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Rest and resist: Buy Black Birchtown springs from BLM movement fatigue

Workshops at new retreat expected to start as early as June

3 min read
caption Lauryn Guest (left) pictured with members of Change is Brewing Collective and SEED, on a walk through Birchtown.
Submitted by Jessika Hepburn

As the Black Lives Matter movement was re-energized across the globe last summer, Jessika Hepburn and Lauryn Guest found themselves needing space to rest and organize.

After a BLM picnic in Chester, when they were both exhausted and needed to recharge, Hepburn suggested to Guest that they needed a retreat specifically for BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ people.

“I really couldn’t find any place that would explicitly tell me that they were safe for people of colour,” Hepburn said in an interview with The Signal.

Guest recalls how they wanted to avoid the need for “a retreat from the retreat.”

Hepburn remembers her response: “Well, I guess we better buy a place then!”

That idea became  Buy Black Birchtown. The retreat would be used for workshops, celebrations, camping, historical research, and however else people wanted to use the space.

“We need to take back our money, and our resources and our time and invest them in the community,” said Hepburn. “I think that when we invest in each other, the possibilities are endless.”

Both organizers agreed Birchtown, just outside the town of Shelburne, was the right location for their centre.

Historical significance

Birchtown was a settlement where the Black Loyalists first settled in Nova Scotia in 1783. It was once the largest settlement of free Black people outside of Africa.

The first race riot in Canada happened in Shelburne, in July and August of 1784.

No reparations were ever made for that, Hepburn notes. “To this day, you know, the Black community in Shelburne is continuing to fight for recognition of the fact that there has been environmental racism, ongoing racism systemically.”

The retreat centre would be on Hartz Point Road, on eight acres of land that was part of the original Black Loyalist settlement.

It would be just down the road from the current Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, a museum and historical site.

As site manager of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre, Cynthia Dorrington knows the significance of the area and the people who lived in it.

Dorrington said people are still amazed by the number of Black communities in Nova Scotia, the inequalities they face, and how because communities, like Birchtown, were left out of history books, this is something the communities have had to learn on their own.

“And we really realize, even last year, we still have the inequities, the challenges, and the struggles,” she said.

Recent fundraising

Once the location was selected, there was the matter of paying for the eight acres of land where the centre would go.

Hepburn and her family decided late last year to sell their home in Lunenburg and move to Birchtown. She used some of the money from the sale of her house to buy the new property.

Hepburn said the land purchase will be completed in April, and they will have their first retreats in the current two houses on the property in June, COVID-19 permitting.

She’s happy she was able to “create the retreat centre as its own membership organization with no debt.”

Guest hopes this timeline will allow them to host an event in the summer to encourage discussions about the race riots in Shelburne.

The next steps are all about fundraising for the retreat centre itself. Hepburn says people have been extremely helpful and positive in their support.

“We would definitely like to create a larger launch space, and smaller buildings that are scattered throughout the property,” she said.

Earlier this month, Hepburn and Guest launched a collaboration with Change is Brewing Collective to raise awareness and money for the construction project.

The first $5,000 raised by CIBCo also makes the collective an official investor, meaning members will be able to use the retreat.

The goal is to raise $20,000 by the end of the month. So far, they’ve raised nearly $8,000.

They want members for the retreat, and they’re hoping to raise enough money so that anyone who cannot afford to donate can still become a member for free.

Guest and Hepburn want their centre to be for the community as a whole, not just for individuals.

“We really just cannot wait to see it full of children and elders and people sharing knowledge,” Hepburn said.

“When we do that, the potential for our healing and the work that we’ll be able to do, going back into our communities is going to be so much stronger.”

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About the author

Alexandrea Guye

Alexandrea Guye is a journalist with The Signal located in Kjipuktuk/Halifax. She loves the outdoors and is interested in local stories, human...

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