Black Nova Scotia community seeks to address longstanding road-safety woes

Members of the Lucasville Greenway Society stand in the lane leading to the Lucas homestead on Nov.19, 2022. From left to right: Cindy Lucas, Leanne Lucas, Bernice Lucas, John Young, Jane Lucas and Twan Jansen. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
Members of the Lucasville Greenway Society stand in the lane leading to the Lucas homestead on Nov.19, 2022. From left to right: Cindy Lucas, Leanne Lucas, Bernice Lucas, John Young, Jane Lucas and Twan Jansen. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

Bernice Lucas walks along the long, tree-lined driveway leading to the "homestead," a property that's been in her family for generations.

It sits just off Lucasville Road, which has changed in her lifetime from dirt to a busy connector that sees thousands of cars a day.

"When we were younger, we used to have to walk … from here down to the end of the road there to catch the bus," Lucas said.

That hasn't changed.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

After nearly 200 years of history, the African Nova Scotian community still has no sidewalks or transit access.

"We keep thinking that we'll get one eventually," Lucas said when asked about the lack of bus stops.

But the Lucasville Greenway Society has taken matters into its own hands. It is raising funds for a new active transportation trail along Lucasville Road.

A narrow gravel shoulder is the only place to walk there. Pedestrians are always just inches from traffic.

There has been a push from the community to build some type of mixed-use trail for the past seven years to address the safety issue.

"Lucasville, it's kind of been overlooked in planning and investment in the community," said John Young, the group's chair.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Young said the aim is to finish the first phase — the first 2.6 kilometres of trail between the Wallace Lucas Community Centre to Old Sackville Road — in time for the community's 200th anniversary in 2027.

That stretch would connect Lucasville residents to Lower Sackville's transit and amenities, and is expected to cost about $4 million. The entire seven-kilometre trail will run between $12 to $14 million, Young said.

The society has received $100,000 from the Halifax Regional Municipality, and Young said the city's active transportation department commissioned a new engineering assessment of how the trail might look. The report suggests a paved, multi-use pathway on the east side of the road with buffers like a curb or the existing ditch separating it from traffic.

WSP Canada
WSP Canada

Young said the group hopes the community's "rich history" will help with the cost by allowing it to tap into provincial and federal tourism dollars.

The trail will have interpretive panels about Lucasville, which was settled in 1827 by Black refugees from the United States.

James Lucas founded what was previously known as Lucas Settlement with Moses Oliver, two last names still prevalent in the area.

"The baptisms were done down the road in the river. The community centre used to be a school … a lot of people in the community don't get the recognition that I think other communities get, especially historical Black communities," Young said.

Leanne Lucas, like Bernice, is from that original Lucas line. She grew up in Lucasville, and said she loved being surrounded by so many family members in one place.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

For Leanne, the historical aspects of the trail are key to ensuring the stories of local elders live on. The society recently hired a student to speak with seniors in the area and write a report, which is important to their research.

"If we don't capture them, if we don't remember them, then they'll be gone," Leanne said.

But Leanne said she's worried about the health of elders stuck in their homes, who don't yet have a safe place to walk nearby and many are no longer driving.

Besides a trail addressing these health and safety issues, it would also help "isolated" residents in the nearby subdivisions, said Twan Jansen.

Jansen, society secretary, moved to the area from the Netherlands five years ago. He lives in Kingswood North near Lucasville Road, and would love to bike to the community centre but it's "impossible and dangerous" with so much traffic.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

When he first arrived, Jansen said he looked around and thought maybe the lack of sidewalks was just "the Canadian thing to do," before learning about the community's unique lack of services compared to neighbouring areas like Hammonds Plains and Lower Sackville.

"It's been 200 years, and so you kind of kind of think like, 'How long … do we have to keep waiting for something that everyone else already has?'" said Leanne.

Area councillor Lisa Blackburn said the reality is Lucasville would be waiting years for a city-funded sidewalk since there are about 600 in the municipality's planning list, and the priority is building them around schools.

Blackburn said a greenway is a "fantastic" project that combines history and a public need, but other levels of government are needed since the municipality does "not have the capacity" to fully fund it.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

But, she said the transit piece of the puzzle might soon change: the suburban and rural parts of the municipality's regional plan are under review, so staff are looking at whether the water and transit service boundary could be extended to cover Lucasville.

"The moment that request is granted, I'm going to be asking for a pilot project for transit services on Lucasville Road," Blackburn said.

That update on transit service coverage is expected in March.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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