Black Slaves – Some of Whom Came to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton

The Struggle of Blacks in Cape Breton – In the early 1900’s many immigrants came to Cape Breton as laborers to work for the Dominion Iron and Steel Company. They settled in the city of Sydney and in the Cape Breton mining towns of Glace Bay and New Waterford. Among the immigrants to settle in Cape Breton were West Indian Blacks from Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Guyana, and other Caribbean locations. Other Black settlers came from smaller Nova Scotia centers such as Guysborough and Tracadie. The plant hired individuals accustomed to tropical climates on the premise that they would be able to withstand the hot conditions associated with the steel making. One group of immigrants originally from the West Indies came over from Alabama because they were offered double the wages they were making. These individuals did not stay long as the harsh bitter winters were to difficult for them.

The West Indian immigrants continued to immigrate to Cape Breton for the first few decades of the 1900’s. Following the first group of wage laborers, there arrived a group of West Indians who established small businesses in Whitney Pier. They were proud owners of grocery, book, and jewelry stores, and provided other services such as shoemaking, tailoring, carpentry, and plastering. The immigration also brought professionals from West Indies to Canada. One of the more socially prominent immigrants was Doctor Alvinus Calder, a native of Grenada, and a graduate of McGill University who set up a practice in Whitney Pier. A lawyer named F.A. Hamilton, from Barbados, practiced law in Sydney and published a province wide weekly newspaper about Blacks called The Gleaner.

Religion – The West Indians formed different social organizations and worshipped in the churches of their choice. The early West Indians worshipped at St. Cyprian’s, St. Albans, Trinity United, the United Mission, and St. Philip’s African Orthodox Church. St. Philip’s became the focal point of the Black West Indian community. It is also the only African Orthodox parish in Canada.  St.Philip’s was established in 1921 as a result of a racial incident that occurred when the Black people of Whitney Pier were met with opposition to their attending a local church. Some blacks continued to attend services at the religious institutions. However, others did not feel comfortable attending and sought a church of their own. Thus came the need within the Black community of Whitney Pier for a church catering to their distinctive needs. Soon after the incident, members of the Black community applied to the African Orthodox Church in New York seeking permission to establish their own congregation in Sydney. Permission was granted and St. Philip’s African Orthodox Church was formed. St. Philips is proud of it’s African and West Indian background but welcome all races to the church. Often you will hear Archbishop Vincent Waterman state, “There is only one race – the human race.”

Black Lady of Poster – Note Willie O’Ree Hockey Player on Poster

Education – Education was a motivating force in the lifestyle of most of the families from the West Indies. Education meant opportunity. The children of the West Indian families knew early in life they needed to have an education. Both the quality and quantity of education would determine their future and their pursuit of happiness. The West Indians came as people who were already well educated and taught their children the value of education.  

Overcoming Obstacles The West Indians who served in the First World War fought as well as any other Canadians and received a measure of recognition. However, these same men and women often had to win respect all over again in the streets of Cape Breton. Fewer job opportunities were available to Blacks than to other workers in the steel and coal industries. Jobs offered to black laborers were usually known as “dirty jobs” such as laborer in the coke ovens department of the steel plant. (This would be the area, which lead to one of the worst toxic sites in Canada). Blacks from the West Indies were among many cultural groups recruited to work in the coke ovens. Advancement in the steel plant and coalmines was highly unlikely for Black people.  

In an attempt to have the public become more aware of the contributions by people of African descent, Black History Month was established. Now known as African Heritage Month, it is a celebration that takes place each year during the month of February. It began in 1926 in the United States by an African American named Dr. Carter G. Woodson.   Dr. Woodson selected February because it was the birth month of two significant people he believed were instrumental in the freedom of the slaves. They were President Abraham Lincoln, who brought emancipation into the United States, and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who promoted the importance of education for his people. Since slaves were not permitted to read, write, or attend school, Douglass knew what had to be done to abolish slavery and uplift his people.In 1995, the House of Commons declared February as National Black History Month. African Heritage Month was never intended to restrict activities about Black history to once a year, as is often the case. It is a way to promote a culture that although significant in contributing to society, has often been ignored. It is time to reflect upon what has been done throughout the year. 

With Hard Work and Education Mayann became Lt Gov of Nova Scotia 



Community Profiles

Mayann FrancisMayann, Francis, a former resident of Whitney Pier is presently the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. She is a graduate of Dalhousie University and New York University. She served as the Director and CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. She is the first Black woman to be appointed to positions of these magnitudes. She has worked tirelessly behind the scenes and on the boards in the interest of her community of Whitney Pier and for all of humanity. Mayann was also the first female Ombudsman of Nova Scotia.

Phyllis Arthur –was the first black schoolteacher in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Phyllis began her teaching career in 1955 at a one-room schoolhouse at Meadow’s Road, Sydney Forks, where she taught grades 1 through 8.

Phyllis never planned to become a teacher. Her decision to go to teachers’ college was largely the result of a discussion with then Sydney Academy principal, Dr. G.G, Campbell, who encouraged her to become a teacher.

Phyllis moved to Sydney and began her teaching career in Whitney Pier. She attended school herself in the Pier area and enjoyed the many ethnic backgrounds found in this community.

A few years ago, Community United for Black Education (CUBE) honored her as a role model for black students. Phyllis now retired remains busy doing volunteer work for many community organizations and her church.

Blacks have served in Canadian Forces in every conflict since 1812

Dr. Alvin Calder – Dr. Calder was born in Grenada. The first doctor of African descent to practice medicine in Cape Breton, he was respected and admired by many people. He served as the President of the Medical Association of Cape Breton for several years. Dr. Calder, along with F.A. Hamilton, were instrumental in the building of the Menelik Hall, the first Black owned community hall in the Maritimes.
Carl “Campy” Crawford – In 1964, he became the first Black municipal police officer east of Montreal. His friendly demeanor he had patrolling the streets of Sydney made him a role model to many. Campy was inducted into the Black Wall of Fame at the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia for his accomplishment.

Campy passed away in 2003 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. Since his passing the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has established the Carl “Campy” Crawford Leadership Award in his honor and memory.

George Anthony Francis – George Anthony Francis was born in Santiago, Cuba and as a boy seemed to have a calling toward the ministry. At the age of 20, he moved to New York to pursue his studies in religion under the direction of the African Orthodox Church. After a time he was ordained a priest in the faith.

In 1940 he moved to Sydney and settled in at 19 Hankard Street, where he lived for the next 42 years. He presided over the congregation of the African Orthodox Church in Whitney Pier. In addition to the church duties he gave numerous time to community organizations.

In 1952, he was made a Commissioner of Oaths for the Province of Nova Scotia. In 1980, he received a Community Service Award from the government of NS and a citation for his services to the Canadian Red Cross Society. It should be noted that Fr. Francis was fluent in the Spanish language and acted a s a translator when needed.

In 1978, Fr. Francis became ill but continued working until his death in June of 1982 at the age of 74. Fr. Francis’ death left a void in the community in general but especially at St. Philip’s Church.

His love was like an adhesive that bound the community together.

F.A. Hamilton- F. A. Hamilton was born in the British West Indies. He came to Nova Scotia to attend Dalhousie Law School. After graduating from Dalhousie he became the first Black lawyer in Sydney. In 1950, he was the first Canadian Black to be appointed King’s Counsel. He also established the firs Black newsletter called the Nova Scotia Gleaner. Although published in Sydney, the paper provided news on all Black communities in Nova Scotia.Victor Jones- Victor was the first Black overman in the Glace Bay mines. For 32 years, he worked underground and another 3 on the surface. Now retired, he serves on various community groups and committees. If there is work to be done to support the Black community, Victory is willing to accept the challenge.

Blacks were quick to join the Canadian Military – War Hero Stanley Grizzle

Thomas (Tom) Miller– Thomas Miller was the first Black municipal alderman in the Atlantic Provinces. He was elected in 1955 to represent the constituents of Ward 5 in Sydney, NS. He served until 1972, leaving behind a legacy of community involvement and commitment to human rights. In his honor the City of Sydney (now the Cape Breton Regional Municipality) had established the Thomas Miller Human Rights Award. This award is presented annually to an individual dedicated to helping promote human rights.

Winston Ruck (1923-1992) – In 1940, Winston Ruck started his first shift at the Sydney Steel Plant. He was elected to the executive of the Steelworker’s Union, local 1064, in 1964 and for another term in 1967. In 1970, he was the first Black to become President of local 1064 of the Steelworker’s Union and later he became Area 5 representative of the United Steelworkers of America. After he retired from the Steel Plant, Winston was asked to assist the Black United Front, an organization that was formed to advocate for the rights of African Nova Scotians. He took the challenge and spent several years guiding Black United Front and their affairs. Mr. Ruck worked tirelessly for the betterment of Black Nova Scotians and in 1990 Winston was awarded the Thomas Miller Human Rights Award.

Jonathan Skeete– (1952 –1987) He was the first indigenous African Nova Scotian from Cape Breton Island to be recruited to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He generously gave his time to the youth of his community, Whitney Pier. He provided guidance and was an exemplary role model. In memory of the contributions he made to the community, the United Mission Youth Centre holds the Jonathan Skeete Memorial fun Run each August a memorial baseball game in his and Carl “Campy” Crawford’s memory. The Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sponsored an event called Operation Show and Tell honoring the late Jonathan Skeete and saluting all African Nova Scotians.

Clotilda Yakimchuk– In 1954, she graduated from the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing. She was the first person of African descent to serve in the capacity of the president of the Nurses Association of Nova Scotia. She also served as Vice Chair of the Eastern Regional Health Board. Clotilda retired from the Cape Breton Regional Hospital as the Director of Education Services in 1994, but continues to volunteer her time on many boards and committees.



Colonel M.A. LeLoup began her military career as an officer in the Cape Breton Militia District and joined the Regular Force in 1979. Upon graduating from UPEI in 1981 with a Business Administration Degree, she was posted to CFB Borden where she was employed as a Supply Officer. Her subsequent postings have included tours at CFS St John’s, Newfoundland; Mobile Command Headquarters, Montreal; the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights; the Combat Training Centre and 3 Area Support Group in Gagetown; and the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.

She has completed two UN tours: she spent one year (1991/92) with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) as the Deputy Commanding Officer/Chief Logistics Officer for the Canadian Contingent. She later spent two years (1996 – 1998) in UNDOF HQ as the Chief Logistics Officer living in Syria. In 2003/2004 she spent six months in the Arabic Gulf as the Deputy Commanding Officer/J4 of the Theatre Support Element for Operation ATHENA.

Her command appointments have included Officer Commanding Supply Company at the Combat Training Centre Gagetown, and four years as the Commanding Officer of the Technical Services Branch at 3 ASG Gagetown. In 2002, she was appointed G5 (Structure and Future Plans) in Land Force Atlantic Area Headquarters in Halifax. In June 2005 she was promoted to her current rank and appointed Director of Supply Chain Operations at NDHQ.

Colonel LeLoup is a graduate of the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College and the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College.  


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