Black Nova Scotians

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Oprah just had a segment on black people in Nova Scotia. Like most black people in the U.S., they have their own community, including their own churches. They're descendants of slaves from the U.S. Nova Scotia was a stop on the underground railroad. Canada outlawed slavery before the U.S. did. What was shocking to me was how these people talked. They sounded just like any other Canadian would. There was absolutely nothing I could detect of standard Black English inflections.

Why might this be? I have no easy explanation. Black English is to be found in any large enough community of black Americans, with regional differences. In the South, you have Southern lengthening of syllables and more of a drawl. In California, you have standard West Coast vowels. But in Canada, at least in Nova Scotia, you have the ordinary Nova Scotian accent without any of the usual inflections of Black English. I suspect it must have something to do with cultural differences and more ease in identifying as normal Canadians, with American blacks having ess of that ease of identifying as normal Americans. Some of that may be due to racist history and some due to cultural opposition to becoming part of what's viewed as "white culture". Given that racism would have been just as present in Nova Scotia, I'd expect more of the latter. I wonder if this counts as evidence for the view that resistance to "acting white" is a key concern among many black Americans, which then slows down the cultural acceptance of elements mainstream society in black communities.

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Parableman brings up an intriguing observation: why do black Nova Scotians not speak Ebonics? While they're Canadian, they're of American descent (of escaped slaves who followed the North Star). They also have their communities, they're in a relative... Read More


I don't know the answer to your question, but I do think that this statement might not be exactly right:

Given that racism would have been just as present in Nova Scotia, I'd expect more of the latter.

Racism is, of course, just as prevalent among Canadians, but it might not be that racism toward black Canadians was (or is) just as prevalent. Blacks were always a minority minority group in Canada--and as such may not have had as much racism directed toward them as some of the more major minorities have. I don't know if this is true or not, but I think it might be worth considering.

In my own personal experience, I can say this: I can't remember ever hearing any overt racist statements about black people (doesn't mean I haven't, just means I can't remember it), but I hear overt racist remarks about native people, or people of Indian/Pakistani descent quite regularly.

Also worth considering as a possible contributing factor might be the Canadian goal of creating a "mosaic" of different cultures out of the various immigrant groups, rather than the US melting pot idea. How this might contribute, I'm not sure, but I suppose it might.

They sounded just like any other Canadian would. There as absolutely nothing I could detect of standard Black English inflections.

You know, I'm thinking this extends to most black Canadians--except for recent immigrants--not just the Nova Scotian ones. The black Canadians that I know (not many, so my experience ought to be taken with a grain of salt) would mostly have come at some time from places in the Caribean, and while the older generation retains an accent, the younger ones (mostly Canadian born, but not all) speak quite standard English.

Interesting question. Don't know the answer.

I don't remember hearing any overt racist language, except in jokes and by black people, against black people in the U.S. It's not recent years that would be the issue, and I'm not sure you've been in Canada long enough for what I'm talking about anyway. Whatever led to the divergence of accents would have to have been in place already long before I was born and probably even a good deal before you were.

The interesting thing about the Nova Scotian black population is that it's largely descendants of American slaves.

Also worth considering as a possible contributing factor might be the Canadian goal of creating a "mosaic" of different cultures out of the various immigrant groups, rather than the US melting pot idea. How this might contribute, I'm not sure, but I suppose it might.

To give my short response to this is: The "mosaic" concept doesn't really help Canadians as much as they think it does. It's nice on paper but the "melting pot" does more to actually bind people together, as shown by the social studies done on High Performing Systems (businesses, military organizations, etc that require a high degree of social cohesion). The days after Sept.11th showed what the "melting pot" does for society: it makes everyone equal. The mosaic seems nice, but it really is a balkanizing element in the long run, and when people get smashed together in urban environments, and I think Canada is starting to show some of that.

I'm more inclined to believe its the French influence in Nova Scotia which helped to mitigate any widespread racism, That, the fact that slavery wasn't as pervasive in Canada as it was in the U.S., and a relatively small overall black canadian population (all of which diminish a people group's power to resist the prevailing culture). That's my guess anyway.

To give my short response to this is: The "mosaic" concept doesn't really help Canadians as much as they think it does.

I wasn't really commenting on whether it is good or bad--don't know enough to do that--just that it is different, and thus might be considered a possible factor.

Whatever led to the divergence of accents would have to have been in place already long before I was born and probably even a good deal before you were.

I agree, but historically the racism (overt or otherwise) in Canada has been more directed toward native peoples, probably just because there have always been a lot more of them, and that my older neighbors feel they can be so free in their racist remarks toward native people is probably a carry over from what was the historical bent of Canadian racism--mostly toward native people and perhaps a few other groups that reached a sort of critical mass in numbers--like the Chinese railroad builders, for instance.

Didn't watch Oprah, but the history of the black Nova Scotians is something that is relatively well-known among Canadians--part of what every child learns in their history lessons. That there was an underground to Canada--and how well the black Nova Scotians (and those who settled elsewhere, too) have done in Canada is something Canadians in general have always been very proud of. That, and their stunning victory in the war of 1812.

I'm betting the answer to the original question isn't really a simple one, and that there are probably a whole slew of factors. Canadian culture is different, and the further back you go in history, the more different it is, and just what factors contributed to the language difference might be pretty difficult to pin down. It would be interesting to know if the black Nova Scotians spoke standard English 80 years ago, or 100.

Most people who think about race nowadays have abandoned the melting pot idea for a salad bowl metaphor. Maybe that's what the mosaic is supposed to be. John McWhorter has tried to question this sort of thing as a permanent possibility, simply because cultures eventually grow together, influencing each other. It took centuries for the Normans and Anglo-Saxons to become a melting pot from a salad bowl, but there's no resisting that sort of thing eventually without perpetuating evils, and the same is true of contemporary cultural groups within the U.S. and Canada.

This wouldn't have served as a good explanation anyway, since it would have gone the other way. The melting pot idea, if all sides support it, would lead to assimilation and absorption of each into the other equally. The salad bowl/mosaic idea emphasizes distinctiveness. It's distinctiveness of speech patterns that isn't showing up here.

But SBV is really significantly intertwined with Southern American English, as well. Even given regional dialectical differences, there are most SBV bears a significant resemblance to Southern speech. Had Novia Scotia been a destination like Chicago or Los Angeles, I would imagine that the distinction would be significantly less.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that some of the first black Nova Scotians were blacks who had fought on the Loyalist side in the American War of Independence, and who were given land in Nova Scotia afterwards as compensation, as were white Loyalists. There is usually some factor of mutual respect and solidarity among those who have fought together and suffered for a cause, and Loyalism was that binding factor among many early English-speaking Canadians. So the black community in Nova Scotia may have started off with a fairly favorable realtionship with the white.

Umm Black Nova Scotians in some black communities sound VERY different from other Canadians. If you ever hear a person from North Preston talk, you will hear a strong dialect.

It would interest me to find out why there's a different dialect in one black community but not in the one I heard on TV. If it doesn't have anything to do with Canada or Nova Scotia in particular, what might it be? I wonder if one group descended from the group Jim mentions above and the other from people who fled the U.S. on the underground railroad.

I was just came across this site and found the comments very interesting.I am 8th genration Black Canadian from Nova Scotia,and I find that the dialect is different among blacks depending on the community your from.There are over 30 different Black communities in Nova Scotia,many which are intergrated around larger white communities,so that is why maybe the english accent is more perdominant for Blacks from theses communities.I am from a area where there are 3 Black communities,North Preston,East Preston and Cherrybrook,and I can tell you that the english and the accent of the people from these area is closer to a North Eastern American accent.It is different from many other Blacks in Nova Scotia and I think the reason is,is because they have held closer to their American roots than other Blacks in the province,and have not intergrated with other white communities as the rest of Black Nova Scotians have.

Not to be picky - especially months after the initial post - but Nova Scotia was not a stop on the underground railroad as is often reported (and it makes sense that it wouldn't be as travel from the American south would be very indirect). Upper Canada, later to become Ontario, certainly was and throughout southern Ontario there were - and probably still are in the form of their descendants - rural settlements of escaped African-American slaves. I think many of these people returned to the United States though.

The black population in Nova Scotia is largely rooted in the arrival of the Loyalists (those loyal to the British cause during the American Revolution who left as refugees afterwards) in 1783 and 1784 - though it's important to point out there were blacks in Nova Scotia in smaller numbers before this (some slaves, some not).

Another major source of African-Nova Scotian lineage came 30 years later - in very similar circumstances - with the arrival of refugees from the War of 1812 (I could be wrong but I believe these people lived in Maryland and just happened to be freed when the British invaded, nothing terribly noble on the part of the British). I think these refugees settled in certain communities in rural Halifax County but not in other areas of the province. In both cases these black settlers were given the worst parcels of land available and were dealt with fairly harshly by their white neighbours and the government well into the 1960s - and in more subtle ways into the present. The violent oppression experienced in the American south never really happened here but it would be wrong to describe Nova Scotia, even today, as a racially tolerant area.

It's interesting to note also that many in the black community in Sydney are not of African-American descent but have as their ancestors Barbadians who came at the turn of the last century to work in the steel mill.

As for accent many older African-Nova Scotians (and this is just a casual observation made by a non-black Nova Scotian) seem to have fairly standard Maritime accents while many younger black Nova Scotians favour a more African-American accent, perhaps the result of film and television.

Actually I would have to agree with you A Guy from New Glasgow to some degree.Most of the Black population in Nova Scotia did not arrive there through the Underground Railroad,as many people believe,but actually their arrival pre dated the undeground railroad era.I would say 90% of the Black population in Nova Scoita are decendants of ancestors who fought on the side of the British Loyalist and were granted freedom along side the Loyalist after they lost the first war-The American Revolution in the 1780's and the second war-The war of 1812.Also some Blacks were bought to Nova Scotian as Slaves in the the mid 1700's and actually were instrumental in building a large part of the city of Halifax.There were some Blacks who were also bought from Jamaica in the 1790's and helped build the Halifax Citadale,but most of these decendants left due to not being able to adjust to the cold Climate.And you are right.A large number of Blacks in the Sydney area are decendants of Bajans who left Barbados in the late 1800's and came to NS to work in the coal mines.

To break it down.Most of the Black Population in the Halifax county area of Nrth Preston,East Preston and Lakeloon/Cherrybrook are derived from decendents of the Loyalist from the American Revolution.,and the war of 1812.Most Blacks in the areas of New Glasgow,The Valley,Digby,Hammonds Plains,Cumblernad County such as Amherst to Truo are from the first wave of Blacks from 1780's.The restas I previously mention,the Black population in Sydney,are of Bajan decent although it should be noted some there are decendants of the the first the Loyalist.

Most Blacks that came to Canada through the underground railroad settled in the Ontario suh as Buxton,Chatam,Windsor,Oro,St Catherines,Hamilton,Oakville and Toronto.

I am a scotian myself born in north Preston.I now live in Toronto. As for the whole language talk. In North Preston they talk real different then most blacks in Nova scotia almost like americans, I think the blacks from america that came from the underground railroad to nova scotia kept there accents and the other black that were there sort of adapted to the americans accent, but twisted it alittle cause they couldn't fully develop the accent cause they were not americans.I got some cousins thats got way stronger accents than others.My real question is does anyone know where on the internet i could get info on the surname Downey family tree? I wont to track back my roots.If anyone does know you can post it up or email me.

we are a black british family considering moving to nova scotia. How do you think we would fit into the communities in nova scotia?

Also, I know this is diverging a bit, but are there many job opportunities for builders and speech therapists?

It is extremely interesting reading various comments about this issue, I am of African descedent and live in the UK. The same could be said of the Black British and their accents, accents in the UK varies depending on which region you live. Regardless, of this fact the way people speak depends on their educational background and where they were brought up. I presumed the same observation would apply to Black people from Nova Scotia.

Fascinating read, but I definitely agree that people from The Prestons (all 3 communities) sound much different than other Black communities in Nova Scotia.

Cortell Downey, I'm not sure what kinda information you're looking for about the Downey surname but I wouldn't mind assisting you. I know a lot of Downey's in Toronto and I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to trace. The Downey family is huge from what I understand and although they are all generally related, there are 2 major families of Downeys (one from Halifax and one from North Preston). I don't know when this split occurred, but I believe 100% that they are all related. I don't know for sure if the name came directly from America or was changed due to marriage. But this isn't hard to find out.

I actually have a cousin who produced a documentary entitled "Loyalties", which traces my surname Reddick to the slave plantations in South Carolina. She basicallly reconnected 200 years of history and documented our journey roughly from West Africa to the Carolinas of America to the shores of Nova my case, Guysborough County and New Glasgow. She actually went to these slave plantations in South Carolina to make the connections and do the research through all the archives.

If you want to discuss it further you can reach me at:

My mother is a Scotian from North Preston. North Preston is a small city-country about 95% black. I was informed that North Preston was given to the runaway American slaves to keep them from mixing with the white. 21st century north preston looks very similar in my opinion to a slavery ground. It is one winding road up and one winding road down that lead into the woods. Houses are marked on each side on the road. The community has one church, one community center. Locals must leave preston to get to any shopping mall or doctor. They recently just put a bus stop down in preston. Before this is was about a 2 mile hike to the main road.

Regarding the downey name

As you know, most blacks, especially the ones in the western world (Canada, US, Europe) possess british slave names hence the name Downey

Upon my research, I found that the name "Downey" orginates from Scotland. Remember the British empire/slavemasters were comprised of Brits/Englishman, The Scottish and the Irish.

Regarding Black Downeys. As one gentleman mentioned the Downey family from Novia Scotia is huge. Reported 40,000 black downeys all related. In my immediate family tree alone there is about 100 of us, (Downeys)

Very interesting read. I am just reading this post for the first time and people are so interested in dialects and the origins of Blacks in Nova Scotia. I am "Scotian" and always will be however, I come from New Glasgow, I am bi-racial and did not live directly within the Black community, don't let that fool you though, I have always been connected to my community of New Glasgow and in Nova Scotia as a whole. First and foremost, the dialect; people seem to have different views about this subject. There is differences in dialect amoung different Black communities (geographically), and generations however, put us in a room together and we will be able to communicate together, put someone else in that room and they may have issues understanding.

People from the Preston area (North, East and Cherrybrook) have strong simularities if not the same because of the geographical closness not to mention the family connections. The further you move away from the concentration of the Black population the more other dialects influence that of Blacks. On top of that, someone had made a comment about the young people adapting to the American media (movies etc.). Maybe has some relevance but not for the majority true. We as the younger generation are, shall I say, able to live in our skin without fear of backlash. Mind you we do get backlash, however, the fear is not there.
In addition, outside of the Preston area, the communities are surrounded by proportionately larger white communities compared to the Black ones so assimilation was a necessity of everyday life, apart from our churches and maybe the odd corner store and kitchen barber.
On the topic of Oprah and the dialect, we have the ability to "adapt to the audience". If all the people were to talk in our dialect, I am sure Oprah's producers may have had to subtext the comments made by people, if they were to "talk Scotian". Like the spirituals had meaning that not everyone understood, so does the way we talk. Not everyone can understand, so we know when and where to talk "white" as someone put it.

Secondly, escaped slaves did come to Nova Scotia. Although the majority of them escaped to Ontario as it is often printed, some did come to Nova Scotia. At that time Nova Scotia consisted of both that and New Brunswick. The came the route of the eastern states and crossed over through Maine into now what is New Brunswick. Other escaped slaves, once reaching Ontario, heard about the large population of Blacks in Nova Scotia so some made the journey east seeking what we today as African Nova Scotian long for when we leave. Home, familiar faces, understanding and common trial and tribulations.

Black people in Nova Scotia do talk different not only from those south of the border but from those from other provinces. Our situation is unique as anyone would find out conducting research of the Black community in Nova Scotia. Racism still exists today in Nova Scotia and has played an intregal role in the history of the Black community and the Black experience in Nova Scotia.

I'm answering the quote up top about us not having a Black dialect....

I don't think you got close enough to the real black community out here to get to those of us that face segregation to the fullest.... You met the more intergrated Blacks in Nova Scotia.... Whoever wrote this has not met our real problem because our Black communities are hidden from someone who visits... We indigineous Blacks are facing genocide here in Nova Scotia.... Every other Black culture who has only been here for less than 60 years has doubled even tripled, while our black Scotia population has not grown and even decreased.... We used to have one of the largest Black communities in north America at one point in the 1800's....

A man from L.A. was here to do a documentary on the way Scotians live today.... He said that the accent was STRONGER here than alot of his people in LA... He felt the older folk were closer in our talk to the 1800's than his parents.. So I guess it alll has to do with what you find when you come here...... This is a clip of Nova Scotia in the 60's.... this is not long ago

You tell me if we are still segregated or not..... You can count on two hands how many Blacks work downtown.... Most from Preston have their own contracting companies. It's in our blood to build. At one time there was no choice. These intense labour jobs seem to be popular in the black community. Some people still think thy are slave!!Remember this, almost EVERY yound man in Uniacke Square has been imprisoned, has no father, or is on some type of drugs. The neighbour hod is facing expropriation and gentrification right now.

My family (Hill,Hamilton) was one of the original settlers from the War of 1812 and was given a land grant in Beechville Nova Scotia..... At some point in time CBC bought/expropriated the land, for next to nothing, to put up a signal tower....My family then moved to the City of Halifax...... We all have scotian accents and whenever I meet someone from Scotia I know they're Scotian just by way they pronounce certain words.... My parents moved to Montreal so that we could have a better life...I have been back home often and it pains to to see what is happening....I remember in the 1980's I was in College and went home for the summer. The discrimination was unbearable.....I unfortunately didn't get a chance to see Ophra's show, but if the focus was on how people talk, then it was a missed opportunity.

The focus wasn't on how people talk. No one on the who even mentioned it. That was just something I noticed when I saw the episode.

(Jeremy writes)... What was shocking to me was how these people talked. They sounded just like any other Canadian would. There was absolutely nothing I could detect of standard Black English inflections.

Why might this be? (I can try to answer that J!!)

Why would it be shocking? As you have in he U.S... You have people who intergrate differently than others (Blair Underwood compared to Dave Chapelle).... Blair doesn't have that drawl and talks like any other White American... but he doesn't represent all the U.S.... make sense?

Nobody can control who gets on a show like Oprah's.... The people on that set for that day don't represent the "whole" culture and way of life of Scotian Blacks.... Our diversity is wide ranging.... Look at the posts on this site... We live all over the place.... Like the U.S. you have your Brian Gumble, Wayne Brady and Halle Berry's & thousand and thousands more (American Blacks without that drawl/ and they have conformed or do a great job practising white talk) The US is diverse too!! ... And some of us come off like a Woody Tolliver from Africville... He has that old Bernie Mac chop'sound to his talk (many more like him).... Most people from away can't understand him!.... Does this make sense? ... The community was not informed about this Oprah show.... The odds are very slim that she would have the time to get to heart of our culture in 1 hour anyway.... She would need to spend a couple of months and do proper research to get a real understanding of our culture. But hey.... how someone talks really doesn't matter as much as what they are saying anyway.... And that's not what the show was about. Her show was not deep at all, it was like "Hey there's blacks in Nova Scotia"

Switch topics.... Oprah's show should have been on... Canada's silent racism..... or....our Founding of the Capital "Freetown" Sierra Leonne.... Surviving harsh winters with no supplies/blocked supply routes.....The Africville story.....What about the Blacks who suffered here BEFORE the loyalists arrived? How come no one talks about that?....This is not emphasised in our history books enough in Canada (purposely)...It seems hidden to me since I didn't get this from the classroom.... We are creoles in Freetown who keep a Nova Scotian flag (represent Black Nova Scotia) right in their classrooms today... If we were free in Canada why would we call Sierra Leonne's capital Freetown? Canada is REALLY good at hiding racism..... Canada wouldn't look too good if we talked about the communities like Preston, hammond Plains ect..)that were left in the woods with no supplies, un-farmable land in the harshest winters and left to die (instead survived)!! Three years ago the United Nations has stepped in and they agree that we receive apology and compensation for the terrible things that have gone on here in Halifax RECENTLY..... but our goverment hasn't moved yet (unfortunately The United nations cannot act aggressively just suggest).... Another topic.... why do Black Scotian's have to leave Scotia to be successful? ... That would be a great topic!!That's what Oprah should've spent more time on....


Bryant Gumble, Wayne Brady, and Halle Berry don't have the distinctive grammar of Black English, but they do have a fairly standard accent common to most black Americans. The Canadians I heard on the show did not have that accent.

I don't have a clue what you're talking about regarding the show itself, since I said absolutely nothing about the content of the show. My comment was simply a response to the way the people I heard spoke, not about the things Oprah did or didn't do or say.

You're right that how someone talks isn't as important as what they say, but I wasn't talking about what they were saying. To someone interested in language, including how accents form, this was a very interesting topic that I was extremely curious about. Since nothing in the show provided any evidence for what I was hearing, I was curious to see if anyone could provide any. Frankly, I have no recollection at all of what her show was about or whether it was a worthwhile episode.

Cordell and the rest of the Downey and Reddick family,

I understand that North Preston has plenty of stories concerning our roots and where the Downeys got thier name. I was blessed to be the first grand son of the late HUGIE DOWNEY and ROSE ANNE Downey. The so called last of the Royal blood. My Reddick blood line has been traced all the way back from seirra leone (west Africa). My grand Mother ROSE ANNE DOWNEY had 10 brothers and sisters who each produced at least 7-10 kids per family. That same grand mother produced 10 kids her self. She was a Whynder, her husband MY GRAND FATHER was HUGIE Downey who had plenty brothers and sisters with the same last name. My Grandfather was born on Downey rd. North Preston. Nova Scotia.

Reddicks: My grand Mother ANNE Reddick had few brothers and sister but 10 sons. My Grand Father Reddick came fresh from west africa (sierra leone).

J. Tremain Downey
27 yrs old
1866 847 7436

This is an interesting conversation. I grew up in Digby County, Nova Scotia, and there is a different accent about every 20 miles in Nova Scotia. In the 1920's my grandmother (who was from Queens County on the South Shore) went to Boston to attend nursing school. On her arrival there people thought she was from the Carolinas. Many southern loyalists wound up on the South Shore of Nova Scotia so they have a bit of the southern drawl even today.

My dad (who is white) was a minister in an African Baptist Church for several years. Having grown up in predominently white Baptist churches there is definitely a different culture but it doesn't look anything like the African American church experience frequently depicted on television. The services were very similar to other rural Baptist churches with a great deal of dignity and reverence. I think it to say that black culture is homogenous makes about as much sense as thinking that white culture is homogenous.

Environmental racism is alive and well and recently showed its ugly head again Guysborough Nova Scotia in and around the African Nova Scotian community of Lincolnville. Environmental racism in Canada can be defined as the intentional siting of hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators, and polluting industries in communities inhabited mainly by African-Canadian, 1st Nations, Asians, and the working poor, etc.. African Nova Scotians are particularly vulnerable because they are perceived as weak and passive citizens who will not fight back against the poisoning of their neighborhoods in fear that it may jeopardize jobs and economic survival.

Race is the most significant variable associated with the location of hazardous waste sites and in the above noted case it is no different. In the history of the Province of Nova Scotia, the greatest number of commercial hazardous sites and facilities have been located in or next to African Nova Scotian communities.
The has been more commercial hazardous waste sites and facilities located in an near African Nova Scotian community that non African Nova Scotian communities, with a great number of these sites and facilities located next to 1st Nations communities.

Although socio-economic status is also a variable in the location of these sites, race is the most significant even after taking into account regional regional differences.

Many of the at-risk communities are victims of land-use decisionmaking that mirrors the power arrangements of the dominant society. Historically, exclusionary zoning has been a subtle form of using government authority and power to foster and perpetuate discriminatory practices, such as the case with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality being allowed to dump its trash 1km away from the African Nova Scotian community of Lincolnville.

The Municapility of Guysborough, members of a waste disposal company, and two less than supported community members have been attempting to convince African Nova Scotians in Lincolnville that dumping is and will improve their economic conditions yet not a single community resident has been hired and no funds has ever been invested in the community. There has been no tests on the health of residents in Lincolnville.

Many studies throughout North America suggest clear relationships between a high concentration of African (racially visible) populations, low incomes and unhealthy environments. Poor African Nova Scotians do not have the economic means to leave their neighborhoods for resettlement elsewhere. Housing discrimination often makes it difficult to find alternative dwellings at affordable rates. Industries that pollute are attracted to poor neighborhoods because land values, incomes, and other costs of doing business are lower. These industries are drawn to poor neighborhoods where political power and community resources to fight back are weak or lacking. Higher income areas are usually more successful in preventing or controlling the entry of polluting industries such as dumps to their communities.

The effects of pollution and environmental hazards on African Nova Scotians, people of color, the poor, and the working class has largely been overlooked by environmental policy makers because it is perceived that these communities are politically powerless and will not protest the siting of such sites and facilities. African Nova Scotians, for example, are looked upon as less informed, less aware and less concerned with environmental issues than non- African Nova Scotians. However, poverty and a lack of empowerment are better indicators of environmental racism than race itself.

Many man made barriers and a lack of adequate resources within our African Nova Scotian communities influences our low level of activism. When African Nova Scotians are adequately informed about the hazards, their level of awareness and opposition to the toxic sites/facilities results in a more active protest. Mainstream environmental movement and groups must be critized for their glaring lack of African Nova Scotian representation. These organizations fail to recruit African Nova Scotian representation and thus have not addressed most of the environmental hazards in African Nova Scotian communities.

To actively attack and address the issue and plague of environment racism, one of the first steps is to inform others of the impact of Environmental Racism and to lobby governments for changes in policy. Environmental racism is not a situation that lends itself to an overnight solutiuon, but the longest trip starts with the first step.

Efforts also must be made to unite and partner with other communities across Canada and the United States to bring preasure to bear.

Raymond Sheppard

Very interesting. I would tend to agree with what was said in the initial posts about accents. The topic would make interesting work for a linguist or dialectician. I lived in Toronto for 20 years but never visited Nova Scotia but was good friends with a black Scotian. I stand corrected too cos' I have been guilty of telling people here in London (England) about Scotians and how they got there thru the underground railroad. Turns out that may only be partially or minimally true. But my main point in telling that was to show that there were/are blacks in Canada with deep roots. Very surprised about the Bajan thing. Never heard that one before and thats interesting to me since I have Caribbean roots.
Also for the Downey guy. Yes !! The name Downey immediately rung a bell from my Scotian encounters in Toronto . I would not be surprised to know there was tons and tons of Downey's

let me jus add that no black africvan blooded person has any such thing as caribbean roots this is insaane!!! there is a small human history of africans in the regin but the term roots means the begining and as we should all know glorious africa is the root period we have jus slaved for the european in the west all the time we were forced here and mind you lived in a shadow of HIS culture the hole time no matter the place of birth here in the west either it be brazill or boston you are deep in the former slavemasters way of life... and as for the accent and not hearing the drawl of the so called black american listen to me and my families talk who's birth is north preston and you might not be able to understand us talk we might be tooo black for you lolol...any way this page is full of people with ecentic words that dont really say anything i dont understand the reason for this site all i hear on here is low key national ( canada us caribbean) pride which to my dissapoint is not the pride of afrocentricty or black nationalist pride but go figure the field [negroes] would call that voice house [negro] talk hear alot of canada and united staes propaganda talk as if you should be proud of this place(burn it to the ground) and stop begging your fathers swarn enemy it sickens me.... lets face facts the goverment of canada FAILEED us african blooded people.... the american goverenment has failed us the african blooded people stop speaking in terms of we and us when we speak of these societies and build on our own for us they will say that the black nova scotian a loyist.... weaht a joke this is its a insult stop defining by there terms.... they will say that the african in souhthern ontario was a a escapee or the setterler that came here was a maroon i could give the answer as to what to call these men but i leave it to you to search the truth

Akara, an old tree can have huge roots, extending from near the ground and near the base of the tree to quite deep and quite far. Why can't someone's roots go to the Caribbean and then further back to Africa? What's insane is taking a fairly common metaphor and restricting it to include much less than what it actually means.

As for the culture of blacks in the Americas, I think you have a seriously impoverished view of black culture if you think not having African culture anymore means not having any culture. You also seriously underestimate the sense in which mainstream culture is significantly influenced by blacks. It's not a white culture. There is no such thing anymore in the U.S. or Canada, because whites aren't culturally isolated anymore enough to have a culture that's just theirs.

I don't think anyone still has the slavemaster's way of life. It demeans the hard labor and dehumanization of slave life to compare the troubles of blacks today with slave life and not notice the difference.

I'm removing your offensive language and replacing it with inoffensive equivalents that shouldn't change the meaning much. It's borderline acceptable even after being changed.

Also, a piece of advice in case you come back: Please learn to write in complete sentences with proper spelling and punctuation. It's incredibly hard to read what you write when it's so carelessly thrown together. Presumably the intent of writing something is so that people can read it.

I'm 8th generation black nova-scotian. A lot of you are speaking about most black Nova-Scotians coming as loyalist and dismissing the impact the underground railroad had on black communities in NS. Roughly 3000 blacks came over as loyalist and settled. The underground railroad seen 30 000 blacks escape slavery, in which a significant portion migrated to Nova Scotia afterwards.
To get all your facts straight before you open your mouths. Preston was one of the original Loyalist settlements in Nova Scotia, settled by both Blacks and Whites. Yet the two groups were treated VERY unequally. There is a very good book on the topic: The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783 to 1870 by James W. St. G. Walker (University of Toronto Press, 1992). The seminal work on Black history in Canada is Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History (2nd ed. McGill-Queens University Press, 1997). The original edition came out in 1971, and I believe was the first book of its kind.

and as for the speech, making a blanket statement that Nova-Scotian blacks speak "normal" english is rather ignorant and shows your lack of knowledge. Go to north preston and see the difference. You may think you're in the american south in missisipi or something. Someone made a comment about black NS's on TV... are you kidding me? TV... get real...

Curtis, I don't think very many people in this discussion have been speaking in the absolutes you're attributing to them. Some have indicated their experience, and it may be partial experience, but that's still something they've experienced.

As for TV, I can't figure out any reason why hearing someone in person should be any different from hearing someone on TV. Do you really think the process of filming someone is going to transform their accent? Or do you think people will speak in a different accent just because Oprah is present?

Funny how the whole preston community history and speech is stereotyped by a brief Oprah segment and the assumption that the majority are descended from slaves. Why would it make any difference whether the community came from slaves? Which it didn't most slaves continued west into Ontario or groups like the Maroons returned en masse to Africa. The "slave" history only serves as a means to continue to excuse the attrocites that have occured to black communities through Canadian history because blacks were and are still not seen as real "Canadians". Soon, Preston too will fall victim to the same history as Africville in Halifax, or Darktown/Hogan's alley in Vancouver and countless other historically black communities in this country. Their connection and right to this country will again be stolen. Canadian Black culture seems to be the only culture in this country that isn't protected. But then what culture do the descendants of "slaves" have that wasn't given to them by their "saviors"? A wonderful way to still take anything they suddenly decide is of value.

The question of how we speak is summed up easily. In my family we were taught to speak two differnt ways. One was the way we spoke in public around white people and it had to be perfect and proper. The other, while still not heavily "black," was used at home with each other but was greatly watered down in a few years after our father moved us out west. I didn't see the Oprah segment but it seems like she missed the idea of the destroyed history, stolen lands and ignored culture of Nova Scotia and Canada as a whole. It's amazing that most white Canadians think they can look down their nose at the states for racism without knowing our whole history as Canadians. After 8 generations and being part first nations you still ask me what country I come from. Shows how much they tell us about our history.

I had one piece of information. I asked some questions about it and offered an explanation of that piece of information, wondering whether that would explain the data. Nothing I said assumed the information I had was fully indicative or standard. I just wondered what might explain the information I had. To confuse that with stereotyping is to misunderstand entirely what stereotyping is.

Being descended from slaves might explain speech patterns, since any community's speech is at least to some degree affected by its ancestors' speech, particularly if there is cultural isolation and if the ancestors were also culturally isolated. As I made clear in the post, being descended from slaves isn't the only factor, but that doesn't mean it's irrelevant.

I don't remember (and perhaps never knew) what Oprah covered in the segment. I saw maybe a few seconds of it, noticed something interesting about how the people she had on spoke, and asked a question about what I had noticed. I wouldn't take what I saw as a sign of what happened over the course of the episode or even of what happened during that whole segment. She may well have done what you're saying she didn't do, and she may well not have.

Stereotype: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group that represents an oversimplified opinion. Your own statement, "there was absolutely nothing I could detect of standard Black English inflections," is in itself a stereotype. Is there a standard or is it one that you assume? The things I said were not meant as an insult to your question on the contrary I appreciate questions and comments that give a chance to extend knowledge. Please don't take offense as it's not an attack on your thinking but rather an explanation or rather light exposure of our systemic thinking in North America. A chance to question why we all think the way we do. I do apologize if I took the topic past the borders of language. However, one cannot understand a reason for language without knowing something of that culture and history. History and culture are topics which are hard not to be passionate about when discussing.

There's a difference between true generalizations and stereotypes. True generalizations are genuine tendencies that one may observe without assuming everyone in the group is like that. Stereotyping is when you extend it to everyone in the group or assume it to be true of someone merely because they're in the group, when it might not be true of them or of others in the group. Stereotyping also includes false generalizations. Discussions of standard Black English inflections need not be stereotypes, since there are patterns of speech that a majority of North American black people have in common. This is something linguists observe and most black people are aware of.

If you are going to make an appeal to authourity you should list some of these linguists or their research that gives some evidence of your statement making it a legitimate argument. The problem with one observing "true generalizations" is that those observations are shaped by the society in which we were raised. To say that most black people are aware of this is an appeal to masses. Where are you getting this information? What percentage of black people are aware of this, where are the numbers on that? These are assumptions unless you have the evidence to back it up. If you want to have discourse to pass knowledge or attempt to understand something, make sure that knowledge is as true as possible with current information scientifically based or philosophically proven. Not based on what you assume everyone knows. Are you a linguist? Have you researched this? A boat isn't water tight until it's tested likewise an argument (a fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true) is not an argument unless it can be backed up by legitmate proven evidence. A relevant question would be "why are we surprised when we see black people, in the U.S. and Canada, who naturally speak in a way that isn't dictated by the media?"

The linguistic consensus can be found at the Wikipedia entry on African American Vernacular English. There are plenty of references at the bottom of the page.

I'm not talking about something you "just" googled I'm talking about something you read and a linguist researched, articles or anything. Something that got you informed on the topic to pass the knowledge on. By the way if you'd read the whole wikipedia article you wouldn't have used the word consensus as there is no unanimity on the on the subject of AAVE and nowhere does it refer to a "standard black english," because it's still a controversial subject. If you are going to state something as fact you have to be prepared that someone like me is going to call you on it. That's what I get from East Preston Nova Scotia.

My starting point on this was in the writings of the linguist John McWhorter, who writes about both race and language. He's a specialist in creole language. But I'm not relying on him for this, even though it's in his specialty. I've looked at the Wikipedia article before, so it's not something I've just Googled. On most academic matters, Wikipedia is a good starting point for finding research, since academics who contribute to it will list their sources. I've also read discussions of it by actual linguists. It gets referred to every once in a while at the linguistics blog Language Log, which I read regularly. I also have a book by Walt Wolfram that discusses various aspects of American English, and this is part of his work. I'm not a linguist, so I don't spend my time researching linguistics, but I've done enough reading to know that this is a pretty much consensus view among linguists.

There's no unanimity on all of the details, as with any detailed academic issues, but there's a consensus that there is a dialect like this and that is has many of the features described in the Wikipedia article. There's a debate over how it should affect education, the so-called Ebonics debate being part of that. But there's not much dissent among linguists that there is such a dialect and that it has the features the Wikipedia article details.

This is very interesting. I am not descended from real 'Nova Scotians' they were really African Americans who immigrated to Nova Scotia and then later on immigrated to Sierra Leone. My own family still own the very house that the settlers who arrived from Nova Scotia built in 1792 (renovated of course). It is amazing how my grandfather and my grandmother can talk of how their ancestors were from Nova Scotia just from oral tradition. They couldn't point to Nova Scotia on a map yet they knew their African American heritage through oral tradition though the settlers arrived in 1792! Anyway it just proves my theory about the African American diaspora. African Americans are the ancestors of the first Black Canadians and the first repatriated group of black people (who are my ancestors known in Sierra Leone as the Nova Scotians). I think we should be proud of our ancestry as our ancestors suffered in the United States but they built a better life for themselves in Canada, Sierra Leone and Liberia respectively. This book 'Physicians, Colonial Racism, and Diaspora in West Africa By Adell Patton'tells of one Nova Scotian settler family the Easmons and the google book link is here (,M1) and Chapter four is the specific chapter which deals with the Easmon family. The Easmons are not listed in the Book of Negroes like my own ancestors were as the Easmons were probably free African Americans who supported the British or they were evacuated earlier than other blacks i 1783.

I think the fact that this comment thread is still going FOUR YEARS AFTER THE ORIGINAL POST is evidence enough of just how little information there is out there on the real lives of Scotians. Run a search for "preston nova scotia segretation" or "racism" and this -- a comments thread from some dude's blog -- is near the top of the list. Sad statement!

Anyway, I appreciate some of the comments above. I am American but I lived in Halifax for two years. My work took me to the Prestons frequently and I was very surprised at how little average Canadians even knew of the place. It is like a different world -- like stepping back through time to some kind of ex-slave shanty town ... which was probably great back when the people living there actually were former slaves 150 years ago, but is a sad statement about the inclusiveness of Canadians' self-professed "mosaic" and "tossed salad" multicultural values today.

It always blew my mind how white Canadians could go on and on about racist indignities a thousand miles away in the American south (trashing Yankees is the third Canadian national pastime, after hockey and curling), but most of them had never seen the Prestons just across the harbor and had no interest in knowing about the travails of their black fellow citizens.

I remember discussing this once with a typical self-righteous Canadian I met in Cairo one time, and she actually claimed there was no such place as the Prestons. Just flat denied it.

But it is there -- across the harbor and over the hill, where whites don't have to look at it.

Shame on Canada, eh?

Keep in mind that Google's weird ranking system is based on how many links a site receives, and blogs get lots of links, especially if they belong to blogroll lists of other blogs featuring similar topics or political perspectives. Any post on a well-linked blog like mine will be near the top of a Google search provided you use an unusual search pattern (i.e. not something like "Obama infanticide" or "free will determinism", even though I've discussed those issues in posts).

But the fact that this one is one of those searches to get very little does say that Nova Scotia is not one of the places that gets a lot of attention for race issues.

Do Canadians seriously refer to Southerners as Yankees just because they're in the U.S.? I'd love to see them do that in person and then watch the results. That would be like referring to Muslim Palestinians as Jews because they live in Israel.

I am not sure why people would not hear a distinct rhythm of speech. I am from Nova Scotia and it is very noticeable. I did not see the show so I have no idea who was speaking but believe me we do speak quite differently from the rest of Canada (white or black). As for identifying as "normal Canadians", really, does the question "where are you from?" mean anything to you. I think the person who wrote is is not well versed in Black Nova Scotian history and I will leave it at that.

Ertha, of course I'm not well-versed in Black Nova Scotian. That's why I asked. I wasn't listening for regional differences between different parts of Canada. What I was noticing as absent is the standard black American accent. You hear elements of that among black people even in Vancouver. I was surprised not to hear it among the people I chanced to hear during the brief moments I was paying attention to the Oprah show in question. I wondered a little about it and mentioned it on my blog, and lots of people have left a lot more information in the comments that gives a much more balanced picture. That's all there is to it.

hello,im a half white half black and from nova scotia from the same region as north preston

1st,i dont consider nova scotia to be an extremely racist place,though it does seem whites have more oppertunities than black.also unlike our lebanese and asian populations,black community remain very segragated.and unfortunatly we have the same money gaps as many american states,which is we have poor black communities and rich white communities

2nd,with the acccents black canadians definitly have different accents,but the first thing any americans reading this have to realize is black canada can pretty much be divided into 3 regions,ontario,quebec and nova scotia,due to quebec and ontario being major immigrant destinations their black communities are dominated by recent caribbean immigrants,jamaican in ontario,haitin in quebec.Where as nova scotia gets very little immigrants,most not from african countries our black communities are mainly made up of freed american slave decendents.

Dear Mr. Downey;

Nova Scotia is one of the most racist places in Canada. The history speaks for itself. I left 35 years ago and visited twice this year and I must say nothing has changed in fact it may be worse. Two men apologized to me for the fact they they were speaking Arabic TO EACH OTHER, while I was waiting for a bus. I am very sorry but you must live not want to see the racism. My family is from North Preston and I grew up in Halifax. Theomobius, you could not be more right. Canadians need to know their history before they start pointing fingers. I think many Canadians would be truly horrified learning the history of this country.

Since lots of people who are looking for information on the Scotians seem to continue landing here, this might be a useful link:

Gives more info on segregated black communities in Nova Scotia -- typically set up a few miles outside of white towns so as to prevent mixing while providing cheap labor. You see this pattern repeated all over Nova Scotia, even outside of these almost entirely black communities. In mid-sized cities like New Glasgow and Truro, the black population tends to be concentrated in one or two dilapidated streets on the outskirts of town.

I was born and raised in Nova Scotia, and trust me, people from North Preston speak much differently than other Nova Scotians, and Canadians for that matter. For example, the way they say North Preston would be something like this- Nort Preton.

People in Noth Preston speek Ebonix. They do say things differently. My husband says simple word differently like street is screet, Tim Hortons is Tim Nortons, Oil is Earl, and Phone is Foam. They also have different saying and meaning for some things Like... the home road, out the road, up home. None of it is so different, that they should be miss understood. If you are hearing it for the first time... waite a minute it wont take long to understand. I am going to be married and laid to rest in North Preston. I am not the fist white person and I wont be the last. North Preston is a very loyal and family oiranted community. They show more love for the people than any place I have ever lived.

Noth Preston scares alot of White people. People fear what they don't understand. Some are to quick to listen to rumors made by others. I have come across people who ask quiestions like "Do they realy rape white women on the top of the world"? I have heard thing like Its ok for a white girl to go to North Preston but a white mans car would get shot up! All not true. I have never seen a white person not welcomed into North Preston because of there skin color.

As my Friend Heidi say her first time in North Preston... It would be a great place to retire. Every one waves to each other as they are comming or leaving North Preston. Most people drive slow... and you can get Eggs, Bread, Fish, Wood, and many more other things delivered to your door at Discounted prices!

The only "Normal" Americans are Native Americans. The writer of this article needs to educate themselve about that fact. There is also No such language as "Black English"! Some Black Canadians may speak English with a different accent than Black Americans but the language that they all speak is called English, Not "Black English". Just so you know, Afro-Nova Scotians and Afrian Americans have have both been extremely discriminated against by sick Europeans that have an underserved sense of superiority against them. Black people can't help but form a seperate culture from the Europeans of their county. If your people were being oppressed by another group of people, wouldn't you?

I can think of several senses of the word "normal" that allow for there to be normal Americans who happen not to be Native American:

1. Someone can be normal in the sense of not having extremely strange and out-of-the-ordinary characteristics. For instance, someone who prefers to cut off their arm and eat it is not normal. In that sense, most Americans are normal. Whether you are normal in this sense is unrelated to whether you are Native American.

2. Someone can be normal in the sense of being typical in most respects. Everyone has ways of not being typical, but some people are typical in most respects. Whether you are normal in this sense is unrelated to whether you are Native American.

3. Someone can be normal in the sense of being stereotypical or a paradigm case. While we shouldn't make such normality normative in the sense of either expecting it of people or assuming it is true of anyone, there's nothing problematic about recognizing that there are social facts about a society in what it recognizes as normal. There is in fact no way to fight against harmful stereotypes without recognizing that they're there. Now I'd say that we're getting to a point where we might find people who are legally Native American who are normal in this sense, but it's not as likely to be true of Native Americans who have any significant culturally Native American characteristics. While that's regrettable, it's nonetheless a fact. So on this sense of being normal, being Native American is relevant, but it goes entirely the wrong direction to support your odd claim.

Those seem to me to be the three most common senses of the word 'normal' in ordinary English. The only sense in which I used it was the third, and a careful reading in context should make that clear. What I said not only makes perfect sense, but anyone denying what I said is blind to social realities. Someone who is black in the United States still faces barriers to being seen as the sort of person who might be imagined when someone is asked to think of a typical or normal American. Things are changing with that, but we're not fully there yet. Usually when someone imagines a typical American, they think of someone white. That's simply a fact. The same goes for a typical Canadian. I'm not sure why you'd be so hard-pressed to deny that.

As for Black English, I never claimed it to be a language any more than I might claim Australian English to be a separate language. Nonetheless there is a dialect shared by many black Americans that linguists have labeled Black English, just as there is a dialect shared by many who live in the U.S. South that linguists might call Southern English, and there's a dialect in the U.K. that linguists might call British English or Queen's English.

On the cultural point, I never said there was nothing understandable about forming a separate sub-culture. All I was doing was (1) offering a potential explanation for a linguistic observation from watching a few people on a TV show about a group I know very little about (and on which there has been much more information in the comments than what I saw on the show) and then (2) wondering if that phenomenon is similar to another one I've seen in the U.S. where the tendency that you describe as natural also has harmful consequences.

It's not just accent, either. There are differences in vocabulary and grammar from dialect to dialect within a language. In the dialect called Black English, the grammar allows for forms of the very "to be" that are grammatically incorrect in standard English. For instance, "I be talking to you" for the progressive or continues present tense, something not distinguished from the ordinary present in standard American or U.K. English, which allows for a finer distinction.

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