When Black Loyalists came to settle in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, in the late 1700s, most arrived as “free blacks.” They were former slaves who fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War in exchange for land and freedom. When they arrived in Birchtown, however, they found themselves still indentured to wealthy white Loyalists in order to survive the harsh conditions. For many, promises of land, food and lodgings never materialized. Birchtown residents did the best they could to take care of each other, but many starved or died from disease. This so-called paradise was a living hell, but it was better than slavery and a master’s whip.
“Grace and Roberta” tells of two such settlers and the night of the Shelburne Riots, the first recorded race riot in Canada.
The story, I am told, is that my great-great-grandfather came to Nova Scotia from Ireland once slavery was abolished in Great Britain. Despite the many hardships he faced, he managed to send his three sons to university and dream into the future so I can have the life I now live.
I am Black History
The story, I am told, is that my white great-grandmother came to Nova Scotia from France. She met and fell in love with a Black man. Her family said, “You can have him or you can have us.” Their union produced my grandfather, who produced my mother, who produced me.
A boat named No Justice floats in the bay.
Gleams of gentle light peek at the horizon.
I hear the incessant juddering of the grass cutter.
The dull hum, an unruly crowd–a thousand terns
descending. Their outcry fades, that word rises.
Spewed by the Amherst councilman.
Tattooed where the children watch–
at the base of Glace Bay’s skateboard park.
Overheard at the Toronto York School Board.
Like a knife scraped over my old wound
still tender to the touch.
thought they took it away
when they exchanged our crowns for chains
not knowing where I was headed
I tried to remember the footprints
In the sand
I followed the man
to a ship
On it engraved