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Cumberland County celebrates Emancipation Day on Aug. 1

As Nova Scotians celebrated the province’s second Emancipation Day on Monday, Aug. 1, it’s important for everyone to take the time to reflect and honour persons of African heritage for their achievements and contributions.

Cumberland County’s deputy mayor, Jennifer Houghtaling said she felt a mixture of emotions as she spoke during a ceremony at the Dr. Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre in Springhill.

While she felt joy for being able to come together to spread awareness and educate communities about this important part of Nova Scotia’s shared history, she also felt sadness for the many souls lost and the suffering endured by so many to the point she placed a flower in the ocean Monday morning to pay homage to the souls lost in the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Passage.

But, she added, she is also hopeful for the future.

“I also feel hope for the change and transition that has been at the forefront these past few years with so much more attention on what is fair and just, and also hope for it to continue so that we can live in a world of peace and equality,” the deputy mayor said.

The celebration, which coincided with an Emancipation Day celebration at Dickey Park in Amherst, included a number of children’s activities, treats and music by Leah Killen and Gerald Davis.

Killen provided an introduction of the day’s significance, while David Cooke recited the land acknowledgement.

Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu, executive director of the Cumberland African Nova Scotian Association and Nova Scotia Works, said Nova Scotians need to reflect on their shared past.

“As an organization, we take responsibility for learning about and seeking long-term transformation in our relationships with land and labour in our province,” she said. “Particularly as they relate to our role as knowledge seekers and mobilizers within the field of employment services and career development,” Cooke-Sumbu said of CANSA-Nova Scotia Works’ work.

While Aug. 1 was first declared as Emancipation Day in the Nova Scotia legislature in 2021, Cooke Sumbu said it goes back to 1834 and the Emancipation Day Proclamation Act – abolishing slavery across the British colonies, including Canada.

Trinidad & Tobago was the first country in the Commonwealth to recognized Emancipation Day, when it declared Aug. 1, 1985 as a national holiday – replacing Christopher Columbus Day on July 31, which recognized Columbus’ arrival there in 1498.

Cooke-Sumbu said slavery was part of Cumberland County’s history, but has long been excluded from history and education.

“From Beaubassin to Fort Lawrence to Amherst Head, Pugwash, Parrsboro, River Hebert Minudie, Oxford and Springhill, we are beginning to learn about what really happened here,” she said. “Original family names can be traced back to the arrival of the French and the British, who left an unwritten legacy of slavery,” she said. “Much of the present-day documentation through wills, deeds, newspaper notices and stories of runaway slaves – as well as the many unmarked graves – start to unravel a hidden past.”

Cooke-Sumbu said research today has uncovered their burial sites, their buildings, the street and the infrastructure for which they have never been recognized.

She said she attended the National Black Canadian Summit in Halifax last week and listened to former Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean talk about the intertwined history of Canada’s Black and Indigenous peoples and the seemingly insurmountable work required to undo the damage of slavery to both groups.

“It’s important that we seek out the stories and the history that have built our communities as we move forward together with sincerity and honesty about creating a fair and just society for all people,” she said.