Thursday, November 10, 2011

Righting the Wrongs: Gus Wedderburn's Quest for Social Justice in Nova Scotia

Righting the Wrongs: Gus Wedderburn's Quest for Social Justice in Nova Scotia

Marie Riley

Nonfiction: Biography, Nova Scotia, Black History
96 pages
6" x 9" Paperback (includes photographs)
ISBN 978-1-897426-28-9

Order this book from: Nimbus Publishing (or 1-800-Nimbus9) or Chapters or Pottersfield Press mail order.

This is the story of H.A.J. (Gus) Wedderburn. During his 50 years in Nova Scotia, Gus brought his determination and energy to any situation where an injustice needed to be addressed. Growing up in Jamaica, he learned the tenets of respect, fairness and social responsibility from his dynamic family who taught him that giving one's time in the service of others was what life was all about. After studies at McGill University and Mount Allison University, he came to Nova Scotia in 1957 where he took a position as principal at Partridge River School in East Preston, one of the province's oldest Black communities. Here he set out to impress upon students and their families how important education was for them and started a tutoring program that enabled many students to graduate from high school, a first for the community. Years later, former students remember how he encouraged them, recognized their potential and boosted their self-confidence. His was an attitude often not held by teachers towards minority students in those days.

Gus moved on to teach at Bloomfield and Ardmore schools in Halifax, and in 1970, at the age of 41, he changed careers. Three years later he graduated from Dalhousie University's Law School, and practised law until his retirement. Described as "a lawyer with the soul of a social worker," he often worked pro bono and remained a mentor to many young people. A driving force for many years in the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, he was a founder of the Black Educators Association, the Black United Front, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and the Black Cultural Centre. He was a vocal crusader for the rights of the disadvantaged at a time when discrimination in education, employment and housing was the status quo.

When he died in 2007, Gus could have taken comfort in the diversity of races, religions and political persuasions represented at his funeral—people who came to pay their respects to a gentle, genial man who made a profound impact on his adopted home.

Marie Riley was born and brought up in Nova Scotia. After graduating from Mount Saint Vincent and Carleton Universities she worked as a journalist for the Calgary Herald and for the Canadian Press news agency in Ottawa. In 1970 she went to West Africa with CUSO where she taught at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and the University of Ghana. Following graduate work at Simon Fraser University, she taught in the public relations program at the Mount until her retirement in 2008.