Along Digby’s shores you can enjoy a beautiful sunrise, as well as delicious seafood lasagna. On top of that, you can also find a little bit of history — Black history.
Just to the left of the rocks in this picture, facing the Bay of Fundy, the little commemorative signs don’t shout; they stand like sentinels who’ll patiently guide you back to a time when fairness was meted out according to skin colour, and people of African heritage could expect the rawest deal.
Fortunately, things have changed since then; but knowledge of the past can change the future, so on a chilly morning last August, I stood reading the three plaques, and then wondering why I didn’t know more about the Black Loyalists who had come to Nova Scotia, not only for the freedom they deserved as men, but as their promised reward for fighting for the British in the American war for independence.
I figure it boiled down to the curriculum writer’s perspective, and their perceived audience; but also my own youthful lack of perspective.
Priding myself on being wiser now, I took the opportunity my travels brought, for this was my chance to learn that Thomas Peters, whose brave and tragic story is briefly described, was among Nova Scotia’s Black Loyalists. Also that he, after valiant attempts at securing a place on Canada’s eastern shores, was instrumental in the Back to Africa movement that saw disenfranchised members of the Black community travel to Sierra Leone in search of freedom on their home continent. Never-mind that I hadn’t learned this in history class. I was learning now, and recognizing that gap in my knowledge also enabled me to fill it.
I left Digby thankful that those plaques were there, not just for me, but for anyone else who might come to watch the sun rise or set; watch the fishing boats push out into the chilly morning, or return from a hard day of trawling; and also for those just looking to catch a break from a long journey or a long day.
Having the information so accessible means anyone can walk away from this shore a little wiser about Canadian history, you don’t have to venture into a museum, which might be closed at the time you’re visiting (as it was for me). And this opportunity for learning is invaluable because the events of the past continue to influence the present, and increased understanding helps us avoid repeating earlier injustices.
For more information on Thomas Peters and other Canadians of African descent, access the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. It is provided online by Library and Archives Canada with information gathered in a joint University of Toronto and University of Laval project.
Now, should you choose to learn more history this month because of its designation as African Heritage Month, kudos to you; but, remember, learning is a timeless activity that improves with sharing. Do it spontaneously, in February, or any other time, and be fully engaged.