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Teapot's on, door's open

YEARS AGO, I used to run the roads of rural Guysborough County, fishing rod and can of worms at the ready, looking for little-touched streams and pools that might yield up a few delicious speckled trout. I remember driving once along Highway #16 between Monastery and the Town of Guysborough, and passing through the community of Lincolnville. I couldn't help notice that almost all the people there were Black. If I'd stopped to ask, I might have been directed to some favoured fishing hole, but I didn't. All I now remember about that long-ago drive is that I wondered about the community's name. I knew that most Nova Scotian Blacks had come here either at the time of the American Revolution or in the course of the War of 1812. How did rural Guysborough County come to have a Black community apparently named after an American President of the early 1860s?

The question went unanswered, and I soon forgot it. But when I recently headed for a second time along Highway #16 toward Lincolnville I remembered, and I was determined to get an answer to that long-forgotten question. But first, I had to find the home of Alonzo and Sonja Reddick. It's on the "Lincolnville Loop," created in the mid-1980s, when road work was done in the area. Unlike on my years-ago visit, Highway #16 now bypasses the community of Lincolnville.

In talking with Alonzo and Sonja, I discover that my hunch about Abraham Lincoln was right: the community was, indeed, named after him sometime early in the twentieth century, although it was originally settled late in the eighteenth century by Blacks, mostly from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, fleeing the American Revolution. Before it was called Lincolnville, the community was known variously as Tracadie Road or Guysborough Road, depending on which way you were approaching it.

Lincolnville 25 years ago was a thriving community of about 200, but it has suffered a shrinkage common to many smaller communities across the province. There is little to keep young people there after they finish school, and today Lincolnville has an aging population of about 80. There are still about a dozen children of school age (students are bussed to school in nearby Guysborough), but the coming years are likely to see fewer and fewer of them.

"The only big hope for this area," says Alonzo, who spent much of his working life at the now-closed oil refinery at Point Tupper, "is natural gas. There are already one or two Lincolnville people working at the plant in Goldboro, and there are rumours of other businesses starting up there. Other than that, people from here mostly work in Antigonish or Guysborough." Alonzo had eight children from an earlier marriage, but they are all scattered elsewhere in Nova Scotia and in central Canada. "They love to come back to visit," he says, "but there's no reason why they would stay here."

The soil around Lincolnville has never supported a lot of farming. "People here used to keep a few cattle and tend a small garden," says Sonja. "But most of that sort of activity is gone now, though there's still one place here with goats, chickens, a milk cow, a horse, dogs, and chickens."

Back in the 1960s, local people founded the Lincolnville Community Association, and Alonzo served as its first President. Today, that organization is known as the Lincolnville Community Development Association, and it maintains a community centre where Boy Scouts and Girl Guides meet. There is also a Community Access Point (CAP) there where local people can surf the Internet, and tutoring is offered there to students through a project based at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. As well, the Community Centre hosts various special events.

Acquired in 1986, the Lincolnville Community Centre sits on about three acres of land owned by the Municipality of Guysborough. "We're hoping to get them to sell it to us for a dollar," Sonja tells me, "but it will cost us about $2,000 to have the land surveyed first. So, we're doing fund-raising for that, and we hope to have it done by the fall. Then, we want to develop a park and a playground there."

The CAP site in the Community Centre was opened in 1998 and is, like the Centre itself, maintained by proceeds from dances, bingos, 45s parties, and other fund-raising events. "Lincolnville is getting smaller in terms of people," Sonja tells me, "but it's growing through the Internet. Earlier this year, we had a computer camp, through a program offered by the Antigonish/Guysborough Black Association. Students who did well in it were given surplus government computers along with free Internet access for a year. This summer we'll have a student at the CAP site, so it will be open eight hours every day."

Sonja's parents lived in Lincolnville, though she herself was born in Glace Bay and spent much of her earlier life in Montrčal and the United States. She came back to Nova Scotia in the late '70s and worked as a surgical nurse at St. Martha's Hospital in Antigonish until retiring in 1998. "My Mom married a porter on the train, and we moved to Montrčal, where I went to nursing school," she recalls. "There were only two other Blacks in my class. Back in the late 1950s, Blacks were only beginning to emerge into the broader community. The Black community has made great gains over the years: Black people today can do anything they set their minds to. At one time, about all a Black man could hope for was to be a porter, and the women had little option but domestic work. Opportunities today are far broader."

"When I came back here in the late '70s," Sonja continues, "there was certainly racial tension at local schools, but it was mostly unspoken. Now, racism is fought directly through the school curriculum -- it's talked about openly -- and things are much, much better."

Lincolnville has, like other communities in this part of the province, suffered from the recent decision of the Eastern Counties Regional Library to suspend its bookmobile service. "They can't afford to maintain the bookmobiles," Alonzo says, "and the condition of roads in this area is bad, so that doesn't help. The bookmobile used to come for two hours every week, and people used it. The community misses that service."

Most Black Nova Scotians belong to African United Baptist Churches, and Alonzo and Sonja, along with many others in Lincolnville and nearby Rear Monastary, attend the Baptist Church in Upper Big Tracadie, another largely Black community a few miles up the road. The church has an active Ladies' Auxiliary, as well as a Men's Brotherhood Group. Together, they make donations to the Red Cross, the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, and other charities. They also see to the maintenance of the church itself, as well as the local graveyard and parsonage.

I was surprised, on driving the Lincolnville Loop, to find a small Catholic chapel. Not everyone in the community, I learned, is Baptist. Father Leo Cameron, who is based at St. Augustine's Monastery in the nearby village of Monastery, presides over the services there. "The first Catholic chapel was built in Lincolnville about forty years ago," he tells me, "largely through the efforts of Father Anthony Henry, who was at the monastery here back then. He was a very charismatic man. To look at him, you would never guess he was a clergyman. People were attracted to the Church through him. "Today," Father Cameron continues, "when I preside over the celebrations in the Lincolnville church, I'm always uplifted by the wonderful atmosphere there. Everyone takes part enthusiastically, and perhaps that's because of the small size of the community there."

The differences in faith among the people of Lincolnville, however, are more than made up for by the common sense of community. "It was faith in God that allowed Black people to survive slavery," Alonzo says, "and religion is the backbone of the community. There are Catholics and others here, as well as Baptists, but we all worship the same God in the end. Everybody in the community pitched in when they built St. Monica's, the Catholic chapel, regardless of their religion. And when someone dies, we don't ask what his or her religion was: we just all go and help to dig the grave. Last year, they put a new roof on the chapel, and people, Catholic and Baptist, all pitched in to help."

"In the typical Lincolnville home," Sonja tells me over sweets and a cup of tea, "the teapot is always on and the door is always open. We're proud of being Nova Scotian, and all we want to do here is live in harmony with other communities in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Our grandfathers worked hard to create the foundations of what we have here today, and we love the life we live here. Lincolnville is not a rich place -- we have single parents on family assistance, just like anywhere else, and they are trying to get the training to improve their situations -- but nobody is going hungry here. People here are used to the lifestyle they have here, they feel safe and comfortable living here. And Lincolnville has something special about it that always makes you remember it as čhome' when you're away."

As I leave the Lincolnville Loop to take Highway #16 back toward home, it occurs to me that I'd neglected to ask Alonzo and Sonja where I might have been directed had I knocked on their door all those years ago and asked whether there were any good fishing holes in the area. After my day's visit, I head home confident that I'd have been offered a steaming mug, and that I'd have had my nose pointed in the direction of a good fish-fry.

*Scott Milsom is author of Voices of Nova Scotia Community: A Written Democracy (Fernwood Publishing Co. Ltd. 2003 ). This article originally appeared in the May/June 2000 issue of Coastal Communities News, the magazine of the Coastal Communities Network (CCN). To find out more about CCN, visit <www.coastalcommunities.ns.ca>.

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