Historic Black Nova Scotia

In Historic Black Nova Scotia, authors Bridglal Pachai and Henry Bishop share the stories of remarkable men and women whose histories are well-known, as well as those whose achievements may have been overlooked. The nine chapters were divided into topics such as Publishing Pioneers; Pioneering Lawyers; Pioneers in the Arts; Pioneers in Business, Labour, Politics, and Volunteerism, among others. I learned about early black settlement in Nova Scotia and pastors and other church leaders, who were the first leaders of a united community. Although the authors devoted a page or two (or a few paragraphs at least) to each historic figure, I have to admit that I found the biographies about pastors and lawyers to grow dull. Yet I found the chapter on sports personalities to be most interesting, especially the section on the black hockey leagues, the first of which, the Colored Hockey League, formed in 1900.

I was pleased to learn more about the achievements of opera singer Portia White, yet disappointed to discover that her oeuvre consisted of only one recorded album.

Dr. Alfred E. Waddell graduated from Dalhousie University Medical School in 1933 yet suffered discrimination immediately afterward:

“Dr. Waddell had other difficulties to surmount: after graduation from medical school he was denied internship on the racist grounds that white patients would resist treatment by a black doctor. This was only overcome when his class of white students threatened to boycott their own internships in protest.”

The authors mentioned, but did not explain, that black-on-black discrimination existed in Nova Scotia. In attempts to form social and political interest groups, Nova Scotia-born blacks and West Indian immigrants often clashed. Soon their community groups fell apart. I wished the authors had given reasons for this animosity. Dr. Waddell experienced it as an immigrant:

“Dr. Waddell, like many West Indian immigrants, found that he was shunned by the black community because of his foreign origins and simultaneously shunned by the white community because of his skin colour. It is not surprising that he gravitated towards the Chinese community, small as it was, which welcomed him.”

Generously illustrated, the book was also supplemented with a two-page bibliography from which I took note of titles.

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