10 African Heritage Books from Atlantic Canada

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February is African Heritage Month and Atlantic Canada has been home to influential African Canadians for more than 400 years. To honour these rich legacies and stories, we have collected our top 10 titles to showcase the culture and deep-rooted history that has helped to build and shape our Atlantic history and the communities we share.

1. Black Battalion 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret

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Black military heritage in Canada is still generally unknown and unwritten. Most Canadians have no idea that Blacks served, fought, and died on European battlefields, all in the name of freedom. This book tells the history of Nova Scotia’s No. 2 Construction Battalion, known as the Black Battalion, with more than 60 archival photographs and documents.

2. A Change of Heart

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A young African American and the son of sharecroppers, Lanier Phillips escapes the violence, racism, and segregation of his Georgia home by joining the navy during the Second World War. But tragedy strikes the USS Truxtun one February night off the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, and Lanier is the lone Black survivor of the terrible shipwreck. Covered in oil when he arrives onshore, the community’s kindness and humanity brings him back to health and changes his outlook on life.

3. Birchtown and the Black Loyalists

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Wanda Taylor recounts the incredible story of the Black Loyalists of Birchtown for children. Readers are introduced to the journey of Black American soldiers taken from Africa as slaves, their quest for freedom, the settlement and struggle of Black Loyalists on Nova Scotian soil, and the enduring spirit of their descendants in spite of a history marked by hardship and loss.

4. Black Loyalists: Southern Settlers of Nova Scotia’s First Free Black Communities

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During the American Revolution (1775-1783), the British government offered freedom to slaves who would desert their rebel masters as a way of ruining the American economy. Many Black men and women escaped to the British fleet patrolling the East Coast, or to the British armies invading the colonies from Maine to Georgia. Black Loyalists looks at the lives of Nova Scotia Black Loyalists before they escaped slavery and after they settled in Nova Scotia to bring back into our awareness the context for some very brave and enterprising men and women who survived the chaos of the American Revolution.

5. Up Home

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Happy memories sparkle in this journey through poet Shauntay Grant’s childhood visits to North Preston, Nova Scotia. Her words bring to life the sights, sounds, rhythms, and people of a joyful place, while Susan Tooke’s vibrant illustrations capture the warmth of one of Canada’s most important black communities.

6. Black Ice

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In 1895, The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Twenty-two years before the birth of the National Hockey League, the Colored League would emerge as a premier force in Canadian hockey and supply the resilience necessary to preserve a unique culture which exists to this day. 

7. Nova Scotia Black Experience Through the Centuries

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The Nova Scotia Black Experience Through the Centuries is a comprehensive account of the African Nova Scotian struggle to build a vital community in the face of racial discrimination. Covering more than four hundred years of a people’s history, heritage, and culture, The Nova Scotia Black Experience Through the Centuries is a powerful record, indispensable to any study of the province’s history.

8. Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children

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In 1921, prominent lawyer and Nova Scotia Black leader James R. Johnston’s vision of a place welcoming of Black children came to reality. But despite its good intentions, today the Home is mostly known for a troubling past. In this book, author Wanda Taylor interviews former residents participating in a public inquiry and connects their stories to her own relationship with the Home. 

9. Invisible Shadows

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Invisible Shadows is Verna Thomas’ account of coming to consciousness about race in the wake of changes in education, civil rights, and black self-awareness that swept across the continent in the second half of the twentieth century and against the wider backdrop of slavery. Part autobiography, part history, part race theory, the work’s hybrid form reflects the range of influences brought to bear on it-intersecting histories, cultures, and communities, framed by the events of one woman’s life.

10. Abigail’s Wish

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The first children’s picture book set in historic Birchtown, Nova Scotia, Abigail’s Wish is a window into the life of a Black Loyalist family in the early years of the historic colony. Through the eyes of young Abigail, this stunning collaboration between poet and novelist Gloria Ann Wesley and award-­winning illustrator Richard Rudnicki will teach readers about Black Loyalist life, and the value of friendship and patience.