By Tina Comeau
For Craig Smith, his life’s journey began at birth, but in recent decades he has devoted much of his time and passion to another journey of a grander scale, one that spans several hundred years.
This journey, which Smith says he has worked on for 10 to 15 years, could be found stacked in boxes in his home, and traced through the yellowing pages of newspapers and the fading images of black and white photos.
As Smith discovered, it could be found in the pages of books, in the language in documents, inscribed on awards and in anecdotes passed down through generations – some happy, some sad, some hurtful and some inspirational.
Now, all of this information is contained in the 256 pages of a book called The Journey Continues: An Atlantic Canadian Black Experience.
A follow-up to his book called Journey, an African Nova Scotia resource guide that came out in 1999, The Journey Continues is a running chronology of black history in Atlantic Canada, dating from 1605 to December 2010.
It contains information about slavery, injustice and justice, civil movements, significant and notable firsts and other achievements covering a broad spectrum, celebrations, events, historical milestones and more.
The book has been approved by the Nova Scotia Department of Education to be used in Grade 8 social studies classes and Grade 11 African Canadian studies classes.
It is being reviewed by the New Brunswick education department and Smith hopes Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador will agree to have it used in their school curriculums as well.
“I recognize the fact that none of them have an African Canadian studies course, but they all have Grade 8 social studies and my understanding is that’s one curriculum that is the same for each province, so I would assume if it’s a fit for Nova Scotia that it should be a fit for the others too,” says Smith.
Smith does not take all of the credit for the information that has been compiled in the book. As the book and Smith point out, in 1989, author, poet and playwright David Woods created a five-page chronology of significant events of blacks in Nova Scotia for the North Branch Library in Halifax. Woods’ chronology started in 1605 with Mathieu da Costa, the first-known black resident of Canada, and ended with the 1989 death of Dr. William Pearly Oliver, whose achievements and milestones as a black Nova Scotian are many.
“I kind of took that chronology and over the years added to that,” Smith says, adding it involved many years of work. He had a lot of support and help along the way – a list too long to include in this article – although he does speak about the support he received from the province’s African Canadian studies program, as well as the Tri-County Regional School Board.
In years to come, Smith would like to see the book evolve into an interactive website.
“Not only would you, for instance, pull up an article and a photo of the Mission-Aires from Yarmouth, but you’d click on it and hear them singing,” he says. “I want to try and make it as interactive as possible . . . but that’s a ways off.”
Of local note the Mission-Aires are not the only reference to Yarmouth. Bruce Johnson, who in 1974 became the province’s first African Nova Scotian pharmacist, and Clarence Bodden, who in 1970 became the first black Nova Scotian member of the RCMP and only the second black member in the county, are also written about.
Smith says while there are many recognizable names and achievements in the book, there are many things that will come as a surprise to people.
Aside from having the book used in the schools, Smith is looking to make it available to the public for purchase and he is looking for locations to sell it.
“The thing that, I think, is nice about it, is when you go through it there are neigbours, there’s cousins, uncles, aunts, there’s a lot of people in there who are just people down the street, just ordinary people,” he says.
The book also refers to other books and resources on black history, including some others that Smith himself has also written.
“The reason it was important to include the titles of books and pictures of books is because sometimes if you don’t know that there is black history material out there you don’t know where to go look for it,” Smith says. “So for me, I hope that as people look at the book they will see that there is a multitude of material out there. There is a rich and vibrant history out there, people just need to know more about it.”