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BLACK HAIR-ETAGE IN NOVA SCOTIA
The history of Black hair care in Nova Scotia is a story that had its beginnings in momma’s kitchen, on the living room floor, on the porch, at Aunt Frannie’s or at cousin’s Lynn’s house. Hair care for Black Nova Scotians has always been something personal, something comfortable, sometimes painful but always enhancing and beautiful. Everyone who could do hair did it!
Before the late 1800’s Black hair care was all, but non-existent. Blacks who were slaves were given little to no means of hair preparation or preservation. So although it is of no surprise that Black Canadian History runs parallel to African American History, it is amazingly interesting. Often when we search our historical facts about our America counterparts, there are so many of the same successes, struggles and sacrifices. One specific parallel of interest would be in the person of Mrs. Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond is one of our Human Rights Activist, educators and a pioneer of beauty culture in our province. She was deemed by Christine Samuelian as being “Nova Scotia’s counterpart to Rosa Parks”(in1955 Rosa refused to give up her seat on the bus, earlier, in the 1940’s Viola refused to give up her seat at the threatre, both women sat down and then took a stand for what they believed in).
During the very late 1800’s and early 1900’s beauty culture would become big business in the United States. While we were awaiting change here, we would have visitors and relatives from the U.S. who shared some of the beauty advancements in Black hair care of the Americans. Much of what was going on in the U.S. at that time would revolutionize the industry for the whole continent. The techniques of straightening hair went from and iron and ironing board to a hot comb.
The journey down the yellow brick road of beauty awareness was on of caution for most black women. But the Black man’s barbershops were already being established. As early as the 1940’s, Black men had already started to chemically straighten their hair with an unsafe formulation of lye and boiled mashed potatoes.
In the early 1940’s Mrs Viola Desmond started a school of hairdressing which would be the first of its kind in Nova Scotia. Mrs. Desmond would pioneer a cultural change that would allow for Black women to attain training in the field of hairdressing and have their hair cared for and other beauty enhancing possibilities. Black women would be able to have their hair done professionally and with confidence.
Hairstyling has always been one of the major ways cultures express themselves. Black hair since its arrival to this continent had been ignored and abhorred; now a change was going to come. For the Black Nova Scotian, the change had a late arrival, but it had finally come, none the less, with opening of Mrs. Desmond’s beauty school. Black hair, its uniqueness and care, would now be adored.
Mrs. Verna Skinner, who trained with Mrs. Desmond at the beauty school that specialized in the care of Black hair, said “Before Mrs. Desmond, Black hair care was not recognized. Beauty culture (for us as a people) was more than a learning process, it was a cultural change.”
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