Nova Scotia Archives

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Documenting the Heritage of African Nova Scotians

Archival Holdings

Documentation relating to people of African descent living in Nova Scotia can be found broadly dispersed throughout the Nova Scotia Archives holdings, in all formats — textual records, photographs, maps, documentary art, sound recordings, moving images, print material and artifacts. The prevalence of these materials emphasizes the powerful role and influence of African Nova Scotian people, over time, on every aspect of life in Nova Scotia.

Commissioner of Public Records

Selected items from the Commissioner of Public Records collection relating to Blacks (free and enslaved) in Nova Scotia 1750 to 1783.

Commissioner of Public Records Collection — Black Refugees

Series consists of original copies and transcripts of records relating to Black immigration and settlement in Nova Scotia from the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 to the final emancipation of enslaved Blacks in 1838.

"The Book of Negroes"

The single most important document relating to the immigration of African Americans to Nova Scotia following the War of Independence. It includes the names and descriptions of 3000 black refugees registered on board the vessels in which they sailed from New York to Nova Scotia between 23 April and 30 November 1783.

Sir Guy Carleton Papers no. 10427 The National Archives, Kew PRO 30/55/100

Nova Scotia House of Assembly

Series forms part of Nova Scotia House of Assembly fonds and consists of correspondence between the Speaker and members of the House, as well as governors or lieutenant governors. Also included are petitions and other materials tabled in the House of Assembly from people seeking legislative action, assistance or a grant of money. African Nova Scotians petitioned for action on such issues as relief, agriculture and fishing, education and roads.

Nova Scotia Lands and Forests

Records accumulated from 1786 to 1824 document the granting and licencing of Crown lands to early settlers in Nova Scotia. Included among these records are various descriptions of land licenced to individual African Nova Scotian persons and families, warrants authorizing such occupation, and original petitions by Blacks illustrating the conflict of inherent African Nova Scotian title with the British system of freehold tenure.

No. 2 Construction Battalion: Nominal Roll

The Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men, No. 2 Construction Battalion (March 1917), the only battalion of Black soldiers raised in Canada during the First World War.


Materials relating to Africville, an African Nova Scotian community in Halifax on the shores of Bedford Basin. Most are Halifax Mail Star newspaper clippings about expropriation of the community and the relocation of its residents between 1962 and 1969. The material started as a reference file in 1962 with correspondence from the Department of Lands and Forests about the area’s original land grants. The file contains William Brown’s 1854 petition to the Legislature about compensation for lands taken by the railway. The file also includes articles from Time Magazine (1962) and Maclean’s (1965) that drew national attention to Africville.

Bob Brooks' Photographic Portrait of Africville

Gone but Never Forgotten: Bob Brooks' Photographic Portrait of Africville in the 1960s — revisit Africville, through nearly 60 remarkable images by photojournalist Bob Brooks that capture the look and spirit of the community on the eve of its demolition. The exhibit also features Brooks' compelling photographs of the public meeting at Seaview African United Baptist Church in August 1962, where residents stated their opposition to the elimination of Africville.

Viola Irene Desmond

Viola Desmond was an African Nova Scotian businesswoman, who in 1946 challenged the province's systemic racial discrimination in a way that marked a watershed moment for civil rights in Canada. These records include surviving legal documents from the Magistrate’s Court and the Supreme Court, representative provincial newspaper coverage from the time, and background information.

Nova Scotia Women's Oral History Project: Pearleen Oliver Interview

Beginning in 1989 writer and broadcaster Marjory Whitelaw undertook a Nova Scotian women's oral history project. One interview (Summer 1992) was with Dr. Pearleen (Borden) Oliver — first Black graduate of the New Glasgow High School. She was a noted African Nova Scotia human rights advocate, researcher, author, youth leader, choir director, historian and public speaker. Oliver was married to Rev. Dr. William Pearly Oliver, minister, social activist and educator.



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