Cornwallis Street Baptist Church to change its name

Historic black church votes for name change in solidarity with Mi’kmaq community

Cornwallis Street Baptist church is on Cornwallis street in Halifax’s north end.   Nzingha Millar

A Halifax church, with a history of fighting against racism, has agreed to change its name in support of Indigenous Canadians.

Members of Cornwallis Street Baptist Church voted in January to begin a renaming campaign this spring, after concerns were raised about the colonial history associated with the name of Edward Cornwallis, founder of Halifax.  

Grace Skeir, the church’s licentiate minister, is responsible for collecting submissions for the new name.

“We’re simply named after a street, which doesn’t really have a lot of meaning, and also we were originally called the African Chapel,” says Skeir. “Even initially there was the knowledge of the history of Governor Cornwallis, so there was reason for us to visit the possibility of a change of name.”

The church was established by Rev. Richard Preston in 1832 and the building is a recognized heritage property. It’s also the “mother church” of the African United Baptist Association.

“Rev. Richard Preston Baptist Church” is one of the names suggested by church members in honour of its founder.   Nzingha Millar

Along with this, the church has held an important position in the African-Nova Scotian community for over 150 years, as a centre of education and social change during a period of documented racial segregation in the province.

Edward Cornwallis is recognized as the person who founded Halifax in 1749 and was governor of Nova Scotia until 1752.  He has been criticized by aboriginal groups and supporters for his “scalping order,”  a 1749 military decree where he placed a bounty on the heads of Mi’kmaq adults and children. It is not known how many Mi’kmaq people died under this order.

Last April, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre asked Halifax regional council to change the name of Cornwallis Street. Council received a letter in May from church officials backing the centre’s request.


Some people have called for HRM to remove the name Cornwallis from municipal property.   Nzingha Millar

“I was totally in support of it,” says Skeir. “I still am. We’re acting in solidarity with our Mi’kmaq connection.”

Cynthia Jordan, who leads the church’s current rebuilding project, says that municipal representatives were reluctant to consider the Mi’kmaq centre’s request because the church held the street’s name. 

Cornwallis Street Baptist Church is recognized as the first of 19 historic black baptist churches in Nova Scotia.   Nzingha Millar

In May, council subsequently shot down a motion to allow a public engagement process regarding the use of Cornwallis’s name on municipal properties.

Councillors who opposed the motion stated that the issue was not within the municipality’s mandate.

Other cited reasons were the cost of a public engagement process, impact on staff and the concern that public requests for public engagement processes of a “similar nature” could be made in future.

Coun. Lindell Smith, who represents the district, disagreed with council’s previous decision to refuse an open discussion, stating that new members on council would “understand the social issues around the renaming of Cornwallis.”

Smith says he would be open to reintroducing the discussion to council following the church’s announcement.

If it got down to a point where people are concerned again, then to bring that forward would have to make sense,” he says

The church is set to announce its call for name submissions by the end of March.

“At this stage, what we’re planning to do is make it open to the congregation to make suggestions as to names they would like and to give a rationale for the names that they chose and why it’s important to them,” says Skeir.

She says they hope to unveil the new name before the end of the church rebuilding project, which will begin later this year.

Renovation plans for the church sanctuary and adjacent recreational building were revealed at the annual general meeting in January.   Nzingha Millar

Cornwallis Street Baptist Church will hold its annual service in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this Sunday at 10:45 a.m.

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  1. I believe the only persons that might not want a positive change in the renaming of Cornwallis Street and Cornwallis Church, are those with deeply held racist beliefs.

  2. This is the start of something new that should have and has to be done for our neighbourhood and congegration giving it a new beginning. We are all blessed and should accept this change in the name of “GOD”. History that has been this barbarec has to be acknowledged by all and accepted for change to the glory of all.

  3. I have never advocated that Cornwallis be erased from history books and never will, but, I do advocate that the books be amended to reflect the TRUTH.

    The last sentence of the following is what I truly believe. It was part of the Province’s press release when I was awarded the ORDER OF NOVA SCOTIA on October 2, 2002: – the Province’s highest award for outstanding contributions, and for bringing honour and prestige to Nova Scotia.

    Daniel N. Paul is a passionate writer who gives a voice to his people by revealing a past that the standard histories have chosen to ignore…. He has been recognized by the Universite Sainte-Anne with an honourary Doctor of Letters Degree and by the City of Halifax with a millennium award.

    By bringing new understanding and perspective to the past, he seeks to teach all people what damage racism can do.

  4. Clarification is required re reference in the article to comment, “…he (Cornwallis) has been criticized for placing a bounty on the heads of Mi’kmaq adults and children.” The 1749 bounty proclamation read, in part: “…His Majesty’s Council…do promise a reward of 10 Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp( as is the custom of America)if killed to the Officer Commanding…” The proclamation makes no reference to women and children (non-combatants)with the bounty presumably referring to Mi’kmaw warriors that had declared war on the British;Cornwallis rescinded the bounty in 1752.Throughout the turbulent 1740s and 1750s all parties involved in the conflict including the British, French and Mi’kmaq engaged in clashes that resulted in the deaths of Mi’kmaw and British/European non-combatants; there is little verifiable data on the number of non-combatants killed during this period.


  6. I am descendant of German settlers who came to Moncton after the dispersion of the Acadians. My ancestors were poor peasant farmers who came to America by indenturing themselves to the ship’s captain to pay their fare. There were henceforth auctioned at the dock upon arrival in Philadelphia, thereby becoming slaves. After working off their debt, they later had the opportunity to seek land in New Brunswick. I mention this as it is in the same time frame as the establishment of Halifax in 1749. The colonization of North America has it’s sad moments, the enslavement of German settlers and the Cornwallis “scalping” order. I strongly support changing the name of Cornwallis street and eliminating any other public places which bear his name including the name of the Baptist Church bearing his name.

    With respect,

    John Lutz

    1. Is this the John Lutz who went to Joseph Howe Elementary School. If so, I am one of your classmates from then.

  7. Definitely – it is time to change the name of the Street and of the Church.Cornwallis was a ‘man of his time’ but we as a society have matured and have a better perspective as to the harm done by racial prejudice and have no need to perpetuate that. It is now time to honour our local history with new insight and to respect the contribution,influence,diversity and accomplishments of our Mi’kmaw and African-Nova Scotia people.

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