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Racism's long history in quiet East Coast towns Add to ...

For years, most black people in New Glasgow lived along Vale Road and its side streets, Ghana and Brother Street Extension. It was the kind of place where children would address their elders as uncle or auntie, skate on a pond in the winter and pick blueberries in the summer among the bushes that separated them from the big department store nearby.

To many of their white neighbours, though, Vale Road was just "Nigger Hill."

Today, in this town of 9,000 a couple of hours from Halifax, a mere allusion to the name triggers a visceral reaction among the few hundred black residents: "To us, even just 'The Hill' is exactly like saying the N-word," says Henderson Paris, bristling as he drives among the neighbourhood's well-kept wooden houses.

Mr. Paris also recalls being on the production line of the local Michelin Tires plant in January, 1990, when his son, Jeremy, was badly beaten at a college in nearby Stellarton. About 100 of the boy's white peers watched while another student beat him, yelling slurs.

Jeremy recovered and eventually moved to Bermuda. Hennie Paris, as the father is known around town, was motivated to start an annual anti-racism run and eventually become a town councillor.

As he drives, continually waving to white constituents, Mr. Paris doesn't like to talk about the past. Things are much better now in New Glasgow, he says, turning down Washington Street. He points at a grey two-storey apartment building where he was refused housing in the 1980s, when the landlord told him neighbours wouldn't appreciate living with a black family.

That wouldn't happen now, Mr. Paris says. And even then, the landlord succumbed to pressure. "We didn't give up. Others intervened, he eventually gave us the place," he says. "You can't say progress hasn't been made."

Mr. Paris's sister, Cherry Paris, who spent the 1970s and 1980s working for the provincial Human Rights Commission, agrees. The schools are much less fraught with tension lately, she says. And: "At least we don't get yelled at by whites when we walk down the sidewalk any more."

A TROUBLED HISTORY, DISTINCT IN CANADA

It may sound like a modest gain, but measures of progress can be like that for blacks in Nova Scotia.

Across Canada, tensions exist over race and ethnicity, immigration and aboriginal rights. But no other region on this side of the 49th parallel has Nova Scotia's long history of a black-and-white divide.



Until the immigration reforms of the 1960s, 37 per cent of Canadian blacks lived in Nova Scotia. Today, its black population of 19,200 is smaller than the numbers in each of the largest cities. But no other place in Canada has so many black communities still living in de facto segregation. Nowhere else in Canada does the legacy of slavery remain so tangible, as much as mainstream white society tries to block it out.

"We are Canada's largest indigenous black population, and our history sets us apart and makes us unique. Nova Scotia blacks, in fact, have been treated a lot worse," says Donald Oliver, a Nova Scotia Conservative senator and lawyer. "People are very afraid to talk about it, they want it buried under the carpet."

The remnants of that history can be as subtle as a suspicious glance in a corner store or the cavalier placement of a dog park or garbage dump on top of a poor community. At other times, racism flares up more dramatically, evoking places far south of Canada's Ocean Playground.

Earlier this spring in Windsor Junction, Ku Klux Klan graffiti was plastered outside the riding office of Percy Paris, a provincial cabinet minister who happens to be black.

And the entire country gasped last month when an interracial couple an hour away from Halifax announced they were moving to an undisclosed location to protect their five children in the aftermath of a cross-burning.

The only black man in pastoral Poplar Grove in Hants County, Shayne Howe woke to the glare of that burning cross on his front lawn one night in February, while the perpetrators shouted threats and taunts. Then, last month, when one of the two brothers charged was due in court, the family car was torched, destroying the entire interior, including a new child-safety seat.

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