalists and their descendants… so a lot of work left to do, but we are definitely up for the task.”
With recent contacts from the Association of Cameroonians in Nova Scotia (ACANS), a group in Kenya who want to visit in the fall and Black Loyalist descent in Virginia, Davis says the centre is getting a genealogy lab set up “so we can make these connections with our people here but also with ancestors and family members aboard… the connection is unbelievable.”