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In The Field: The Legacy of Land in North Preston

 Untitled: The Legacy of Land in North Preston, is an investigative web project produced by second-year journalism students at the Nova Scotia Community College.

It takes a look at the issue of land title in the historic Black community of North Preston and the stunning fact that many people there do not have legal title to their land, despite paying taxes on it.

The problem can be traced back to how the Crown allocated land to the first Black settlers in the 1800’s and our stories show how the impact is still being felt today. In some cases, families cannot sell their land, or legally transfer it to their children. This has broad social and economic implications.

Without clear title, residents worry their land could be taken away like it was in Africville. The City of Halifax relocated residents and demolished Africville in the 1960’s. 

How we found it

In September 2015, an African-Nova Scotian law student came to one of our journalism classes and asked us to dig into the issue of land title. Her conversations with people in North Preston suggested this was an issue that many people faced, but few spoke about or even fully understood. No one knew how complex this story was or how far back into our province’s past it would take us. Altogether, the content on our website took a year to produce. 

This is the first time this story has been told by any media outlet. We broke it into five, short web videos that look at the past, the present and the future. In the introductory video, award-winning Canadian author Lawrence Hill weighs in.  

A second group of journalism students followed up the story nine months after the website launched and produced eight sharable TOV’s (text-on-videos) which can be found on the website under the Updates tab. All the stories, both the original and follow-ups, were published in 2016. 

The Process

Researching this story took us places that we would not have gone otherwise. It challenged us and our own preconceptions. We spent a lot of time earning the trust of North Preston residents. Their community gets frequent negative media coverage-usually connected to crime.  

We combed through the Nova Scotia Archives and found documents hand-written by residents almost 200 years ago that showed they’ve been trying to get title to their land for centuries.  

We also tried for three months to get on-camera interviews with provincial government officials. We were given emailed statements instead. However, nine months later for our follow-up stories, government ministers did agree to interviews.  

This investigative project taught us a lot about journalism and the importance of telling the stories of people whose voices so often go unheard. People, in this case, who’ve been trying to be heard for hundreds of years. 

Impact

The first part of our project launched on February 22, 2016. It got significant coverage by other media outlets including the CBC, The Coast, The Halifax Examiner and The Globe and Mail. A week after the website was published, the province of Nova Scotia issued a statement committing to right this historic wrong in North Preston and other predominately Black communities in Nova Scotia. The province hired two African-Nova Scotian summer students to work on the issue. 

In the nine months following the launch, a group of pro-bono lawyers and NSCC land surveying students came forward to offer free services to people in North Preston. The issue has also been recognized by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. Still, there is a long way to go to truly resolve this issue for all residents. 


The recipients in the CAJ / CNW GROUP STUDENT AWARD OF EXCELLENCE:

Allister Aalders, Skye Bryden-Blom, Jennie Cyril, Joel LeBlanc, Daniel Mackenzie, Nic Meloney, Whitney Middleton, Matthew Moore, Hilary Pettigrew, Jean-Marc Samson, Blake Seymour, Callum Smith, Benoit Crawford-Leblanc, Jenn Edwards, Chris Lee, Nicole Ly, Dan MacIsaac, Ethan Saulnier, Brandon Munroe, Kadence Ellis, Kristen Brown, Ellen Coles, Ed Halverson, Scott Hastings, Nicole Martelle, Jane Nicholson, Andres Porras, Christian Roach, Marilyn Sexton, Olesya Shyvikova, John Wimberly, Morgan Jessome, CJ Killam, Nick Madore, Jake Nissen, Romney Tarasco, Jason Cohanim, Michael Decoste, Wyatt Estabrooks, Richard Harris, Caitlin Hartlen, Alyssa Lewis Graham

Untitled: The Legacy of Land in North Preston

The CAJ's In The Field series invites leading Canadian journalists to share the stories behind the making of their award-winning works. 

Have a journalist in mind that you'd like us to feature? Tell us: admin@caj.ca!

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