Descendants of black loyalists in Nova Scotia seeking help to gain land title

HALIFAX -- Residents of a black community in Nova Scotia say they're hoping for progress this week in gaining title to their land, 200 years after their ancestors were handed rocky plots without clear ownership.

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The Nova Scotia government provided land to black loyalists in the 1800s, but the Crown didn't provide land titles - though it did for white settlers.

Dwight Adams, a volunteer with a community group in the North Preston area, says that up to one third of residents in the community of about 3,700 people still don't have title to the land.

"We don't want to continue paying taxes and find out down the road we don't even have a property to pass on," he said during an interview.

Journalism students at the Nova Scotia Community College released an online documentary Monday depicting how a government-funded process to gain title in the 1960s lapsed.

It includes interviews with current residents still struggling to gain title.

The students also cited a petition presented to the Crown in 1860 from black settlers saying their inability to confidently build upon or mortgage their lands was creating hardship.

In 1963, former premier Robert Stanfield promised to fix the problem, setting up the Land Titles Clarification Act, which laid out a process allowing the residents to gain title.

However, Adams said many families were unable to make use of the free land surveyors or legal advice, and -- over the course of several governments -- the funding for the program was cut.

Applications for title are currently made to the land services branch of the Department of Natural Resources, with individual residents responsible for providing the required documentation.

Angela Simmonds, a Dalhousie law student, completed a study last year that says after some titles were settled in 2009, "it has been increasingly difficult for people in the community to get a response regarding their applications."

North Preston resident Wylie Cain says in the student documentary that he wanted to grant land passed to him by his grandparents to his daughter Elaine Cain, but has found it a struggle to complete the process without a deed.

His daughter, Elaine Cain, said during the documentary she's been attempting to gain title for much of her adult life.

"I've been working to get this land title since I was 29 years old, paying taxes, putting in applications ... and no response," she said.

Darrel Pink, executive director of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, says his group has been working with Adams and other volunteers for over a year on a pilot project to finish the process of helping residents of the community.

The society has been recruiting volunteer lawyers to help with the project.

"One of the things that we are advocating is that government can use its authority to be a little more flexible on what standards need to be applied in order for people to be able to get title for land they've occupied for a number of years," he said.

Lloyd Hines, the minister of Natural Resources, declined an interview but provided an emailed statement.

"We understand some members of the community are concerned and we are working with anyone who wants more information," he wrote.

Pink said efforts are also underway to set up a method to resolve disputes in cases where various members of the community battle over properties and boundary lines.

"I hope we can approach it in ways that can resolve conflict with the minimal amount of strife," he said. "These title problems have caused problems in the community."


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