History and museums
Africville was a small community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. During the 20th century, the City of Halifax began to encroach on the southern shores of Bedford Basin, and gradually took over this community through municipal amalgamation. Africville was populated almost entirely by Black Nova Scotians from a wide variety of origins. Many of the first settlers were former slaves from the United States, Black Loyalists who were freed by the Crown during the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812.
The city neglected the community through the first half of the 20th century, and it struggled with poverty and poor health conditions. Its buildings became badly deteriorated. During the late 1960s, Halifax condemned the area, relocating its residents to newer housing in order to develop the nearby A. Murray MacKay Bridge, related highway construction, and the Port of Halifax facilities at Fairview Cove to the west.
The defunct community has become an important symbol of Black Canadian identity and the struggle against racism. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996 as being representative of Black Canadian settlements in the province and as an enduring symbol of the need for vigilance in defence of their communities and institutions. After years of protest and investigations, in 2010 the Halifax Council ratified a proposed "Africville apology," under an arrangement with the federal government, to compensate descendants and their families who had been evicted. In addition, an Africville Heritage Trust was established to design a museum and build a replica of the community church. A commemorative waterfront park has been renamed as Africville.
The earliest colonial settlement of Africville began with the relocation of Black Loyalists, slaves from the Thirteen Colonies who escaped from rebel masters and were freed by the British in the course of the American Revolutionary War. The Crown transported them and other Loyalists to Nova Scotia, promising land and supplies for their service. The Crown also promised land and equal rights to War of 1812 Refugees.
In 1836, Campbell Road was constructed creating an access route along the north side of the Halifax Peninsula which may have attracted settlement. The community of Africville was never officially established, but the first land transaction documented on paper was dated 1848. Richard Preston established the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church (1832) and went on to establish a network of Black baptist churches throughout Nova Scotia. Five of these churches were established in Halifax: Preston (1842), Beechville (1844), Hammonds Plains (1845), Africville (1849) and Dartmouth.
First known as "The Campbell Road Settlement", the community became known as "Africville" about 1900. Although many people thought it was named Africville because the people who lived there came from Africa, this was not the case. One elderly woman, a resident of Africville, was quoted as saying, "it wasn't Africville out there. None of the people came from Africa…it was part of Richmond (Northern Halifax), just the part where the colour folks lived."
Africville began as a small and poor, but self-sufficient rural community of about 50 people in the 19th century. In the late 1850s, the Nova Scotia Railway, later to become the Intercolonial Railway, was built from Richmond to the south, bisecting Africville as the railway's mainline along the western shores of Bedford Basin. A second line arrived in 1906 with the arrival of the Halifax and Southwestern Railway, which connected to the Intercolonial at Africville. The Intercolonial Railway, later Canadian National Railways, constructed Basin Yard west of the community, adding more tracks. Trains ran through the area constantly.
The Africville Seasides hockey team of the pioneering Colored Hockey League (1894-1930) won the championship in 1901 and 1902. The team beat West End Rangers from PEI to retain their title in a 3-2 single game victory in February 1902, and were led by star goaltender William Carvery, his two brothers on the team, plus three Dixon brothers also on the squad.
Beginning in the early 20th century around the Great War, more people moved there, drawn by jobs in industries and related facilities developed nearby. This urban community had a peak population of 400 at the time of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. The community's haphazardly positioned dwellings ranged from small, well maintained and brightly painted homes to tiny ramshackle dwellings converted from sheds.
Elevated land to the south protected Africville from the direct blast of the explosion and the complete destruction that levelled the neighbouring community of Richmond. But Africville suffered considerable damage. A doctor of a relief train arriving at Halifax noted Africville residents "as they wandered disconsolately around the ruins of their still standing little homes". Four Africville residents (and one Mi'kmaq woman visiting from Queens County, Nova Scotia) were killed by the explosion. In the aftermath of the disaster, Africville received modest relief assistance from the city, but none of the reconstruction and none of the modernization invested into other parts of the city at that time.
Economically, the first two generations were not prosperous. Jobs were scarce and the people were discriminated against. Many men found employment in low-paying jobs. Others worked as seamen or Pullman porters, who would clean and work on train cars. This steady employment on the Pullman cars was considered prestigious at the time, as the men also got to travel and see the country. Only 35 percent of labourers had regular employment, and 65 percent of the people worked as domestic servants. They had limited opportunities. Women were also hired as cooks, to clean the hospital or prison, and some elderly women were hired to clean upper-class houses.
The community was neglected in terms of education. The city built the first elementary school here in 1883, at the expense of community residents. It was a poor community, so up until 1933 none of the teachers had obtained formal training. Only 40 percent of boys and girls received any education at all, as many families needed to have them help with paid work, or taking care of younger siblings at home so parents could work. Out of the 140 children ever registered, 60 children reached either grade 7 or 8, and only four boys and one girl reached grade 10.
To understand Africville, "you got to know about the church." The Seaview African United Baptist Church was established at Africville in 1849; it joined with other black Baptist congregations to establish the African Baptist Association in 1854. The community's social life revolved around the church, which was the place of baptisms, weddings and funerals. Other black groups came to Africville for Sunday picnics and events. Everything was done through the church, "clubs, youth organizations, ladies' auxiliary and Bible classes". The church was the life and heart of the town.
Throughout its history, Africville was confronted with isolation. The town never received proper roads, health services, water, street lamps or electricity. Residents protested to the city and called to water and treatment of sewage, to no avail, and the lack of these services had serious adverse health implications for residents. Contamination of the wells was so frequent that residents had to boil their water before using it for drinking or cooking.
From the mid-19th century, the City of Halifax located its least desirable facilities in the Africville area, where the people had little political power and property values were low. A prison was built there in 1853, an infectious disease hospital in 1870, a slaughterhouse, and even a depository for fecal waste from nearby Russellville.
In 1958 the city decided to move the town garbage dump and landfill to the Africville area. While the residents knew they could not legally fight this, they illegally salvaged the dump for usable goods. They would get clothes, copper, steel, brass, tin, etc. The dump contributed to the city's classifying this area as an official slum.
During the 1940s and 1950s in different parts of Canada, the federal, provincial and municipal governments were working together for urban renewal: to redevelop areas classified as slums and relocate the people to new and improved housing. The intent was to redevelop some land for "higher" uses with greater economic return: business and industry.
Many years earlier, and again in 1947 after a major fire burnt several Africville houses, officials discussed redevelopment and relocation of Africville. Concrete plans of relocation did not officially emerge until 1961. Stimulated by the Stephenson Report of 1957 and the City's establishing its Department of Development in 1961, it proposed relocation of these residents. In 1962 Halifax adopted the relocation proposal unanimously, and the Rose Report, published in 1964, was passed 37/41 in favour of relocation. The Rose Report proposed support of residents through relocation, complete with free lawyers and social workers, job training, employment assistance, education services, etc., with the goal of improving their lives.
The formal relocation took place mainly between 1964 and 1967. The residents were assisted in their move by Halifax transporting them and their goods with the city dump trucks. This image forever stuck in the minds and hearts of people; they took it to represent the degrading way they were treated before, during and after the move. There were many hardships, suspicion and jealousy that emerged, mostly due to complications of land and ownership claims. Only 14 residents held clear legal titles to their land. Those with no legal rights were given a $500 payment and promised a furniture allowance, social assistance, and public housing units. Young families felt they had enough money to begin a new life, but most of the elderly residents would not budge; they had much more of an emotional connection to their homes. They were filled with grief and felt cheated out of their property. Resistance to eviction became more difficult as residents accepted the buyouts and their homes were demolished. The city quickly demolished each house as soon as residents moved out. The church at Africville was demolished in 1969 at night to avoid controversy. The last Africville home was demolished on January 2, 1970.
After relocation, the residents were faced with just as many problems as before. The cost of living went up in their new homes, more people were unemployed and without regular incomes, none of the promised employment or education programs were implemented, and none of the promises was fulfilled. "Benefits were so modest as to be virtually irrelevant…within a year and a half this post-relocation program lay in ruins." Family strains and debt forced many to rely on public assistance, and anxiety was high among the people. One of the biggest complaints was that "they feel no sense of ownership or pride in the sterile public housing projects."
Part of the former territory of Africville is occupied by a highway interchange that serves the A. Murray MacKay Bridge. The port development at Fairview Cove did not extend as far east as Africville, leaving its historic waterfront intact. In light of the controversy related to the relocation, the city of Halifax created Seaview Memorial Park on the site in the 1980s, preserving it from development. Former Africville residents, such as Eddie Carvery, carried out periodic protests at the park throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
In May 2005, New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia MLA Maureen MacDonald introduced a bill in the provincial legislature called the Africville Act. The bill calls for a formal apology from the Nova Scotia government, a series of public hearings on the destruction of Africville, and the establishment of a development fund to go towards historical preservation of Africville lands and social development in benefit of former residents and their descendants. Halifax mayor Peter Kelly has offered land, some money, and various other services for a replica of the Seaview African United Baptist Church. After the offer was made in 2002, the Africville Genealogy Society requested some alterations to the Halifax offer, including additional land and the possibility of building affordable housing near the site. The Africville site was declared a national historic site in 2002.
On February 23, 2010 the Halifax Council ratified a proposed "Africville apology" with an arrangement with the Government of Canada to establish a $250,000 Africville Heritage Trust to design a museum and build a replica of the community church. On 24 February 2010 Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly made the Africville Apology, apologizing for the eviction as part of a $4.5-million compensation deal. The City restored the name Africville to Seaview Park at the annual Africville Family Reunion on July 29, 2011. The Seaview African United Baptist Church, demolished in 1969, was rebuilt in the summer of 2011 to serve as a church and historic interpretation centre. The nearly complete church was ceremonially opened on September 25, 2011.
African Canadian singer songwriter Faith Nolan released an album in 1986 called Africville.
In 1989, a historic exhibit about Africville toured across Canada. It has evolved into a permanent exhibit on display at Nova Scotia's Black Cultural Centre in Preston.
In 1991, the National Film Board of Canada released the documentary film, Remember Africville, which received the Moonsnail Award for best documentary at the Atlantic Film Festival.
Montreal-born jazz pianist Joe Sealy released a CD of original music, Africville Suite, in 1996. It won a Juno Award in 1997. It includes twelve pieces reflecting on places and activities in Africville, where Sealy's father was born. Sealy was working and living in Halifax during the time of the destruction of the community, and began the suite in memory of his father.
Canadian jazz pianist Trevor Mackenzie released the album, Ain't No Thing Like a Chicken Wing, in 1997 as a tribute to the neighbourhood where his father grew up.
In 1998, Eastern Front Theatre produced a play by George Boyd, Consecrated Ground, which dramatized the Africville eviction. The story of Africville has also influenced the work of George Elliott Clarke.
In 2006, Dundurn Press published Last Days in Africville (by Dorothy Perkyns), a fictional account of life for a young Africville girl at the time of its destruction.
In 2007, the Newfoundland metal/hardcore band Bucket Truck released a video for their song "A Nourishment by Neglect", which details the events surrounding the destruction of the Africville community.
Also in 2007, Heritage Canada began funding an independently produced documentary, "Stolen From Africville" 1, written and directed by well-known Canadian activist and performer Neil Donaldson and Sourav Deb (2). Scheduled for a summer 2008 release, the film follows the lives of those displaced from the Africville community over the course of a year.
Additionally, in 2007, Canadian hip hop group Black Union released a song featuring Maestro about the historic community of Africville. The music video was recorded in Seaview Park (now Africville Park). The video has over 50,000 views on YouTube.
On June 15, 2009, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a noted American civil rights activist, was presented with the book about Africville, at the Nova Scotia Alliance of Black School Educators. Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society, made the presentation in his capacity as chair of the Halifax Regional School Board.
The Hermit of Africville, a biography of longtime Africville protester Eddie Carvery, was published by Pottersfield Press in 2010. In 2011, Nimbus Publishing/Vagrant Press published Stephens Gerard Malone's novel Big Town, a fictional account related to the eviction of residents and the razing of Africville.