Listening and Learning from the Past

Listening and Learning from the Past:
The Restorative Process and the Home for Colored Children

Written by Roisin Boyle
Photos by Fiona Yang

On October 26th, 2022, I had the opportunity to see a preview of the upcoming exhibit “Journey to Light” at The Black Cultural Centre (“the BCC”). This experience was doubly exciting for me because Angela Davis and Margaret Burnham were also in attendance.  

The exhibit, which is set to be revealed in 2023, is focused on the history and impact of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and the former residents’ journey for justice. The exhibit is based, in part, on the lessons gathered during the Restorative Inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (“the RI”) and the work of a collaborative project called Digital Oral History for Reconciliation (“DOHR”). 500 sqft on the second floor will be devoted to shining a light on systemic racism through the history of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (“the Home”) and the experiences and journeys of its former residents.

The Home opened in 1921 and was hailed as a success for decades; however, the real stories of those who lived and worked there were not being heard. These stories reveal childhoods of abuse and suffering, experiences the former residents kept to themselves for decades because of a lingering sense of shame. In 2012, however, former residents gathered, shared their stories, and began to break the silence.

The upcoming exhibit will feature these stories. The DOHR project, which is based out of the University of Waterloo, was developed in partnership with the former residents’ organization VOICES (Victims of Institutional Child Exploitation Society), the RI, and other organizational and community partners. DOHR developed a curriculum for high school classes, including a virtual storytelling experience aiming to help participants understand what residents went through at the Home. The exhibit at the BCC will include multiple virtual reality stations that will allow visitors to hear former residents recount memories of their time in the Home while immersed in a 3D visual representation of the Home. As Jennifer Llewellyn pointed out at the preview event, it is not designed to be an “empathy machine”; instead, it is a means of helping us learn from experiences of harm and resilience by travelling alongside former residents as they share their stories. The exhibit invites us all to be a part of the former residents’ journey to light by learning and considering what we might do to contribute to a better future.


As a summer intern at the Restorative Lab, I was fortunate to take part in a workshop focused on how haptics (technology that brings the sense of touch) may be incorporated into the DOHR project and the museum exhibit’s virtual experience to enhance the experience and its social justice focus. I found the process to be impressively respectful and collaborative. The voices of former residents were central. While there could have been an instinct to use haptics wherever possible (after all, immersive technology is very cool), a presiding sentiment was that any digital experience must first and foremost be respectful of the lived experiences of the former residents, and not pretend to replicate them nor trivialize them by making the technology the focus of the experience. There was also a remarkable sensitivity to trauma and the need for safety.

The announcement and preview of the upcoming exhibit was led by three former residents of the Home and participants in the RI, namely Tony Smith, Gerry Morrison, and Tracey Dorrington-Skinner. They offered insights and accounts of their experiences with the restorative process. I had met a couple of these speakers before and heard them present in other contexts, as they are committed to sharing their stories widely and helping people understand the legacy and impacts of the Home. Indeed, Tony Smith spoke in a course in my sister’s Bachelor of Education program, where he emphasized the importance of education and of engaging upcoming generations, a value he reiterated at the BCC event. The former residents’ openness in recounting their stories both at the BCC event and elsewhere contributes to ongoing work against systemic racism in the form of education and the creation of a foundation of understanding.

It was refreshing to listen to people who, like me, believe there is a better way to do justice. I feel some of my friends think I am naïve in this belief. It can be hard, I understand, to break out of the assumption that retributive justice is the only way of doing justice, and that there is no way for people to move forward together when there has been so much harm. The RI and the former residents’ resolute commitment to breaking the silence, though, teaches that it is ok to inquire into our shared past to construct a meaningful future. Indeed, Angela Davis picked up on the sense of optimism and left attendees with a message of hope. Through the restorative process, it became possible to glimpse the potential for justice in something as massive as the Home and the systemic racism that created and sustained it. This hope in the potential for fuller justice and a better future allows us to continue to move forward together.

angela and margaret



This special event brings together three remarkable leaders who are beacons for racial justice in the US and around the world. Their advocacy and work for justice transformation has shaped a generation and seeded a vision of a better future. Their journeys for racial justice began together in Birmingham, Alabama, and continued to be interwoven through the height of the civil rights movement. Their relationship and connected experiences have rooted each panelist’s unique work for racial justice shared commitment to transformation through restorative justice. 

The Restorative Research, Innovation and Education Lab is hosting this event together with a number of organizations including: the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaw Initiative at the Schulich School of Law, VOICES (Victims of Institutional Child Exploitation Society), the Criminal Justice Coalition – Schulich School of Law, the Black Cultural Centre, and Dalhousie University. We are grateful for the support from Sobeys Inc. that has made the event possible.

Public Lecture Series 2022: Daniel Del Gobbo

Lighting a Spark: Feminism, Emotions, and the Legal Imagination of Campus Sexual Violence

Daniel Del Gobbo

Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University Faculty of Law

Fellow – Restorative Research, Innovation, & Education Lab 

Monday May 9th, 2022, at 6:30 pm Atlantic Time via Zoom

This talk will explore how feminist law and policymakers have been inspired by collectively generated experiences of emotion that help to shape what counts as justice and injustice in campus sexual violence cases. Focusing on events surrounding the Faculty of Dentistry at Dalhousie University in 2014-2015, I explain how emotional incitements in the case contributed to a political and discursive infrastructure that supported formal, adversarial, and punitive responses to campus sexual violence. Correspondingly, I explain why alternative modes of legal and political formation that challenged the premises of the formal law, including the restorative justice process employed in the case, were misread by some commentators as being a form of “weak justice” and therefore outside the bounds of feminist action. My claim is not that particular emotional reactions to campus sexual violence are right or wrong – they just are – but that feminist law and policymakers should critically reflect on and assess their political force. Considering the ways that emotions are mobilized reveals the benefits and drawbacks of engaging with the law in ways that feel emotionally gratifying and therefore legally and politically necessary, but which can lead to harmful consequences that contradict feminist goals.


A Restorative Approach & Education for Justice and Reconciliation | Estelle Macdonald

Estelle Macdonald, CEO of Hull Collaborative Teaching School speaking at the International Restorative Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on June 27, 2016.

Tags: Race / Racial Justice; Schools / Campuses; Institutional Abuse / Failures of Care

Toward A Culture of Just Relationships | Moana Eruera

Moana Eruera, a registered Social Worker and Principal advisor Māori for New Zealand’s Child, Youth and Family services, speaks at the International Restorative Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on June 27, 2016.

Tags: Institutional Abuse / Failures of Care; Healthcare; Child Welfare

A Restorative Review of the In-Custody Death of Jason LeBlanc


Prepared by: Jennifer Llewellyn, Jake MacIsaac & Heather McNeil

February 2018

Tags: Institutional Abuse / Failures of Care; Healthcare; Workplaces / Professions

“Relational Presence”: Designing VR-Based Virtual Learning Environments for Oral History-Based Restorative Pedagogy

“Relational Presence”: Designing VR-Based Virtual Learning Environments for Oral History-Based Restorative Pedagogy

May 20, 2020

Jennifer Roberts-Smith, University of Waterloo; Justin Carpenter, University of Waterloo; Kristina R. Llewellyn, University of Waterloo; Jennifer J. Llewellyn, Dalhousie University with Tracy Dorrington-Skinner, Victims of Institutional Childhood Exploitation Society (VOICES); Gerald Morrison, Victims of Institutional Childhood Exploitation Society (VOICES); Tony Smith, Victims of Institutional Childhood Exploitation Society (VOICES); and The DOHR Team


Relational presence is the core principle of a new approach to designing virtual learning environments (VLEs), which has been developed by the Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation (DOHR) project (dohr.ca). Presence, normally understood as the sense of being in a virtual environment to the extent that one forgets the environment is virtual, is thought to have significant pedagogical benefits in K–12 experiential learning projects aiming to develop spatial and social competencies that learners can translate into actual-world contexts. DOHR, by contrast, aims to build the understanding needed for learners to address systemic racism in Nova Scotia, through an oral history and restorative justice–based curriculum. To serve this alternative learning goal, relational presence replaces presence. The usual emphasis in VLE design on simulation, interactivity, identity construction, agency, and satisfaction is replaced with new values of impression, witnessing, self-awareness and awareness of difference, interpretation and inquiry, and affective dissonance. This paper introduces relational presence in order to help establish, in the field of VLE design, a productive discourse around issues of justice, representation of marginalized communities, and pedagogy-led design.

Tags: Race / Racial Justice; Schools / Campuses; Institutional Abuse; Child Welfare; Public Inquiries

Exploring Restorative Inquiries with Jennifer Llewellyn

18 September, 2019 | Guest: Jennifer Llewellyn | Host: Julian Ward

Restorative Inquiries: Considering the Cases of Dalhousie Dentistry and the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children

Tags: Race / Racial Justice; Institutional Abuse / Failures of Care; Healthcare; Child Welfare; Public Inquiries

Reform through renewed relationship – The Restorative Inquiry on the Home for Colored Children | Tony Smith

Tony Smith of VOICES/Home for Colored Children Public Inquiry discusses the future of restorative justice in Canada at the National Restorative Justice Symposium in Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 21–22, 2016.

Reconciling the Work of the TRC | Jennifer Llewellyn

Peacebuilding, Reconciliation and TRCs, University of Manitoba, January 27, 2010