African heritage plays big part in Amherst’s 125 years

New Strong exhibit chronicles contributions over the decades

Andrew Wagstaff
Published on January 23, 2014

Jaxon, Kaden and Makayla Cooke are among the youth celebrated in Darlene Strong’s latest exhibit, “Our History – Their Heritage,” which will appear during African Heritage Month at the Cumberland County Museum and Archives during February.

Andrew Wagstaff - cumberlandnewsnow

AMHERST – African Heritage Month activities in Amherst this year will coincide with Amherst’s 125th anniversary celebrations, and artist Darlene Strong will launch a new exhibit to mark the occasion.
The 10 original paintings will chronicle the contributions of the African Nova Scotian community to Amherst over the decades, from the early settlements of the late 18th century, to today’s generation.

The traveling exhibition – “Our History – Their Heritage” – will launch on Feb. 1 at Cumberland County Museum and Archives, and will travel to schools and other public venues.

“The significance of the black community’s contribution to the development of Amherst growth since the 1800s cannot be excluded,” said Strong. “Trades people, politicians, sports figures, health care providers, nannies, groundskeepers, skilled trades people and more helped to build the framework of our town.”

Featuring original paintings by Strong and graphic design by Spicer Photography and Design, the exhibit includes a corresponding booklet with a brief write-up on each subject.

Eras included in the work are Busy Amherst of 1910, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the World Wars, the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and more.

“The display will be a legacy to our community and serve as a tribute to the perseverance of our forefathers who embraced change,” said Strong, during a recent interview at the family home she grew up in on East Pleasant Street now lived in by her brother, Ed Cooke. The home once served as a schoolhouse for many of the town’s African Nova Scotian children.

Henry Treadwell was one of these who spent a lot of time at the house while growing up. For him, it is important to remember the history for the good times and the bad times, to see how far they have come.

He recalled the town’s 9 o’clock whistle, which operated until he was a teenager. To some, the whistle meant it was curfew time for all young people to get off the street, but to him it was something different.

“It was sad because there were white folks downtown, but us black kids had to leave downtown to come on our own hill,” said Treadwell. “At 9 at night, they would drive around and make sure none of us were here. White kids could stay.”

In today’s society everyone mixes and mingles and times have improved, he said, but once in awhile he will still meet someone that brings back that feeling.

“For us, being African Canadians, we didn’t care what colour you were,” he said. “The saddest part is, deep down, you still see a little bit of ignorance.”

He credited the efforts of people like Strong for improving the conditions of today through education and the sharing of culture.

For Strong, Amherst was and is one of the best places to live.

“We were not brought up black, we were brought up as Canadians,” said Strong. “I might have heard one thing off-hand in my 60 years. It’s a great community, and I can’t say I ever experienced prejudice first-hand.”

The exhibit will appear the Cumberland County Museum and Archives throughout the month of February.

Twitter: @ADNandrew