In the late 18th century, Birchtown, Shelburne Co., was the largest free black community in British North America and the centre of the Black Loyalist experience. Now it is the home of the new Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, a significant addition to the Nova Scotia Museum family.
The heritage centre will mark its official opening on Saturday, June 6, with a celebration of music and a recounting of history in The Journey Back to Birchtown.
“We view the opening as a universal invitation to people all over the world to visit the centre and participate in this celebration of community and equality,” said the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre’s Beverly Cox.
Ms. Cox expects visitors will come from far and wide to experience The Journey Back to Birchtown, which will include performances by Juno award-winner JRDN, Jeremiah Sparks, Dutch Robinson, Shelley Hamilton, Cyndi Cain, Joe Sealy, the Nova Scotia Mass Choir, Shauntay Grant, Hillcrest Academy Djembe Drumming Group and many more. The program will also feature John Franklin of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and The Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill.
“The new centre beautifully captures our history and fills a gap in a story too few of us have known,” said Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage Tony Ince.
“Birchtown is a treasured centre for freedom throughout the entire African Diaspora, and I know that it will soon become a draw for visitors from all over the world.”
In 1783, over 3,000 Black Loyalists migrated from New York to Birchtown in search of freedom. Port Roseway was the first landing site of the Loyalist fleet that carried 936 free blacks. In addition to Birchtown, they went on to settle in other communities including Annapolis Royal, Fort Cumberland, Port Mouton, Saint John, the Guysborough-Tracadie area and Halifax.
Eight years after their arrival, having struggled against harsh conditions and further discrimination, 1,192 Black Loyalists relocated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. They became known in Sierra Leone as the Nova Scotian settlers and integral to the creation of a new nation by establishing Freetown.
Those who remained in Nova Scotia persevered and developed their own communities, churches and unique culture. They have gained international attention for their achievements and role in the civil rights movement in Canada.
The story of the Black Loyalists has drawn attention in recent years because of The Book of Negroes novel and the popular television miniseries.
For details on the grand opening of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre and The Journey Back to Birchtown visit blackloyalist.novascotia.ca .