Renovations at former N.S. Black church intended to help address community hunger needs

The former Rose of Sharon church in Yarmouth, N.S., is being renovated with the aim of offering hot meals and other services from the site. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
The former Rose of Sharon church in Yarmouth, N.S., is being renovated with the aim of offering hot meals and other services from the site. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

A group of volunteers in Yarmouth, N.S., hopes a former Black church could become a new site to help address food insecurity in the town.

Mike Wedge said he and other members of a group called Acts of Kindness were looking for a way to support the work of the local food bank and other community organizations.

As they started talking about a possible home for their effort, the conversation turned to the former Rose of Sharon church on East Street.

"This is a heritage building and it's got fantastic history," Wedge said during a recent tour of the site.

Opened to the public in 1877, the church stopped being used as a place for worship years ago.

Since then, time and the elements have not been kind to the site.

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

Holes in the roof allowed the weather to get inside. There are holes in the floor and rotting drywall exposed seaweed insulation. Safety markers block off a corner of the building where the foundation is caving in.

"This building needs everything," said Wedge.

Undeterred, he and other volunteers saw the former church as an ideal place to serve hot meals and perhaps eventually offer people in need a place to get a shower and other services. He reached out to church trustees to pitch the idea and found they were receptive.

Vanessa Fells's uncle, Michael, was the last pastor at the church and, before him, her grandfather, P.A. Best, led services. She said the family was pleased with the proposal.


Not only did they like the idea of helping people in need, they also welcomed the chance to preserve a structure with deep ties to the town's Black community.

"Being able to preserve this history is extremely important to us," Fells said in a recent interview.

"We want to make sure that it's not lost because it's important that people know and understand the history of the Black community in Yarmouth that's been around for hundreds and hundreds of years."

Although there remains much work to do before the building is fully renovated, Wedge and other volunteers have already offered two meals from the location, with food prepared offsite. He has grand ambitions for what could one day happen here.

"The goal — even though people tell me to be cautious about this — but my goal is to serve a hot meal every day of the year from this building."

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

He's hoping that can be accomplished through people agreeing to take on one day a year as their turn to prepare the meal.

The volunteer group's recognition of the significance of the church to the community and approaching things in a collaborative way is to be applauded, said Fells.

A board will be established to oversee the site in a way that will also help teach future generations about the church's history.

Fells, who has fond memories of summers attending the vacation Bible school once offered through the church, said she's exploring possible government support for a site that was once a central gathering place for the community and could one day regain that role, albeit in a different way.

"Having a place to go for a free meal is a wonderful idea."

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.