Upper Big Tracadie is located in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, about 30 km from Antigonish, off Hwy 104 at Exit 37, south east 8 km on Hwy 16.
Founded in 1813, the name Upper Big Tracadie came from its location high up and overlooking Monastery and Tracadie Harbour. The first settlers to the area were Black Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution. In 1787, Thomas Brownspriggs and 74 other loyalist families were granted 3000 acres of land in what is known today as East Tracadie, Antigonish County. The Black settlers faced many difficulties, including barren land, only menial jobs, broken promises from the British and outright hostility from White settlers. Despite the many challenges, the Black settlers persevered. Upper Big Tracadie celebrates its bi-centennial anniversary in 2013.
The history of Tracadie United Baptist Church dates back to the arrival of the first settlers in 1787. Thomas Brownspriggs was one of the most influential Black figures during these early years. He was the preacher and schoolmaster from 1788 to 1790. David Nutter arrived from England in 1822 and with a small group of settlers the church was organized under the direction of the Baptist faith and the structure was moved from its original location to a more central site in the community. In 2012, Tracadie United Baptist Church celebrated its 190th anniversary. The church is recorded as being the second oldest in the African United Baptist Association (AUBA). Today it proudly serves some 50 families from the communities of Rear Monastery, Upper Big Tracadie and Lincolnville.
A one room school built at the cross roads in Upper Big Tracadie served the community until 1965. At that time children were moved to a larger elementary school serving the Black Communities of Lincolnville and Upper Big Tracadie. Students attended high school in Guysborough. Located next to the Tracadie church, the elementary school now serves as the Community Hall.
Farming, forestry and work as labourers were the main source of income for the men during the early 1800s and late 1970s. Some found work as porters with CN rail. The early settlers raised pigs, cattle, sheep, and horses. Oxen were used to pull logs from the woods to be taken to the local mills to be cut for lumber. Many family homes in Upper Big Tracadie were built from the lumber from these same forests.
Over the past decades the young people were forced to leave the community to find work in the major cities across Canada. Some residents still do a little farming by raising cattle and planting crops.
Today, a small number of people of African ancestry have found employment in the food industry and in retail clothing stores as well in the drug stores and fast food establishments.
The population in this Black community has steadily declined over the past 30 years. Today, over 85% of the people are 65 and older.
Sites of Memory or Significance:
In 1988 a monument was erected by the congregation of the Tracadie United Baptist Church at the site called the “Old Grave Yard” off Highway #16. It is a tribute to those early settlers buried in the cemetery. The inscription reads “In Memory of Pioneers of the Black Community, 1782 – 1931 who are buried in this Cemetery.”
People of Memory or Significance:
Norman Arthur Elms was the pastor at Tracadie United Baptist Church. The son of William John Elms and Sarah MacPhee Elms, Pastor Elms enlisted in the Canadian Army and served in various locations throughout Europe and North Africa from 1941 to 1945. Married to Marion Ashe, he was a bricklayer by trade and owned his own business. His work can be found in many homes throughout the province. The receipient of many medals for his service as a soldier, Pastor Elms contributed to the development of this community through his church leadership role and his many voluntary services until his death in 2001. He is buried in the Sunnyvale Grave yard next to the Tracadie United Baptist Church.
There were other men from the Upper Big Tracadie community who enlisted and fought for their country over the years.
Private James Benjamin Elms served 1939-45.
Private William Henry Elms served 1939-45.
Private Joseph Thomas Ash born November 13, 1884 and served to 1918.
Private Lavin Daye, born in 1898, enlisted in Truro on September 22, 1916 and served with the #2 Construction Battalion.
Private Matthew Day, born in 1875, enlisted in Truro in 1917 and served with #2 Construction Battalion in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces.
Private Michael Redmond Elms, born in 1896, enlisted in Halifax in 1916 and served with the #2 Construction Battalion in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces.
Private William Gero, born in 1876, enlisted in Truro in 1916 and served with the #2 Construction Battalion in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces.
The Awakening Souls Youth Choir was formed in 2007 to showcase and promote the artistic talent of the young people in the community. Nominated at the East Coast Music Award for 2012 African Canadian Recording of the Year for their CD “God is Love,” the choir performs uplifting spiritual music combined with modern rhythm and blues.
The Upper Big Tracadie Seniors Action Club is active in the area with members from Upper Big Tracadie, Lincolnville, Rear Monastery and Sunnyville. Coming together officially in 2011, the group is involved in preserving the culture and heritage of the area and has produced a historical video capturing the stories and life experience of the seniors in the local communities. Among other projects the group is undertaking is a community garden that produces a bountiful crop for over 24 families.
The DRUM is a widely read newsletter produced by the Tracadie United Baptist Church. The popular newsletter circulates in the communities of Upper Big Tracadie, Lincolnville, Monastery, Rear Monastery, Sunnyville, Bolyston, Mulgrave and surrounding areas. Mary Desmond is the editor.