Brian Daly keeps a world map on the wall of his office to remind him of the map that was laid out on a table in the study room in his family home where he grew up, and where his father still resides. Among other decorations and mementos in Daly’s office are two retro analog tape recorders, one of them the same model he and his younger brother used as children to interview their parents.
After nearly three decades in news media as a journalist and television producer, Daly teaches journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
Daly and I recently took part in a virtual panel discussion about diversity in the media hosted by the Black Market Series, which was part of the Halifax Black Film Festival.
In a recent interview with the Examiner, Daly talked about the Black community in Nova Scotia and its lack of representation in media.
[In Nova Scotia] the vast majority of the Black community can trace their roots to pre-Confederation, and that does make a difference because African Nova Scotians have a very strong sense of their Canadian identity. It’s a Black Canadian identity.”
I’m disappointed at the lack of representation of African Nova Scotians in mainstream media, and that’s inexcusable. It’s inexcusable that we haven’t seen, for example, some sort of program in the radio or television stations that should have been in place from … the outset of television broadcasting in the 60s.
Originally from Montreal, Daly moved to Halifax in 2018 when he accepted a position with CBC Nova Scotia as the main producer for the late-night Atlantic news broadcast, and as the main backup producer of the supper hour news broadcast.
“It was the first time actually in my career that I had my own show where I called all the shots,” he said.
Daly’s father grew up in a Black community known as Little Burgundy in Montreal — a community known for its Black Canadian jazz culture. His late mother is from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.
So then you have the intersection of the two important groups of Blacks in Canada, Canadian-born Black, which is my Dad, and West Indian. Because my Mom was part of the first wave of legal Black immigration, because Black immigration was illegal until 1953.
Daly told the history of how, under pressure from its allies, Canada “begrudgingly” allowed limited immigration of Black people after it had been officially banned by the Prime Minister’s office for most of the 20th Century. He said the change was done under what was called ‘The West Indian Domestic Scheme.”
So they basically said, ‘OK, you can send your women over as long as they work as maids for a year in our country and prove that they’re worthy of being Canadian. After a year, we might give them permanent residency.’
Daly said that Canada advertised the program in some of the British colonies. He said his mother and two of her friends answered one of the ads in their local newspaper.
And they came up in the middle of the winter to Montreal in 1957, put in their year, got their PR [permanent residency], and my mom then sponsored like six [of her] siblings.
Despite having a teaching certificate from Saint Vincent, he said his mother wasn’t allowed to teach in Canada and had to go back to school to get Canadian certification. He said she also registered at McGill University.
To pay her way through school she had to work in the computer lab. What did my dad do to make extra money while he was at McGill? Work in the computer lab. Dad walked in one day, saw a beautiful woman sitting there at the desk, and that’s where it started.
Breaking into news media
In 1992, at the age of 19, Daly enrolled at Ryerson University in Toronto to study journalism.
I’m in Toronto living it up because I’m reunited with my cousins who I drifted away from when I was a teenager. Now I got to be in Toronto, the media capital.
Toward the end of his second year, one of his instructors, Kevin Newman, who, at the time, was also a host of CBC Midday, encouraged his class to drop off resumes at CBC in Toronto.
“And I’ll make sure your resume gets on the desk of the right person, and who knows you might get a job,” he recalls Newman telling the class.
That summer, Daly landed his first job as an editorial assistant where he said he didn’t get to do much but was able to learn a lot.
I was there! I was working at CBC, right in the belly of it. Knowlton Nash, Peter Mansbridge, Alison Smith, Wendy Mesley, these people were all there — [Ian] Hanomansing, they were all right there in my face, it was unbelievable.
The news director at Global Halifax, Rhonda Brown, she was just before me as an EA. … Pamela Wallin got hired away from CTV when I was there, to co-host the big show with Mansbridge.
Daly said a critical moment for his career happened when he was talking to fellow Montrealer, Ron Charles, who was filling in as weekend host for The National. Charles, along with Scott Laurie, was one of the only two Black national Canadian reporters in that era.
After telling Charles about his career aspirations, he said Charles encouraged him to get outside of Toronto and said he’d put in a good word for him at CBC in Montreal. Later that year when he went home for Christmas, Daly said he went to the CBC building where a man named Colin Cooper offered him a job upon graduation from Ryerson.
He said, ‘Just make sure you graduate,’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it I’ll graduate.’
By 2018 Daly had worked for CBC, The Canadian Press, CTV Montreal, radio station CHOM, French media company Quebecor, and Global News. However, feeling as though he had hit a ceiling in the Montreal news media market, he sent out “a barrage of applications” across the country.
Daly said CBC Nova Scotia in Halifax was the only non-Quebec news agency to respond. He said he initially interviewed for a position that he didn’t end up getting, but was given a heads-up about a possible future position.
Six months later he interviewed for the position of lead producer of CBC Atlantic Tonight and main backup producer for CBC News, Nova Scotia at 6. He was hired immediately and was told he was needed in three days.
With a wife and three children then ages eight, nine, and 14 in Montreal, Daly got on a plane, flew to Halifax, and lived at the Best Western Chocolate Lake while working in his new position at CBC Nova Scotia.
I wasn’t with my family, it was very very very difficult. I definitely started going back to church. It was tough. … Eight months without them.
His wife and children moved to Halifax on Canada Day in 2018.
“Teach it, but also tweak it”: a new focus
In his final year at Ryerson University, the top Black Canadian Journalists held meetings on the campus and founded the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ), a networking and advocacy organization for Black journalists in the country.
Daly had been a member throughout the years. Not long after he moved to Halifax, Daly said he learned CABJ’s executive director, Nadia Stewart, wanted to expand the organization to the east coast. Daly was offered, and accepted, the position of the CABJ’s first-ever Atlantic director.
One of the initiatives put on by the CABJ is J-School Noire, a media training and mentorship program geared towards Black Canadian youth.
Well, through J-School Noire is where I understood that I didn’t just like teaching, I loved it.
Teach it, but also tweak it. This job gives me an opportunity to do that. When you’re in the newsroom you can’t really change anything. You’re just producing content.
That’s not particular to the CBC, I’m speaking [generally]. But I feel like my role, now, is more suited to my skill set and where I’m at right now in my life. So that’s why I’m here.
In 2020, Daly organized and lead J-School Noire’s first workshop for Black youth on the east coast at NSCC in Halifax. Not only was this the catalyst that eventually led Daly onto his new career path at King’s, but he said that the workshop also sparked an interest in journalism for one of the students, Micah Mendes. He said Mendes has since been accepted into King’s and will begin studies this coming fall.
Diversity in the media
Before leaving CBC, Daly left his position as producer for the evening and late-night news and was the producer for the short-lived African Nova Scotian Content Unit.
For the three or four months that unit was around it gave us a glimpse of what’s possible. The programming that Keke Beats, Gbenga Akintokun, and Kyah Sparks created was outstanding, and it’s there on the internet for anyone to see.
The unit’s two-part series on Halifax Prep was picked up by The National in its entirety.
Daly gives credit to the other members of the unit, saying his job as the producer was simply “to just put the pieces in place and let the talent flow.”
Daly said in an ideal world, he feels a unit such as the African Nova Scotian Content Unit would be a permanent fixture.
We have the Newfoundlanders, who have their stranglehold on comedy ever since I was a kid with Air Farce, and now This Hour Has 22 minutes. It isn’t like we don’t have the recognition of unique and distinct people in this part of the country.
So, now it’s going to be up to the community to use the technology that’s available … to take our bull by the horns and start up your own thing.