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Black History Month and Rose Fortune

February 20, 2024

Presented by Frederica Joseph | Volunteer – Palliative Care SCHC | President – Kiwanis Club of Scarborough


1774 – 1864

SCHC requested Frederica to share the story of her ancestors, showcasing the important role Black women played in Canadian history. Rose Fortune was the daughter of two runaway slaves.  Runaway slaves who served in the British Army, during the American Revolutionary War are known as Black Loyalists, and following the war, the British granted them their freedom. Rose and her family were among the approximately 3000 Black Loyalists who sailed from New York to Nova Scotia in 1783. (1)  Rose Fortune was only ten years old when she underwent this journey.

While the Black Loyalists were granted their freedoms, and taken to Nova Scotia, their life became more difficult.  The British basically took and left many of them in the coldest most remote parts of Nova Scotia, thinking they would not survive the harsh environment.  The freed slaves were not equipped for the Nova Scotia Winters.  

The territory where the Black Loyalists were taken was occupied by the Mi’kmaq tribe of First Nations people.  The two groups discovered each other and lived together harmoniously.  

Time passed, Rose got married, and in 1825, she and her family relocated to Annapolis Royal. (2)  Life was very difficult for free blacks. Conditions were so difficult some blacks chose to be enslaved, to secure housing and food. At that time Free blacks were not allowed to own businesses, nor were they hired by the British Settlers.  Also in 1825 women were not allowed to vote and women entrepreneurship was forbidden in most places, yet Rose, against all odds managed to start a successful business from nothing.

Ferries and Ships, horses and buggies were how goods and people moved from places far and near in the early eighteen hundreds.  Rose started carting passengers’ luggage from Annapolis Royal ferry docks to travellers’ homes and hotels with a borrowed wheelbarrow.   She not only carted luggage, she helped travellers find accommodation and ensured they made their connections.  Her business was very prosperous, and eventually, she traded in her wheelbarrow for a horse and buggy.  

Over time, Rose became a trusted name to travellers from Saint John, Digby and Boston, town officials, and ship captains.  She had an incredibly strong and dominant personality and had limited competition due to her reputation.  There were also security issues on the wharves.  This led to the development of another successful business: the guarding of ships, to prevent cargo theft.  Rose did this by imposing curfews on the wharves and preventing unauthorized persons from being on the wharves.  Rose didn’t miss an opportunity and started a third business.  She started a wake-up service to ensure the crew who were often rowdy at night, and other travellers, got up in time to travel in the morning.  

Rose’s horse and buggy business, continued to be run by her family under Lewis Transport for the next 100 years and eventually became Lewis Trucking.  The business has since been sold, but it still has the name Lewis Trucking.  

Rose was the only person responsible for law and order in Annapolis Royal, at that time, and became the first female police officer in North America.  She continued to work into her seventies and died at age 90  (3)

1  “Rose Fortune”

     Retrieved 2024/02/05

2 “Rose Fortune”  The Canadian Encyclopedia 


    Retrieved 2024/02/05

3  Biography-Fortune, Rose-Volume IX, (1861-1870)


   Retrieved 2024/02/05