Community Group

Message in a Bottle: 15 Ships to Sierra Leone

Message in a Bottle will be a display of letters in bottles written by municipal leaders and community members from across Nova Scotia in 2021 addressed to the 1,196 Black Loyalist seafarers who emigrated to Sierra Leone on 15 ships in 1792.

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This project is Inspired by the Global Afrikan Congress Nova Scotia chapter book “R is for Reparations”.Reparations means to right wrongs. To right wrongs most Nova Scotians have to find a way to educate themselves about the impact of those wrongs, including the history of slavery and race and the ongoing impact on the 50 African Nova Scotian communities across the province. Is it possible to make a personal connection to the imagined story of a Black Loyalist? Sending a message in a bottle is usually done as an act of desperation, maybe by someone shipwrecked and fearing for their survival. This art installation flips this idea. Our survival right now, together, depends on looking honestly at what happened in the colonial past and is still going on now. Why did so many people leave this place and where is the impact of the exodus still evident?

Message in a Bottle is an opportunity to learn about the roots of resistance as well as the injustice and the drive that brought about the exodus of over 1,196 Nova Scotia Black Loyalists. The stories that can be found are the greatest untold stories that ripple from these shores.

The timing for this project is significant. We are now at the halfway mark of the UN International Decade of People of African Decent. Next year, 2022 marks the 230th anniversary of the departure of the ships to Sierra Leone, and since no commemorative structures at the harbour of Halifax have yet materialized, the time is right. This project hopes to open up pathways to the commemoration of the largest migration of people of African descent in a transatlantic voyage of return to the continent of Africa. The project relates to Nocturnes theme. A bottle floating on an ocean is between a destination and a departure point and holds hope and possiblity.

The installation at Pier 21 will include student artwork decorating the large water bottles, each one of them carrying the name of one of the 15 ships. Letter writing invitations in the form of an email kit will be sent out to local politicians; leaders in community organizations and classrooms. The kit includes links and information,and the request to simply write a letter as well as sample letters.

At the installation site, there will be posters with sample letters and a detailed explanation of the project including information about the Black Loyalists, A table will be set up with letterhead paper for anyone who would like to write a letter. Letters can be placed in a tray to be read, or placed directly into one of the bottles.

To have over 1000 letters, one symbolically for each seafarer that left Halifax for Sierra Leone would be a remarkable message in itself. An actual message in a bottle floating on an ocean does not have much of a chance to reach its destination, but here, participation is the destination.

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