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OFF SCRIPT: If you’re not an Archibald, where’s your sense of belonging at Province House?

I’m a young mixed-race woman, raised by a single, immigrant mother. Statistically, the chances of me (or her) walking into the legislature and seeing a plaque with our family name on it are pretty slim.
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Morning light glints off the unicorn, a detail from the provincial coat of arms on the tympanum at Province House in Halifax. The legislature still seems very alien for those who are not part of the establishment. (TIM KROCHAK / Local Xpress)

By SANDRA HANNEBOHM

I’ve always had a kind of alien curiosity about Nova Scotia.

I probably spent three years trying to persuade my mom to move here before we did. I wanted to go to where I felt I had some roots.

My father’s mother immigrated to Calgary after landing at Pier 21 on the waterfront, and I can’t know where my mom’s ancestors came from. Nova Scotia is home to African descendants whose families came from Maryland and Virginia, just like my family.

To me, having deep roots is a big privilege, and Nova Scotia is a place where quite a few of them intersect.

Sandra-HannebohmSandra Hannebohm of Springtide Collective: 'I wanted to go where I felt I had some roots.'

British settlers established the first Canadian responsible government in Nova Scotia, when men dominated politics exclusively. Today, the legislature is still populated with mostly settler ancestors (and, of course, most of them are men), but I wasn’t conscious of this when I moved to Halifax. The reality of Nova Scotia politics dawned on me around the same time I started volunteering with Springtide Collective, almost two years ago.

When I began transcribing interviews for Off Script, I was responsible for hanging on to every word the descendants of these settlers said, slowing down the track and replaying the same sentence in slow motion to type it out.

The transcribing process is usually four times slower than the length of the recording, so an hour of tape takes a whole afternoon to transcribe. For me, this was like touring a foreign city in slow motion.

No matter how many times I listened to the words, no matter how slowly (and sometimes hilariously) they were expressed, I felt like everything that was said was something I had never heard before. I’m a young mixed-race woman, raised by a single, immigrant mother. Statistically, the chances of me (or her) walking into the legislature and seeing a plaque with our family name on it are pretty slim.

That point really came home for me when I listened to the second of many interviews I later heard.

George Archibald, a former Progressive Conservative MLA, was describing a sense of delight at realizing he was the first in his family to sit in the legislature in 100 years. I thought, "That must be touching — walking into Province House and seeing that one of your ancestors sat there 100 years ago."

Then he revealed that more than 100 years before that, Truro had a strong history of Archibalds in the legislature. When Sir Adams George Archibald helped bring in Confederation, he was following six family members who held seats before him.

I came to think that this lineage was a big part of why he felt comfortable in the House even when he was being criticized or targeted. He had a lot of reasons to believe he belonged there, and fewer reasons to think he didn’t. In the capital city of Nova Scotia politics, he was an Archibald, and Archibalds before him paved the roads of the city I toured. George fell into politics because he was "George." "George who had a farm." "George with political lineage dating back to before Confederation."

The history of George’s family made me interested in one particular question: how do people get to political power in Nova Scotia if they’re not an Archibald?

Want the full story? This article is an adapted excerpt from the weekly On the Record, Off Script podcast produced by Springtide Collective. Listen to the episode Ladies First (except in politics) and subscribe to the podcast here.


Sandra Hannebohm is a writer with the Springtide Collective. She holds a bachelor of arts in political science from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, and she co-hosts the On The Record, Off Script podcast.



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