Remember Africville Documentary
Africville was a small community located on the southern shore ofBedford Basin, in the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. During the 20th century, the City of Halifax began to encroach on the southern shores of Bedford Basin, and the community was eventually included as part of the city through municipal amalgamation. Africville was populated almost entirely by African Nova Scotians from a wide selection of origins. The community and its dwellings were ordered destroyed, and residents evicted during the late 1960s in advance of the opening of the nearby A. Murray MacKay Bridge, related highway construction and the Port of Halifax development at Fairview Cove to the west. The community has become an important symbol of African Nova Scotia identity and the struggle against racism.
Settled in earnest sometime after the War of 1812, it all began with a promise to Black Loyalists and War of 1812 Refugees of free land and equal rights. 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. 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 women, a resident of Africville, was quoted 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; however, an influx of population and the imposition of industries and facilities starting in World War I led the community to evolve into a more crowded and neglected urban neighbourhood whose population peaked at 400 at the time of the explosion. The community’s haphazardly positioned dwellings ranged from small well-maintained and brightly-painted homes to tiny ramshackle dwellings converted from sheds. 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.
In the Halifax Explosion of 1917, elevated land to the south protected Africville from the direct blast and complete destruction which leveled the neighbouring community of Richmond. However, the community did suffer considerable damage. A doctor of a relief train arriving at Halifax made note of 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 in the community. In the aftermath of the disaster, Africville received modest relief assistance but none of the reconstruction and none of the modernization which was invested into other parts of the city after the explosion.
Economically, the first two generations were not prosperous. Jobs were scarce and racism made life difficult. Many men found employment in low paying jobs; many worked as seamen or Pullman porters, who would clean and work on train cars. 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.
Opportunities were not only lacking in employment, education was also always a problem in the community. In 1883 they received their first elementary school, but were fully responsible for its funding. It was a poor community, so up until 1933 none of the teachers had obtained formal training. However, even with the school, only 40 percent of boys and girls received any education at all. Out of the 140 children ever registered, just 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 and joined up with other black Baptist Congregations to make the African Baptist Association in 1854. Their social life revolved around the church. Baptisms, weddings and funerals brought a sense of community for the people. Many other black communities would choose Africville as their location of choice for Sunday picnics and events. Everything was done through the church, “clubs, youth organizations, ladies’ auxiliary and Bible classes”. The church was the centre of their unity and stability for so long. It showed the life and heart of the town.
Throughout its history, Africville was confronted with much racial isolation. The town never received proper roads, health services, water, street lamps or electricity. Simple things all towns received, they did not. The continuing issues and protests for water and sewage, clearly show the relationship between the city of Halifax and the Africvillians. The lack of these services had serious health implications for the lives of the people, and the city’s concerns for them was as existent as these facilities they demanded. Contamination of the wells was a serious and ongoing issues, so even the little water they did receive needed to be boiled before use. As the City of Halifax expanded, Africville became a preferred site for all types of undesirable industries and facilities — a prison in 1853, an infectious disease hospital in 1870, then a slaughterhouse, and even a depository for fecal waste from nearby Russellville. In 1958 the city decided to move the town garbage dump to the Africville area. While the residents knew they couldn’t legally fight this, they illegally salvaged the dump for usable goods. They would get clothes, copper, steel, brass, tin..etc. The dump was the final step in labeling this area an official slum.
During the 1940s and 1950s in different parts of Canada, the federal, provincial and municipal governments were working together to take communities labelled slums and relocate the people to better housing. The intent was to use the land for business and industry. Many years prior to this, and again in 1947, after a major fire burnt several Africville houses, the topic of relocation of Africville had been discussed. Concrete plans of relocation did not officially emerge until 1961. Stimulated by the Stephenson Report of 1957 and the creation of the City’s Department of Development in 1961, the topic of relocation finally became a reality. 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 finalized everything. It promised free lawyers and social workers, job training, employment assistance, education services, etc. The report never went into details or analyzed what the lives of residents would be like in their new homes, but was insistent that their best interests were at heart.
The actual relocation took place mainly between 1964 and 1967. The residents were assisted in their move by Halifax literally moving the Africvillians with the city dump trucks. This image forever stuck in the minds and hearts of people and clearly indicated the degrading style in which these people 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 would make enough money to begin a new life, but most of the elderly residents would not budge as they had much more of an emotional connection to their homes. They were filled with grief and felt cheated out of their property. However resistance to eviction became harder as more people accepted and homes disappeared. The city quickly demolished each house as soon as residences 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, Africvillians 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 promised were was up, and none of the promises was granted as “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.”
Post eviction history
The founding families of Africville listed on the Africville Monument at Seaview Memorial Park
Part of Africville is now occupied by a highway interchange that services the A. Murray MacKay Bridge; however, the port development at Fairview Cove did not extend as far east as Africville, leaving the waterfront intact. In light of the controversy surrounding the community, the city of Halifax created Seaview Memorial Park on the site in the 1980s, preserving it from development. Former Africville residents have carried out periodic protests at the park throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Hermit of Africville, a 2010 book released by Pottersfield Press in Halifax, detailed Africville resident Eddie Carvery’s 40-year protest on the grounds of Africville.
In May 2005, New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia MLA Maureen MacDonaldintroduced 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 originally 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 has been declared a national historic site in 2002. In February 2010 Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly apologized 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 interpretation centre. The nearly-complete church was ceromonially opened on September 25, 2011.
Tributes and related media
African Canadian singer songwriter Faith Nolan released an album in 1986 called Africville.
In 1989, a historic exhibit about Africville toured across Canada and evolved into a permanent exhibit on display at Nova Scotia’s Black Cultural Centre in Preston, Nova Scotia.
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 fictitiously chronicled the Africville eviction. The story of Africville is also a significant influence on the work of George Elliott Clarke.
In 2006, Dundum 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” , written and directed by well known Canadian activist and performer Neil Donaldson and Sourav Deb(). 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. The video has over 50,000 views onYouTube.
On June 15, 2009, the Rev. Jesse Jackson 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.
On February 23, 2010 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the “Halifax Council ratifies Africville apology” and that the Government of Canada will establish a $250,000 Africville Heritage Trust to design a museum and build a replica of the community church.