Suzanne Rent continues her series of profiles of women over 50 who, in their own often quiet ways, make significant contributions to our society outside of the corporate world.
Debra Lucas and Iris Drummond have known each other and volunteered together in their community of Lucasville for so long they finish each other’s sentences.
“We’re very much alike,” said Drummond. “We’re perfectionists. Everything has to be …”
“Just so,” Lucas replied.
Lucas and Drummond first met decades ago. During an interview at Drummond’s home on Lucasville Road where she served the tea and coffee and Lucas brought mini cheesecakes, the two women were trying to figure out the first time they hung out together as friends. Maybe it was at the Cameo Club on Spring Garden Road where everyone feasted on crab and lobster dinners, Drummond wondered. Lucas said she couldn’t remember, but it was downtown Halifax somewhere in a spot that no longer exists. Still, Drummond, 74, remembered the oysters at the Cameo that were “chilled to perfection.”
Lucas, who will be 67 in April, has lived most of her life in Lucasville. She’s the descendant of the original Black settlers, including her great, great, great grandfather James Lucas, who arrived in Nova Scotia as refugees from the US after the War of 1812.
Drummond, meanwhile, has lived in Lucasville for 45 years. Originally from PEI, she moved to Lucasville when she married Ernest Drummond, whose Lucasville ancestors include Moses Oliver and James Lucas.
Together, Lucas and Drummond have been leading numerous volunteer efforts in Lucasville to support residents and get the historic community on the map.
And one of those first efforts did, in fact, start with maps.
‘They were fences of racism’
In 2009, Drummond and Lucas started a group that would eventually become the Lucasville Community Association. Today, that association organizes all sorts of events in the community, many of which are spearheaded by Drummond and Lucas.
One of the goals of the association was to get signs along Lucasville Road that would welcome visitors to the community. Those blue signs are now in communities across HRM.
“We have a lot of relatives who live outside Nova Scotia and they want to come to Lucasville. I thought we should have a sign,” Lucas said. “And I thought it was easy.”
But to get the signs, they had to find out where exactly what the boundaries were for Lucasville. That’s when they learned those HRM maps from 1996 and amalgamation had drawn parts of historic Lucasville into the nearby community of Hammonds Plains.
“I saw it and looked at it and said, ‘This is Lucasville?’” Drummond recalled. “It was this little enclosed community with fences all around it but [the fences] were invisible. They were fences of racism.”
Drummond, a self-described history buff, started researching. She and Lucas got help from neighbours, who shared their original deeds. Elmer Grove, a local historian and director with Fultz House in Lower Sackville, found documents that showed the historic boundaries of Lucasville. That included a trailer park community, Timber Trails, and a newer development at Waterstone that on HRM maps were drawn as being in Hammonds Plains.
For years, Drummond, Lucas, and other residents led the fight to redraw the boundaries and get back the land. Not everyone was pleased with the battle, though.
“Some families in Waterstone didn’t want to be associated [with Lucasville] because they thought it would devalue their properties,” Lucas said.
Area councillors Lisa Blackburn and Steve Craig got messages written in tones they said “surprised” them.
“I saw such a depth of racism and a lot of things going on pertaining to racism,” Drummond said. “Even at some times I was at the end of it because I married a Black man.”
Finally, in December 2017, Lucasville got its boundaries back with a unanimous vote by Halifax regional council. Hundreds of addresses were changed from Hammonds Plains to Lucasville.
And today, there are two signs in Lucasville, one at each end along the Lucasville Road. The signs have a tagline at the bottom that says, “A Black Heritage Community Est. 1827.”
Another project the duo and the association has worked on is the cleanup and heritage designation for the Lucasville-Sackville Black Baptist Memorial Cemetery in behind the Sackville United Baptist Church on Old Sackville Road. The headstones in the cemetery were overturned or covered in brush. A cleanup and heritage designation for the cemetery is one of the three main goals for the association, besides the community signage and redrawing of Lucasville’s boundaries.
Lucas, who is the current chair of the association, worked with HRM, councillors, and MLA Ben Jessome on a plan to get provincial heritage status for the cemetery. As the Halifax Examiner reported, that status was awarded in 2021.
Now, Lucas said she’d like to get municipal and federal heritage status for the cemetery. Lucas has helped organize and attended Lucas family reunions, including in the US, and she wants to have a reunion in Nova Scotia in 2024.
But she’d like to get the cemetery ready before that. She wants to set up a subcommittee of the association to lead the work and get quotes from the cleanup.
“They want to come back and see where their great, great grandparents were from and where they are buried,” Lucas said.
Drummond and Lucas are not only community leaders, but also great friends. The pair share a generous amount of humour about their friendship and their working relationship.
“[Debra] even told me, ‘I don’t like you, Iris.’ Well, that’s okay. You don’t have to like me but we have to do this job and get it done. If you don’t like me and don’t want to be my friend, that’s your loss. That’s the way I look at it.”
“But now she tells me she loves me.”
Like how they can finish each other’s sentences, the pair know, too, what work needs to be done and who’s going to do it.
“Sometimes being older and more experienced, sometimes I have to say, ‘Slow down,’” Drummond said.
“Hey, that’s what I’ve got to say to you,” Lucas said.
Lucas, who lives in her late grandparents’ home, is an early riser. She’s usually awake at 5am getting ready for her day. Sometimes that includes helping her two grandchildren get ready for school (she has another grandchild on the way). Or she’ll head to Lower Sackville for meetings or errands. Each day she shares a colourful meme on Facebook wishing her online friends a good morning.
Last year, Lucas was awarded the Platinum Jubilee Medal of Queen Elizabeth II and the Platinum Jubliee pin, too, for her work in the community.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the community,” she said. “How to preserve the community, how to keep it up and running, how to keep it going. Don’t change the name of the community. Bring back some of our younger ones who moved out so they can live here. That’s what I’d like to see.”
‘Good, better, best’
Drummond was long known as Mrs. I or the “cookie lady” by the young kids in Lucasville. They’re all grown up now, but Drummond still remembers them. She recalls a conversation she had with one young man who told her he was having a tough time in school. She shared with him a verse her mother always shared with her when she had bad days:
Good, better, best.
Never let it rest
Until your good is better
And your better is your best
Years later, that young man visited Drummond again, not long after he graduated from high school. He remembered that verse Drummond told him years before, and repeated it back to her when he shared his good news.
Drummond also learned a lot from the community’s elders over the years. She remembers visiting them years ago, bringing along biscuits and jam and making a pot of tea. They’d tell her stories about Lucasville while Drummond soaked it all in.
Some of the elder women of the community told Drummond stories about when they worked as domestic staff for white families in the city.
“When those white people didn’t like what [the women] said, they’d look at them and say, ‘You want your job? Be quiet,'” Drummond said. “That’s how it went.”
Drummond remembers those conversations when she thinks about the work she and Lucas do in the community.
“I was tired of people still telling the Black people of this community to shut up,” Drummond said.
Drummond and Lucas have both struggled with health issues the last few years, and their volunteer work has taken its toll at times. Drummond remembers on her bad days meeting with a friend, Velma Parsons, who Drummond described as “my rock.”
“Every time I felt discouraged, I’d go back to her place and I could cry there and she’d say, ‘Iris, stop and don’t let the devil take your glory.’”
Lucas, meanwhile, said she always feels she’s on call, but now she will “take it as it comes.”
“I’m not stressed by it anymore,” Lucas said. “I wasn’t as bad as Iris, but I’m not getting paid to do this. This is volunteer. Why am I stressing out?”
Still, Lucas and Drummond continue on.
On a Friday each month, they and the association host a coffee house for residents. Lucas said they started it to encourage community seniors to get out and away from their “comfy” spots. During the most recent coffee house, everyone dressed up in green clothes and accessories for St. Patrick’s Day.
The association works with the Bedford-Sackville Community Health team to bring in a community nurse to meet with residents. They are also working on offering an exercise program for seniors. Lucas said another resident asked about bringing in a music teacher to offer piano lessons. They’ve had requests for yoga classes, too. And the association is sharing a grant from Department of Community Services with Upper Hammonds Plains for a program to provide items for families in need.
“There are people in this community who aren’t going to come (for the money) but I am going to them and saying, ‘What do you need,’” Lucas said.
‘A force to be reckoned with’
Drummond and Lucas still have concerns about development in Lucasville, and they want the community to have its say. A three-storey 64-unit apartment building is under construction behind Lucas’s home. Drummond and Lucas said the association hasn’t heard a word from the developer.
Lucas said she’d like to see changes in the zoning in the community so Lucasville residents have a say in the development in the area. Upper Hammonds Plains, another historic Black community, had its rezoning changed so residents in that community will be consulted.
“That’s the way we’d like to have it over here,” Lucas said. “I think it’s going to be easier to do because it’s already set the precedent in Upper Hammonds Plains.”
Lucas and Drummond are also looking for younger people to take over at the Lucasville Community Association. The small board of a few people that started almost 15 years ago includes about a dozen residents. Lucas and Drummond already have some folks in mind to take over. But the pair leave quite the legacy of volunteerism and spirit behind.
“If they want to be on the board, they have to work,” Lucas said. “Our days are coming to an end.”
“We’re getting tired, we really are,” Drummond added.
A couple of weeks ago, Lucas was at events in Black communities in East Preston and Digby. Guests at those events told Lucas they heard about Lucasville and the work happening in the commuity. The word about Lucasville is getting out well beyond those blue road signs.
“Lucasville is a force to be reckoned with,” Lucas said. “And they are seeing how we forged ahead.”
For both Lucas and Drummond, their work comes down to the love of their community. Drummond speaks fondly of the Lucasville United Baptist Church where she’s a member.
“I love when they get the spiritual going and the singing. Such fellowship,” Drummond said. “When you experience a fellowship like that, you’re comparing that to a friendship and friendships are very far and few in between.”
The same, too, can be said about the friendship and fellowship between Lucas and Drummond.