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'He understood that we are all people': N.S. human rights champion remembered during African Heritage Month


It doesn't take much to get Wayne Miller to tell stories about his grandfather, Tom Miller.

"He was my Poppy, and that's all I knew him as," Miller said when interviewed at the restaurant he owns in Sydney River, N.S.

Tom Miller was born in Halifax in 1917 - three months before the Halifax explosion.

He and his family moved to Whitney Pier, N.S., shortly after the disaster.

Miller grew up to work in the Sydney Steel Plant and served in the Second World War.

He became Atlantic Canada's first Black alderman when he was elected in Sydney, N.S., in 1955 -- a seat he held for 17 years.

Miller later became the first African-Nova Scotian to run for the provincial Liberals.

"Tom Miller worked his butt off for the steel plant, helping to get community infrastructure built," Wayne Miller said of his grandfather.

For more than 20 years, the Tom Miller Human Rights Award has been handed out in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

The most recent recipient was Tanya Johnson MacVicar, at the recent African Heritage gala in Sydney.

Tanya Johnson MacVicar is the most recent recipient of the Tom Miller Human Rights Award, which she received at the African Heritage Gala in Sydney, N.S.

Past recipients of the award include recently-retired Mi'kmaw senator Dan Christmas and Hockey Nova Scotia's Dean Smith.

In recent years, Wayne Miller himself has had the honour of presenting the award that bears his granddad’s name.

"That award meant the world to me, given that Mr. Miller was a member of my home community of Whitney Pier," Smith said when contacted at his home in Brookside, N.S.

Smith, who has long fought to eliminate racism in hockey, was the 2022 winner of the Tom Miller Human Rights Award.

He remembers Miller as a pioneer for racial equality.

"He understood that we are all people, and that we are all deserving of rights and we are all deserving of protections," he said. “He fought for those protections for every member of Whitney Pier, regardless of race."

These days, Wayne Miller carries on his grandfather's passions for healthy living and his community. He's also become a steward of sorts of his legacy.

"There's (sic) still people that come up to me regularly and say, 'I remember your grandfather,'” Miller said. “Whether it was for his community involvement, whether it was for his fitness, or just helping them along the way." Top Stories

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