GUYSBOROUGH – This year the federal government of Canada, the provincial government of Nova Scotia and the municipal government for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) have all voted to designate August 1 as Emancipation Day.
On August 1 of 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act, ending the practice of slavery, became law in the British Empire, including Canada. Since then the day has been marked, but not officially designated, in some Canadian communities. This year, celebrations will be held in the communities of Boylston and Guysborough on Aug. 1 and 15.
Mary Desmond, a member of the Upper Big Tracadie/Lincolnville Education Committee, spoke to The Journal July 21 about the importance of Emancipation Day in Guysborough and surrounding areas.
When asked why now, almost 200 years after the passing of the act, was it time to celebrate Emancipation Day, Desmond said, “It is very important for the African Nova Scotian community. I think for the general population as a whole, because it is part of our history – part of Canada’s history.”
For people of African Nova Scotian descent, Desmond said she thought the day would be, “A time where we can stop and reflect on what really happened in our history, especially for the African Nova Scotian Black Loyalist – because we are the descendants of the Loyalists that came to the Chedabucto Bay area.
“A lot of our history was told through a Eurocentric lens. And our history has always been omitted or demoralized or marginalized. It has never really been told through an Afrocentric lens, especially in the education system … our history should be told because we helped build this country Canada and I think it is very important that the truth be told,” said Desmond, adding that little-known history would be highlighted on social media in the days leading up to the celebration on Aug. 1 and during the event.
“Some of the people in Guysborough don’t realize there was a whipping post in Boylston … People don’t know that Isaacs Harbour was named after a former slave. People don’t know about Sarah Ringwood being given 39 lashes for stealing a pound of butter and some salt … People don’t realize slavery was here in Guysborough,” she said to illustrate the point.
“I think it is important that people know and understand some of this history. It’s rich, some of it’s ugly, but it is the truth. We are not here to blame anyone or put shame on anyone – but it’s to teach, to recognize and to reflect. It’s a day of reflection. And I think through celebration, we can learn,” said Desmond of the planned events.
This past year has brought to the fore Black history and struggles across North America. In the United States, Juneteenth – now a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of African-American slaves – was more widely recognized than ever before and now a similar recognition will be given in Canada. Desmond sees a connection between the acknowledgements on both sides of the border.
She said, “Yes, you have to remember that Canada was the underground railway. You have to remember that there is that connection to slavery. A lot of the slaves come up through the United States to Canada.”
Desmond added, “We are all connected. I hear the land acknowledgment [we are in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq People]– we are all treaty people. We are all connected … we are all the human race.”
Emancipation Day events are organized by the Upper Big Tracadie/Lincolnville Education Committee with support from the Black Educators Association, the office of African Nova Scotia Affairs, MODG recreation, Guysborough RCMP detachment and the Guysborough Historical Society.
Emancipation Day events begin at 11 a.m. on Aug. 1 at the Boylston Post Office. On Aug. 15, an outdoor gospel concert is scheduled at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Centre, starting at 3 p.m.
Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal