B. July 20, 1942

Borden grew up in New Glasgow and attended Second Baptist Church on Washington Street. The church, along with the community and school, formed a foundation for the rest of his life. “By the time that I left New Glasgow in 1960, everything that I had been taught combined to make me ready to go and do whatever I want to do. I’ve lived by the maxim be a sower of seeds, a witness and a messenger.”

In the late 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement in Nova Scotia, he helped establish Kwaacha House – an interracial teen-oriented, drop-in and social education centre that served to inspire young Nova Scotians to fight for full equality of citizenship and full equality of opportunity for African-Nova Scotians. He was educated, articulate, captivating and served as a mentor to many blacks during this time.

Prominent as a stage actor, Borden joined Halifax's Neptune Theatre Company in 1972; his first role was in Taming Of The Shrew. He has captivated audiences with his eloquence, humanity and soulful insight into each of his roles since.

Walter's sister Gloria was a fixture in the first two decades of the community in Halifax.

Tightrope Time

pic1986 Poster. Scan by RobinMetcalfe

pic In the early 1980s Borden wrote and performed in Tightrope Time: Ain't Nuthin' More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Twilight And Dawn. The piece is an autobiographical examination of the politics of being black, gay, rural-raised but city-sophisticated, a community activist, and a privacy-loving intellectual. It is seen as a collective history of the development of an African Nova Scotia in response to the slave trade, racism, class exploitation, impoverishment, illiteracy, and homophobia.

"Importantly, Borden presents male, female, cross- gendered, and - irrepressibly - queer voices," writes George Elliot Clarke on the significance of Tightrope Time. "In making this gesture, Borden is radically avant-garde, for - in African-Canadian literature - male homosexuality receives, rarely, any consummate dramatic and lyrical annunciation."

The one-man show has 12 characters, including the drag queen Ethiopia and Adie, a hooker, characters that appeared only in later productions. He remembers taking a walk one day in an attempt to bring a new character to life. Feeling uninspired, he sat down by the public gardens and then, suddenly, after an acquaintance walked by and said hello, Ethiopia started to speak to him. She spoke prophetically of her position as a drag queen in a way that summarizes the role of the actor: "An image/ passing as a human being…. An image/pretending to be me/ confuses fact and fiction."

In Tightrope Time we see Borden as the astute poet/radical intent upon revealing some of society's most provocative open secrets. He hopes one day to direct another production with a new actor playing the many roles.

Awards and Recognition

The Queen Elizabeth II Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, the African Nova Scotian Music Association’s Music Heritage Award and the Portia White Prize. He is also a Life Member of the Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists, receiving their distinguished Leslie Yeo Award for volunteerism and a member of the Order of Canada.

Invested into the Order Of Canada
Portia White Prize
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.
The province’s highest honour, the Order of Nova Scotia. Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince spoke fondly of Borden, noting his commanding presence and voice: “As a young teen, I heard his name mentioned many times,” he said. “He was very proud and confident and that deep baritone voice added to his confidence.”
January 20, 2021
New Glasgow Town Council will create a working group to plan an event in Borden’s honour. New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks said she received an email from Borden’s sister, Arleen Paris, who was interested in having the town celebrate Borden in recognition of his accomplishments.1

Further Reading

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