African Nova Scotian flag flies over Macdonald Bridge to mark Emancipation Day

·4 min read

Two flags commemorating people of African descent will flutter in Halifax skies this weekend.

Both the African Nova Scotian flag and the Pan-African flag will be raised in lieu of Emancipation Day.

The date marks the end of slavery in Canada and other British colonies when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect in 1834.

In March, members of Parliament unanimously voted to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada. A month later Nova Scotia officially introduced legislation to annually recognize the day.

“This is something that we've been looking forward to, for a very long time, to be recognized so that everyone knows that slavery did happen here in Canada and when it was abolished,” said artist and educator Wendie L. Wilson, who designed the African Nova Scotian flag.

“People can take the opportunity to kind of do a little bit of research and find out what did slavery look like in Canada and how has it affected the people that have been here for generations.”

Halifax Harbour Bridges, which operates and maintains both the Macdonald and MacKay bridges, put up the African Nova Scotian flag on the Macdonald Bridge Tuesday morning.

Wilson watched the unfurling with pride. As she walked away after the flag was raised, she couldn’t help but look behind her every few steps and marvel at the sight.

“I know traditionally you would only see the Nova Scotian flag and the Canadian flag, so for the first time in history to have a cultural iconic flag hung from the bridge actually is thrilling.”

She designed the flag in 2012 after her daughter brought home a school project about Mi’kmaw, Acadian, and African Nova Scotian history. As she and her daughter embarked on research for the project, Wilson couldn’t find a documented flag that represented African Nova Scotians’ unique culture and heritage.

“I really do want it to be an opportunity for African Nova Scotian students in school to feel proud when they're doing research on their community.”

The colours on the flag each have significance. Red represents the sacrifice that African Nova Scotians endured, gold represents cultural richness, and green represents fertility, growth, and future generations.

The symbol at the centre is Wilson’s interpretation of the West African Adinkra symbol, the Sankofa.

“Sankofa simply means to reach back and get it.

To reach back to the past; to appreciate the past; to use all that information that has been accumulated through our ancestors and our elders, to grab that information and bring it to the present to help propel ourselves into the future.”

Wilson said she took the flag on the road to share it with different community groups and organizations across Nova Scotia.

The flag was finally unveiled almost a decade later in February 2021 in collaboration with the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and the Africentric Learning Institute.

Another flag-raising ceremony is planned to mark the day. The Halifax Regional Municipality will raise the Pan-African flag at Grand Parade on Friday, July 30.

The Pan-African flag was created in 1920 to represent people of the African Diaspora and to symbolize black liberation. While the flag has been used by many Black people for decades, the city of Halifax first raised the flag in 2019 to kick off African Heritage Month.

“There are two flags now that people of African descent in Nova Scotia can fly. There's a Pan-African flag and the African Nova Scotian flag. And we're hoping that, you know, in some cases, there'll be flying flown in unison,” said Wilson.

She added that the African Nova Scotian flag was not meant to replace the Pan-African flag.

“I know that there's some people that have never seen this flag before. And I hope that if this is your first time that this is something that you might want to use to represent you, to represent your community, to represent your family.

This is an offering; this is something that we are hoping people will adopt. We want it to happen organically.”

As many people mark Emancipation Day this weekend for the first time, Wilson suggested they think about what freedom means.

“Does it just mean being able to move about at will wherever you want? Does it mean mental freedom? The freedom to gain agency over yourself and your community?”

Researching some of the important figures in Black history and sharing that knowledge is another way to mark the day.

“Mary Ann Shadd is someone you really need to look up,” she said smiling.

Anyone interested in purchasing an African Nova Scotian flag can contact ansflag@gmail.com

Proceeds will go towards the development of Africentric education initiatives in Nova Scotia.

Nebal Snan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald

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