Sand Hill

An Early Black Settlement

Formerly known as the “Highlands,” Sand Hill in Amherst, Nova Scotia, offers visitors a historical panoramic view of unique spaces and places not found anywhere else in the world. Discover intriguing historical facts about the community’s forefathers, who blazed the trail long before Canada became a nation, in this predominately Black neighborhood.

The Black community on Sand Hill was established more than 100 years before Amherst was incorporated in 1889. The sprawling five-kilometer community overlooks beautiful downtown Amherst and encompasses streets such as Albion, Poplar, East Pleasant, Willow, and Angus L. Drive. Many sites on Sand Hill connect to important aspects of Canadian culture and history including the Sand Hill race riot, the cross burning on Willow Street, broom swatting and Election Day antics, as well as pork belly talking.

Sand Hill has many landmarks, points of interest, heritage information, and historical houses, which belonged to merchants, midwives, politicians, preachers, stone masons, farriers, and cultural icons that confirm our forefather’s contributions. The Old Stage Coach Stop was formerly owned by the Rock’s (Dwayne Johnsons’) great uncle, Mr. Douglas Gay, a successful businessman and political activist. The East Pleasant Street School House, currently owned by Mr. Edwin Cooke, offered education to Cookes’ father and grandparents in the early 1900s.

The burial grounds include early descendants' names, some of which are listed in the Book of Negros, commemorating Black Loyalist who settled in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1783. Other names are for Blacks who came to Sand Hill from elsewhere in Nova Scotia. Names such as Martin, Gay, Jones, Cook, Gero, Gibson and Lee are common to this day. Mr. Dimbo Sickles, the first known Black slave to Monteque, PEI, arrived on PEI with Captain Creed. His descendants continued on to Sand Hill. Sickles’ granddaughter and her husband purchased property in 1874, which became the community’s unofficial “Meeting Place.” It is now a recognized heritage property on the Nova Scotia Registry of homes over 100 years old. 

The Fred Parson House is another notable landmark on Sand Hill. Mr. Parsons was a Black engineer employed by Town of Amherst in the mid-1800s as a road superintendent. In that role, he carved out streets, parks, and graveyards in the town. 

A typhoid fever outbreak at the turn of the century prompted the construction of the first Highland View Hospital on Charles Street in 1904 for $20,000. Land was donated by R.B. Dickey. The hospital employed ten doctors and five registered nurses. It had two wards, a children’s ward, and eleven private rooms. It was partly destroyed by fire in 1928.

Imagine what life was like on Sand Hill, where residents attended the historical African Methodist Episcopal Church in which they were known as the brethren; when children attended a one-room schoolhouse; and Gypsies sang at Dickey Park; or Midwives did important community work. Over the years, great sacrifices were made by the residents of Sand Hill. And while their dreams may have been dashed, they were not destroyed, as noted in the poem, “Somebody Else’s’ Kitchen,” by Donna Morse. Visiting Sand Hill provides an opportunity to have meaningful dialogue about Black history and important landmarks. It is imperative to document and share this history with future generations.



The African Methodist Episcopal Church, 236 Church St, Amherst, NS, B4H 3C9