Nanaimo African Heritage Society is gearing up for its 19th annual Black History Month gala dinner and dance on Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Coast Bastion Hotel. Pictured here, Michelle Francis and Shalema Gantt, organizers. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

VIDEO: Settlers will be celebrated at Nanaimo Black History Month event

Nanaimo African Heritage Society event takes place Feb. 24 at Coast Bastion Hotel

Settlers of African-American descent will be commemorated as Nanaimo African Heritage Society holds its 19th annual Black History Month gala dinner and dance on Saturday, Feb. 24.

The event at the Coast Bastion Hotel gives a nod to the first black settlers who came to Vancouver Island 160 years ago. Karen Hoshal, a direct descendent of a group of those pioneers, the Alexander family, said they arrived in Victoria in 1858 at the urging of Sir James Douglas, B.C. governor, who had sent word to San Francisco seeking settlers to come up to live. Douglas wanted more settlers on the Island’s south end so it wouldn’t be annexed to the U.S., said Hoshal.

Shalema Gantt, society president and event organizer, said some even set roots in Nanaimo, including the Stark family. Father Louis owned property at Chase River and daughter Emily was one of the area’s teachers.

“There‘s lots of history that people don’t realize,” said Gantt. “There were 100 riflemen that were basically controlling and protecting [people] because it was something that the navy didn’t take on, so locally we had rifleman … The Stark family came here, farmed land, helped to build on Salt Spring Island, helped to build some of Nanaimo and they’ve left a legacy of farms and trees and things that they’ve planted.”

African storyteller and drummer Jean-Pierre Makosso, DJ Redline and youth dance groups will be among entertainers and the menu will be Afro-Caribbean-inspired and will include rum barbecue Jerk chicken with pineapple and pulled pork and plantains.

The event begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $55 for adults, $15 for children and free for kids under eight years old. Gantt said there are about $500 in door prizes.

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