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William Pearly Oliver

Oliver Triumphs Over Adversity

William Oliver exhibited leadership skills even as a school boy. A student at Wolfville High School, he was active in sports, playing on several school sports teams. During his senior year, he was captain of both the football and the hockey team. The 1929-30 year was noteworthy for sports at the high school; the football team, captained by Oliver, won their league title. The hockey team, also led by Oliver, won the Valley League Interscholastic title. Oliver was also a long distance runner who won a number of races, for instance a seven-mile race between Wolfville and Kentville when he was only 15.

Entering Acadia University in 1930, Oliver was active in interclass sports competitions. He was a member of his class water polo team and on the championship Bulmer relay team in 1934. He played on his class hockey team each of the years he was at Acadia and was on the champion interclass hockey team in 1935. Unlike High School games, university games frequently required overnight trips. This may have contributed to Oliver’s reluctance to be on intercollegiate teams, even though he had the ability to do so. Several teammates later implied as much. James Beveridge told biographer Colin Thompson that Oliver “was a better than average athlete and did very well in track and swimming.” [Rex] Porter added that such outlets were not without restrictions: “In University...he concentrated on track and this may have been because...of difficulties of teams being served in certain hotels when a negro was a member.” [Lloyd] Shaw added to Porter’s account: “He, for several years, won most of the five-mile and ten-mile races in the Valley and in other parts of the Province [and] this took a lot of discipline and hard training.”

Oliver received at BA from Acadia in 1934; he returned that fall to study for a Bachelor of Divinity which he received in 1936. Soon after, he was called to the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church in Halifax, where he served from 1937 to 1962. An inspirational and influential community leader, he was instrument in establishing scholarships for Black students seeking higher education. The Rev Dr W P Oliver Hall of Fame at the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia is named in his honour.

(Thompson, C. Born with a Call, 22-48)

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