No Land Titles in North Preston

Imagine having a piece of land that has been in your family for generations. Your ancestors were the first settlers on the land– land given to them by the Crown for their support during the American Revolutionary War in the late 1700’s, or as part of their freedom from slavery during the war of 1812.

It wasn’t very fertile land. In most cases it was land that no one else wanted. But your ancestors persevered and along with their neighbours, they eventually made a strong community on that land.

But from the start, there’s been a problem. Unlike others who were loyal to the Crown during the wars, and who were also given land in Nova Scotia, your ancestors were treated differently. Instead of being granted legal title to the land, they were given things called tickets of location and licences of occupation. Documents that gave them access to the land, but not ownership of it.

For many families, including yours, that tenuous grasp on the land remains. So today you are in the same situation as your ancestors were two and a half centuries ago. Even though you’ve been paying taxes on your land, you’re not allowed to sell it or legally deed it to your children because it isn’t yours, under the law.

Not having legal title to the land means not having the financial stability that being a landowner can provide. And it means constant uncertainty. Can your land be taken away from you? It has happened. Remember Africville? Without legal title, your family and your whole community are vulnerable.

This is the reality facing many families in several historically Black communities in Nova Scotia. This project takes a look at the community of North Preston, part of the Halifax Regional Municipality. We hope to highlight a historic wrong, show how it’s affecting people today and what residents are doing to help ensure a better future.

Dr. Pachai gives insight on the history of land title in the North Preston area.

History

When it comes to land rights in Nova Scotia, inequality was embedded from the beginning. The Crown promised freedom and land to Blacks in the United States for their support during the American Revolutionary War.

These settlers became known as the Black Loyalists and about 3000 of them were sent to Nova Scotia. They were given small plots, typically only 10 acres of rocky and barren land. Crucially, and unlike White Loyalists, Black Loyalists were not given legal title to the land.

Instead, they were given tickets of location and licenses of occupation which meant they had access to the land but not ownership of it. It could be taken away at any time.

This, combined with ongoing discrimination and harsh winters led more than a thousand Black Loyalists to leave Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone in 1792.

Twenty years later, the Crown once again promised land in Nova Scotia to Blacks in the United States who were fleeing slavery during the War of 1812. 

This group of immigrants became known as the Black Refugees. They numbered approximately 2000.

Some of the Black settlements in Nova Scotia included: Africville, Lincolnville, Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Birchtown,Whitney Pier, Cherry Brook and North and East Preston.

Not diminishing the importance of land title to the economic and social stability of residents of North Preston and other historic African Nova Scotian communities, we would like to recognize that all land in Nova Scotia is unceded Mi’kmaw territory.