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A People's History of Nova Scotia

Conference aims to fill gaps in our collective memories

by Robert Devet

An 1970 effort by Canso fishermen to unionize is one of the topics of a conference on Nova Scotia's rich social history. Photo Dalhousie University Archives and Special Collections
An 1970 effort by Canso fishermen to unionize is one of the topics of a conference on Nova Scotia's rich social history. Photo Dalhousie University Archives and Special Collections
Spectators hurled angry insults at 1988 Pride Parade participants (Photo courtesy of Chris Aucoin). One session of the conference is dedicated to stories from the LGBTQ, Women’s and Indigenous Decolonization movements.
Spectators hurled angry insults at 1988 Pride Parade participants (Photo courtesy of Chris Aucoin). One session of the conference is dedicated to stories from the LGBTQ, Women’s and Indigenous Decolonization movements.
Part of another session tackles the radical history of Cape Breton. J.B. MLachlan was front and centre during a series of general strikes by miners and steelworkers in the 1920's.  Photo Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University
Part of another session tackles the radical history of Cape Breton. J.B. MLachlan was front and centre during a series of general strikes by miners and steelworkers in the 1920's. Photo Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University

Many of the acts of resistance that helped shape the Nova Scotia we live in today are mostly forgotten.

Few people know about the 1996 occupation of a Canada Employment Centre on Gottingen Street that lasted for 122 days. We forget that the first Gay Pride rallies in Halifax were anything but festive.

Schools don't teach about the bitter and violent strike of the Canso fishermen in 1970, or, further back, about the massive Cape Breton coalminers' and steelworkers' general strikes in the early 1920's.

A People's History of Nova Scotia is a conference that hopes to shed light on these and other struggles. The two-day conference will feature stories of women, African Nova Scotians, members of the LGBTQ community, workers and indigenous peoples.

Speakers include George Elliott Clarke, Sherry Pictou, Lynn Jones, Chris Frazer, Pat Kipping, Evan Coole, and many more.

The conference is organized by Solidarity Halifax, an anti-capitalist organization that has been active in Halifax for the last two years.

“There is this notion that things like labour rights, labour laws, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, all those things that we take for granted now, that those things just fell from the sky,” says Ben Sichel, a member of the Solidarity Halifax organizing committee.

“But it actually took a long time of struggle and required a lot of effort, and a lot of personal and organizational sacrifice,” says Sichel. “We thought it was important to remember and bring that history to light so that it can inform the current efforts and campaigns that we care about.”

The conference organizers do not claim that the conference provides a complete overview. Some important struggles are missing.

“Somebody pointed out that we are not talking about disability rights, for example, and that struggle,” says Sichel, who suggests a follow-up conference may well take place later. “For me immigrants' rights, especially racialized immigrants, are missing. But we did the best we could with the organizational capacity we have right now.”

Rocky Jones, the much-loved African Nova Scotian activist who died in July of this year, was scheduled to speak at the Friday night panel. Now the Friday night event will be dedicated to Jones' memory.

“Those who met him, and those who heard him speak, know that he was an irreplaceable person, but we are very lucky to have some folks who stepped up and will honour his memory,” says Sichel.

The event takes place on October 4th and 5th, at the Mi'kmaq Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street. Registration is open until October 1st, but the conference is filling up quickly.

 


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