The Glace Bay Chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

This story emerged from community talking sessions over the course of several months. The ‘authors’ of this story are therefore the people, sharing what they know of the place they call home.

Like other parts of Cape Breton, Glace Bay has a strong legacy in mining. According to the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum, by 1873 there were eight coal companies operating in Cape Breton. To operate the mines, many companies enlisted labourers from other parts of the province including African Nova Scotians and people from overseas. Some who came to Glace Bay were tempted by the prospect of descent money. They came from various Caribbean countries and worked in the steel and coal mines. These Caribbean labours brought with them strong socio-political views and well-honed survival skills.

In the 1910s, the Pan-African movement and the Return to Africa Company gained ground under the leadership of Marcus Garvey, and the Caribbean immigrants to Cape Breton adopted his stance. In 1918, the Glace Bay Chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (or UNIA for short) was formed by Albert Francis in his backyard. By 1932, the community had constructed the UNIA Hall on Jessome Street in Glace Bay. Although the movement in Nova Scotia was more popular with Caribbean immigrants to Cape Breton, it did have the impact of encouraging pride in their heritage for all African Nova Scotians, even among those who descended from Black Loyalists or Black Refugees.

In 1937, Marcus Garvey, the founder of the original Universal Negro Improvement Association, spoke at the Glace Bay UNIA Hall. People of African descent from Sydney and New Waterford came to hear him speak.

Today, through educational, cultural, and recreational means, the Glace Bay UNIA with its Hall and Museum aims to promote African Nova Scotian culture and acknowledge the role Blacks played in the growth and development of Glace Bay.



UNIA Hall and Cultural Museum, 35 Jessome St, Glace Bay, NS B1A 5J2