BLACK RIVER: HISTORY OF A COMMUNITY (August 10/15)

“Take a moment to go back in time …. imagine what it was like.

“Picture pristine Acadian forests as far as the eye could see, along the South Mountain range tucked in between lakes and rivers that for hundreds of years was the home of the Mi’kmaq.”

Retired history teacher Laurie Levy spoke these words in describing a time when the community of Black River was a wilderness, or as Mr. Levy put it, a hinterland.   The occasion was the official opening of the new community hall in Black River, a hall that sprang from the ashes when the former school that had been standing for well over a century burned to the ground.

In those early days, Levy said, the area that eventually became known as Black River was a place of “bitterly cold winters and beautiful summers and falls (that) would attract settlement movements …. on a seasonal basis.  Evidence of native Indian habitat (in Black River) has been found as recently as this summer with work on the hydro system.”

Much of Mr. Levy’s talk involved the history of the Black River school, a school that eventually became the community hall.  In passing, however, he told the tale of how Black River was settled by Europeans because of the stagecoach road.

“White settlement roots (in Black River) began …. as a result of the building of the stagecoach road from Halifax (to) Windsor to the captured French fort at Annapolis Royal, the then administrative capital of Nova Scotia.  This was all before Halifax became the official capital in 1749.

“It is said this route through Black River and along the south mountain spine was (made) to hide troop movement from the Acadian population on the Valley floor. Early land grants were distributed to soldiers, but after the exile of Acadian settlements from the Valley floor and coastal Nova Scotia in 1755, the population mushroomed with the influx of United Empire Loyalists.  The south mountain road to Annapolis would be largely abandoned in favour of the Valley floor.”

Black River eventually became a community with recognizable borders and was “based on the rich forest resources, survival farming and lake and river fishing, as evidenced by the long milling history, small farm clearings and large rock piles till recognizable on the lakes, rivers and fertile fields of Black River.”

By Confederation, Mr. Levy said, the population of Black River was large enough to warrant building a school on the site where the community hall stands.  “The foundation stones were laid in 1871.  During the summer, slate rock was hauled for the foundation, post and beam, hand-hued timber construction for the framing and clapboard siding imported from New Brunswick were used. By fall, the community was the proud owner of a new school and community gathering centre.  That was just four years after Confederation and the summer of the second provincial election in the history of Canada.”

Building the school was a community effort in 1877, Mr. Levy said, and the building would stand with only a few changes over the years until the fire in March of 2011.  It was also a community effort when the new hall was constructed.  The grand opening of the building was held on September 11 last year.

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