Akoma Holdings Inc. is applying to allow specific commercial, recreational and residential uses at the former Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children (NSHCC) in Westphal to allow the appropriate adaptive re-use of the property. This proposal cannot be considered under existing MPS policies. Therefore, the applicant is seeking amendments to the Cole Harbour/Westphal MPS to enable their proposal.
History of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children
The history and legacy of the NSHCC impacts the lives of many today, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. It is, therefore, important to acknowledge this history as development plans are explored and the most appropriate and transformative use of the property is determined. The extensive history and community significance of the NSHCC cannot be adequately described in detail in this format. However, a high-level description of key events and summary of the historic timeline would allow consideration of the current development proposal in a suitable context. Much of the historical detail in this section has been provided by the applicant.
The Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children (NSHCC) opened in 1921 to educate and provide care for orphaned black children in Nova Scotia. At that point in Nova Scotian history, black children were not welcome in white care institutions. The opening of the NSHCC was a very significant event for the African Nova Scotian community and around 3,000 people gathered to celebrate the opening. This was the largest gathering of people of African descent since the arrival of the Black Loyalists in 1783.
Around 1948, the two-room Henry G. Bauld Elementary School was built on the property. This facility offered classes to residents of the home and neighbouring students. Within the first 50 years, thousands of children lived at the NSHCC.
In the early 1960s, the NSHCC began accepting orphaned white children after segregation in institutions formally ended. Other orphanages also started accepting children of all racial backgrounds and by the late 1970s, dozens of NSHCC residents moved to foster homes and the NSHCC’s population notably declined. The orphanage facility closed after two group homes were built on the property in 1978/79. The cottage where the superintendent of the home lived was rented for several years following closure of the orphanage but the cottage was eventually vacated and has been used for storage since.
Former residents launched a class action lawsuit revealing poor living standards and physical, mental and sexual abuse endured by residents of the facility. The lawsuit was subsequently settled and, on October 10, 2014, Premier Stephen McNeil formally apologised, on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia, to former residents who suffered systemic and institutional racism, neglect and abuse at the NSHCC. In 2015, the Nova Scotian Government introduced the NSHCC Restorative Inquiry (RI) process, which is a public inquiry aimed at providing restorative justice. The RI terms of reference includes:
- revealing what happened at the NSHCC and examining the history of institutionalised anti-black racism in Nova Scotia;
- understanding how this history and legacy affected not only the former residents of the NSHCC and African Nova Scotian communities, but all Nova Scotians;
- educating the public about this Nova Scotian history;
- building just and respectful relationships;
- strengthening the cultural knowledge of the African Nova Scotian people; and, engaging in collaborative planning and action to ensure no further harm and to create meaningful change that supports children in care for a better future.
Akoma proposes to re-develop the former Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children (NSHCC) lands to create “a revitalized and energetic Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, as the setting for a Centre of Excellence for the entire African Nova Scotian community”. Akoma’s vision for the site is to renovate the old home building (already under construction) and develop the remainder of the site as a cultural community centre with commercial recreation uses, affordable housing options and an educational facility. It is recognized that development of the entire property would take place over the course of over a decade given its scale, diversity of uses, and investment required. The current proposal is to consider development of a portion of the property toward Highway 7 and the Old Lawrencetown Road to address Akoma’s immediate development goals.
The application will be considered under the Municipal Planning Strategy Amendment process.
On October 2, 2018, Regional Council initiated the process to consider amendments to the Cole Harbour/Westphal Municipal Planning Strategy to allow the appropriate adaptive re-use of the lands containing and surrounding the former Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. A copy of the staff initiation report is available here.
Akoma is currently proceeding with Phase 1.1 of the project, which is to amend the planning policies to allow the transformative use of the former home building for commercial and community uses. This phase of the project is currently at the review team stage of the process where the request is reviewed by internal municipal staff from Planning, Development Engineering (including Traffic Services), Building Standards, Civic Addressing, Subdivision and Development, and Heritage Planning. External agencies also reviewing the application submission include Halifax Water, NS Power and NS Environment.