As a boy I had all the stimulation of Halifax, but I knew that where I needed to be was Three Mile Plains. Three Mile Plains is 70 kilometres northwest of Halifax on the way into Windsor town, where I was born. Black Nova Scotians have lived here since planters brought dozens of enslaved people in 1760, and after the arrival of Black Loyalists leaving the Thirteen Colonies and refugees from the War of 1812, my maternal family arrived on the South Shore in 1813. Mixing communities soon extended my lineage as part-African-American, part-Indigenous (Cherokee), part-Jamaican, and likely a couple of other parts too.
There was plenty of cultural and familial exchange between Black and local Mi’kmaq people in general, not to mention shared experiences of white racism. The colonial—and later provincial—government’s attempts to suppress Black and Indigenous roots is a history deeply rooted in Nova Scotia. I’m connected to it very viscerally through my heritage and writing on Black Nova Scotia; what I call Africadia.
I value this history of Black people and Mi'kmaq people forming mutual communities. It’s a grievous history, a horrible history in a lot of ways too, but as a writer I’m drawn to the stories of the land and how the people survived. Even though most Black people would have to work in white communities and suffer humiliation and violence, they could go home to their communities as places of refuge and relative safety. They developed their own way of speaking English, musical traditions, their own Black expressive religion and they formed an Africadian identity distinct in the Black Atlantic World.
Any of us from the historical Black community can say they’re from Three Mile Plains, North Preston, Weymouth Falls, Mount Denson—and we can tell where in Nova Scotia they’re from based on their historical family seat. No matter how much discrimination we faced, there was a sense of identity and literal groundedness on our piece of rotten terra firma. Because in slavery, you couldn’t own your children. They could be taken at any time and sold away. So could your parents. For former slaves now able to say, “That’s my piece of land, my horrible, non-productive, non-arable piece of land, but it’s mine. That’s my house, these are my children, that’s my husband and that’s my wife,” to have all these kinds of connections rooted in a place—that’s powerful. And for me, my connection to Three Mile Plains was folklore and the people’s experiences as the foundation for any writing I was going to do. When I walk on my own land in Three Mile Plains, which is partly a hillside, I look up and all I see are tree branches until I get to Heaven. My crabapple trees, my spruce trees, my pine trees, my grass, my anthills, my beaver skeletons. All gloriously mine. Maybe one day still, I might build something there.
—As told to Jack Zimakas