North Preston family finally receives title to land after decades-long battle
A family from North Preston, N.S., has finally been given title to their land, but not before the death of their family member who launched the claim.
Wanque Simmons’ grandfather tried for decades to get title to the land where he built their family home.
“It was a rough time for (my grandparents) because they never really had (anyone) to help them out," says Simmons.
She says that happened despite the Land Titles Clarification Act being created in 1963 to deal with situations exactly like theirs.
Simmons says she pursued their claim again with the Department of Natural Resources a couple of years later while her grandparents were still alive.
“When I asked them how far along (the request was), they had said something about my grandfather being way, way down on the list,” she says. “I asked them how far down on the list, they said the 19th person and it would be a couple of years before they even get to him."
But that call never came. Clemmy Simmons died without hearing anything from the government.
Wanque Simmons says the case may never have been dealt with were it not for lawyer Angela Simmonds. As a law student working for the Nova Scotia Barristers Society in 2014, she discovered a huge backlog of applications.
“Then I just started researching about the application process and I realized that it was a much larger problem and it really wasn't a property issues, it was a human rights issue," says Simmonds.
It was something Matthew Moir had run into many years earlier as a young lawyer at Dartmouth law firm Weldon McInnis. He worked on some land title files and also contacted the Department of Natural Resources.
“There was a person who was designated at that time to be in charge of the files. I don't recall his name anymore, but he told me, ‘Yes, technically that's my designation, I’m the one responsible to do this but I'm not doing them because there's no money to do this,’" Moir says.
Money finally became available last year when the current provincial government allocated $2.7 million for this program. Last December, close to 20 years after her grandfather's original application and only with the help of Matthew Moir, the Simmons family finally got the land title certificate.
"My entire career, I have been disappointed that these applications aren't being processed,” Moir says.
Tony Ince, minister of African Nova Scotian affairs, acknowledges many mistakes have been made in the past.
"It's about time. We've got a segment of our population in society who have had to deal with systemic barriers and racism rom many levels of society,” Ince says.
The Simmons family agrees, but says it’s too late for her late grandparents.
“They said if anything happened to them, they wanted the family house to be a family house and something for their kids to be in,” says Simmons
But the family says they’re still happy to receive the result they’ve long hoped for.
“I felt very good. I felt like a new person. I finally had something that I could call my own."
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Priya Sam.