Halifax to mark Emancipation Day with a grand celebration

By Steve Gow

Haligonians are being encouraged to observe the province’s very first Emancipation Day on August 1.

Passed unanimously into provincial legislation after Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince introduced the bill in April to officially launch the annual event, Emancipation Day aims to recognize the history and impact of slavery in Nova Scotia.

“What we are trying to do (is) educate, inform and let people know why it is important, and especially to us in Nova Scotia, being a province that has the history of people being here for over 400 years,” says the Cole Harbour-Portland MLA of the legislation to mark an annual commemoration.

“It speaks to the fact that we were here quite a long time and I think that in itself warrants us acknowledging because we were part of that system.”

Emancipation Day marks the date when the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 into law all across the British Empire, which included Canada.  On August 1, 1834, the practice of slavery was officially ended for approximately 800,000 people of African descent around the world.

“Us taking this step forward as a government, (we’re) addressing the three pillars, which is recognition, justice and development. I would say that the one step in the recognition leads to the other two pillars,” says Ince, who notes on March 24 of this year, federal members of parliament also unanimously passed Emancipation Day in Canada.

“Since we have taken this step, I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me with a lot of pride,” adds Ince. “They’re all trying to do a number of things to educate and inform people on the history that was in this province (and) the history of slavery.”

Ince says Emancipation Day should be seen as an opportunity to learn more about the history of African Nova Scotians and to acknowledge our shared history together in the province.

Several events will be taking place across Halifax and Nova Scotia to commemorate the inaugural Emancipation Day. 

In addition to an official Raising of the Pan-African Flag at Grand Parade on July 30 at 10 a.m., there will be a free evening celebration hosted by GameChangers902 in partnership with Civic Events and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion/African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office (ANSAIO) on August 1.

RS Smooth will be one of the performers during the three-hour celebration at Grand Parade.  A renowned local radio host and DJ, Smooth expects to “keep the good vibes going” by playing music throughout the evening, including in-between guests and speakers.

“It’s not a typical event. Hopefully people aren’t just expecting music — there are going to be so many other things,” says Smooth. Guests will range from Canadian Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, to local rapper Kye Clayton, to choral ensemble the Nova Scotia Mass Choir. “I think it’s more of a showcase of various talent and to celebrate the fact that it is Emancipation Day, so it’s not always about (being) negative.”

Smooth is anticipating the Grand Parade event to be celebratory in nature, adding he hopes that the official inauguration of Emancipation Day is also a turning point in the advancement of meaningful dialogue around race relations and inclusivity.

“I’m honoured even to be asked to be part of this,” says Smooth.

“I just personally wish there was more stuff like this (because) it’s one thing to harp on what happened, but what can we do to move forward? What can people take away from it? With Emancipation Day, I feel like a lot of the talent alone — why they’re there — is to build on that as well.”

For more information on events and how to observe Emancipation Day, visit the website.

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