Education

Celebrating a half-century at Halifax’s North Memorial library

‘Thank you for making this community feel like a family'

Musician Dammien Alexander (left), plays for guests. Jawad Albarakati (right) dances to his songs.
Musician Damien Alexander plays for guests while Jawad Albarakati dances to his song.   Jeana Mustain

The librarians at Halifax North Memorial Public Library had an odd request for patrons on Thursday.

“Please make some noise!”

This is what Matthew McCarthy, the branch’s manager, yelled to the crowd gathered to celebrate the North End library’s 50th birthday with live music, cake and storytelling.

Sgt. Craig Smith, an RCMP officer and author who has worked at the library on and off since 1979, grew up going to the library.

“I’m really proud to say that I’ve contributed in some small part to the legacy of this library, which is bigger than any of us,” said Smith.

'I learned so much from this place,' says Sgt. Craig Smith as he speaks to guests about his time at the library
“I learned so much from this place,” says Sgt. Craig Smith as he speaks to guests about his time at the library.   Jeana Mustain

He addressed the group, recounting the history of the branch and the people who have made it a beacon for the community.

Lindell Smith grew up learning and hanging out at the library. Everyone broke into cheers for the newly elected councilor.
Lindell Smith grew up learning and hanging out at the library. Everyone broke into cheers for the newly elected councillor.   Jeana Mustain

McCarthy reminded everyone of a popular former staff person – District 8’s new councillor-elect, Lindell Smith, who was voted in last weekend.

“From having the opportunity to work here and mentor the youth … to now standing here in front of you as your councillor-elect,” he told the gathering. “It all sounds very surreal when you put it that way.”

Halifax’s Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas, who came to the library when she was first starting to write, performed some of her poems for those gathered.

Halifax's Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas presents spoken word, opening with the Mi'kmaq creation story of the crow.
Halifax’s Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas presents spoken word, opening with the Mi’kmaq creation story of the crow.   Jeana Mustain

“Being a part of this community, even just on the periphery, has been such an honour …. Thank you for making this community feel like a family,” she said.

“We create dreams and we have young people who bring that type of passion to us. Rebecca, Lindell – that’s North branch moving forward. That’s what we want to continue to do,” said Marcus James, who’s worked at the branch since 1994.

 

The library is rich in history and has fostered passionate and influential community leaders. Much of the night was spent reminiscing about the late Terry Symonds, a former branch manager.

Smith and others throughout the evening echoed that Symonds and Adelia Amyoony invigorated the library and made it a family. Symonds passed away in 1990.

“You can’t say the words Black History Month without conjuring up the (names) Terry Symonds, Adelia Amyoony and David Woods,” said Craig Smith.

Cyndi Cain (right), sings 'Wanna Be Happy,' by Kirk Franklin, with members from her youth choir
Cyndi Cain, right, sings “Wanna Be Happy” with members of her youth choir.   Jeana Mustain

The three are hailed as proponents of the founding of the Black History Month Association in Nova Scotia, which began hosting its meetings and events the North branch.

Woods, an artist and writer, organized the Cultural Awareness Youth Group of Nova Scotia, which provided African Nova Scotian youth with educational and leadership programs. North branch hosted many of their events and in 1983.

His group began coordinating the Black History Week program at the library in 1984. The annual celebration is now African Heritage Month.

If other libraries and organizations want to cultivate the same sense of communities that North branch has over the last 50 years, says former staffer Tracey Jones-Grant, librarians and staff should pay attention to community members and their needs.

“Stop, listen and learn, and your community will guide you.”

Jones-Grant says the library acts as a community centre, and second home for many who grew up in the North End.

“Here’s to fifty years behind us, and another fifty to go,” said Craig Smith.