‘Still together, united’: Preston Township Homecoming expected to draw thousands

The joy can be heard in Rosella Fraser’s voice as she reminisces about the beautiful image of dozens of men, women and children dressed in crisp white clothing being baptized in a lake in North Preston in the 1960s and 1970s.

Large outdoor baptisms in lakes and rivers, which drew hundreds of spectators, were once a common tradition unique in black rural African United Baptist churches in Nova Scotia

These kind of stories will be among the many shared at the first-ever Preston Township Homecoming set for Aug. 9-15. It will celebrate the culture, history and achievements that have influenced the development of North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon.

“Those stories are gone now,” said Fraser, who is the vice-chair of the homecoming committee and also the facility manager at the North Preston Community Centre. “We’ve progressed, but … we need to get back some of that.”

East Preston resident Rev. Joyce Ross came up with the idea for the Preston Township Homecoming to be held Aug. 9-15 in the communities of North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon. (Robert Short/CBC)

People in the Prestons can trace their roots back more than 200 years with the arrivals of the Jamaican Maroons (1796); the Black Loyalists (1782-1785); and the black refugees who arrived from the Chesapeake Bay area of the United States after the War of 1812.

The homecoming will be held throughout the communities with some events in Dartmouth. Organizers are hoping it will draw thousands of people from across Canada.

Fraser also wants the broader community to visit “to see the beauty that lies in the township of Preston.”

“It’s certainly time to tell our story and to look at the valuable contributions of African Nova Scotians, and with particular focus on the Preston area, the contributions that have been made over the centuries. So it’s very … unique, it’s rich and it’s going to be vibrant.”

Preston Township map (Nova Scotia Archives)

Championship boxers Kirk Johnson and Custio Clayton, Judge Corrine Sparks, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard and award-winning singer Reeny Smith are just a few of the prominent people who hail from the area.

East Preston community elder Rev. Joyce Ross came up with the idea to bring the three communities together for a joint reunion as a way to instill pride in residents about their rich history.

As chair of the planning committee, she’s inviting people of all cultural backgrounds to attend.

“We want the youth to take away the history as well as others that come into the community can take away our culture and our successes and our hardships,” she said.

She wants them to know what it was to grow up in a community with very little other than an ability to survive those challenges.

“Our forefathers paved the way for us and we appreciate that,” she said. “And so we’re going to be recognizing that as well of the hardships of our forefathers and how we came together then and how we are still together, united.”

The Preston Township Homecoming will celebrate the history and achievements of people in North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon. (Robert Short/CBC)

Highlights of the week include guided community tours, a Sunday afternoon church service with a combined choir of up to 100 voices, and a play called The Power of Preston, which was written for the gathering by North Preston resident Anne Johnson-MacDonald.

The celebrations end with a closing gala dinner and dance.

For more details on the homecoming, see www.PrestonTownshipHomecoming.ca.

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