200-year-old North Preston cemetery receives funding for cleanup, preservation

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North Preston is home to Nova's Scotia's oldest and largest Black community. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC - image credit)
North Preston is home to Nova's Scotia's oldest and largest Black community. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC - image credit)

Heritage Downey Road Cemetery in North Preston, a 200-year-old resting place for many of Nova Scotia's Black community, has received more than $20,000 for a long overdue makeover.

It's greatly appreciated after years of paying out of pocket for its upkeep, said Ivan Willis, director of the Heritage Downey Road Cemetery Society.

"We took our money to get it cleaned up the best we could... We're very thankful to the government for the help they're giving us," Willis said.

Recently, the society was offered $22,500 from Canada Community Revitalization Fund (CCRF) to make Heritage Downey Road Cemetery more accessible for people who use wheelchairs and walkers while also adding benches and clearing brush and debris.

Downey Road Cemetery is situated near Simmonds and North Preston roads, close to Saint Thomas United Baptist Church.

Willis, who has been with the cemetery society since its inception in the '90s, says the funding will make a difference.

Preserving history

"They're going to try their best to get all the roads to the cemetery, where people are going down, the ground paved and they're going to have a fenced-in area that people can come and sit."

Russell Grosse, executive director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, says it's great to see government stepping up and working directly with Black community organizations like the cemetery's society.

He says it's important to preserve the history and legacy of Heritage Downey Road Cemetery because those are often lost among marginalized communities.

"Those records that normally would be kept of other cultures ... typically aren't kept in marginalized cultures, like the Black culture, or the Indigenous cultures that are in our province. So you know, the cemeteries become that voice, become that echo to the past, that way of keeping us connected to our forefathers and the remarkable contributions that have been made."

Willis says his group hasn't received the funding yet, but as soon as they do, they'll get started.

Grosse says he hopes Black people who visit the renewed cemetery grounds will be reminded to share their stories and look back at their past, recognizing the legacy of those who came before them.

"It's the hope that creating a better place of memorial for those that have passed on creates an opportunity where families can have a place to gather to pay tribute, but also to remember, and then through that memory, they can share those stories."

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