After a seven-year hiatus and two COVID cancellations, the New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming event has officially returned.
The Black community’s homecoming began in 1990 and usually takes place every five years and in years that end in zero and five. After a seven-year hiatus, it kicked off with a community meet and greet on Wednesday at New Glasgow’s Ward One Community Centre.
“To bring our people home”
In an interview with the Halifax Examiner on Wednesday, current chairperson of the New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming committee, Crystal States, said the idea came about in 1988 after the late Phyllis Patterson attended a similar event in Sydney, N.S.
“And she thought ‘Wow, all these people are coming from away’,” States recalled. “People moved away, especially in that earlier generation, when people left New Glasgow…they didn’t return. They may come home for a funeral or something like that, a wedding, but they never came home. There was no reason.”
States said Patterson then had a conversation with the late Frances Dorrington.
“She said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be great to have something like that here, to bring our people home,” States recalled.
“People’s homesteads were sold or what have you, but there was no reason to come back home. So this was to give them a reason, to give people a reason to come back home to New Glasgow.”
Dorrington, the event’s other founding member, was a Black town councillor at the time. States said this proved helpful in getting the homecoming up and running. The pair would meet in Dorrington’s home where they eventually struck up a committee with Dorrington serving as its first chairperson.
The committee held regular meetings, and Dorrington eventually turned to States, who was in her 20s, to join an inaugural committee that included more than a dozen Black community members.
States–along with Annette MacLean and Verna Elms–is one of three surviving members of the original homecoming committee.
“So that’s where it was birthed, between those two (Patterson and Dorrington), so we call them our founding members,” States said “Between the two of them, one, Phyllis, had the idea and basically Francis brought it to fruition and he executed that whole plan.”
The first New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming took place in August of 1990.
States said the month of August was chosen by the inaugural committee because it allowed the event to run for a whole week, Friday to Friday, concluding at the start of the African United Baptist Association’s (AUBA) annual sessions. This gave people coming home from away the opportunity to attend both.
Though back this year after a two-year hiatus, this year’s homecoming has an abbreviated schedule. It runs from Wednesday to Sunday, and takes place a week ahead of the AUBA’s annual sessions.
States said it was a foregone conclusion they’d have to cancel the 2020 homecoming, especially as it was earlier in the pandemic and at a time when there were no COVID-19 vaccines.
In 2021, with the uncertainty around changing restrictions and many hotels being either unavailable or subject to change, the committee made the difficult decision to cancel for the second year in a row.
“We were still in the pandemic, and we also had to take into consideration by the time 2021 came, people didn’t have the finances. There were so many people that lost their jobs,” States said. “People that were fortunate enough to keep their jobs, they were certainly blessed, but there were a lot of people that didn’t have their jobs.”
States said the plan is to resume the Homecoming Gala on its regular five-year schedule three years from now (in 2025).
“Paying homage to our elders”
“While it’s exciting and it’s nice to see family and friends and all that stuff, it’s still a little bittersweet because the homecoming was (created) around the premise of paying homage to our elders, to the people that came before us,” States said.
“And we’ve lost so many over the last couple of years.”
Every homecoming Sunday, a memorial service is held at Africentric Heritage Park. People honour those who were born in (or have a connection to) New Glasgow’s Black community and have passed away since the last homecoming event. With family members present, each name is called out as candles are lit.
States said the homecoming’s founding members were both alive and healthy in 2020 when that homecoming would have taken place. But Patterson died on Oct. 3, 2021 at the age of 86, and Dorrington died earlier this year on Feb. 8 at the age of 89.
Patterson and Dorrington, along with 2015 Homecoming committee chair Marilyn Brannan who died on Jan. 17, 2020, will be among those honoured this Sunday. A seniors’ tea in honour of Patterson and Dorrington will be held Thursday, and a senior’s luncheon in honour of Brannan will be held Sunday following a church service.
In addition to daily barbecues and nightly dances, a number of other events are scheduled, including gatherings at the Ward One Community Centre, a proclamation and the raising of the Pan African flag on Thursday in the town square.
On Friday, the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada will unveil a plaque commemorating the national historic significance of Viola Desmond at Viola’s Way, the former site of the Roseland Theatre where Desmond was arrested in 1946 for sitting in a whites-only section of the movie theatre.
Click here for more info and a schedule of events.