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Fri, 07.05.2002

Africville, Nova Scotia declared historic landmark

*On this date from 2002, the Registry celebrates Africville, Nova Scotia.

This was Canada’s oldest Black settlement (dating back to the 18th century) and was at long last preserved as a Canadian Historic Site on this date in 2002. Africaville was a small Black community in the north end of what is now Halifax. When we think of Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, we think of the salt sea air and the fisherman. When we think of Canadian Black History we think of the Underground Railroad and people like Harriet Tubman who assisted slaves escaping from America.  So why do we rarely put these two images together?  Many textbooks that teach us about slavery and the history of Blacks in Canada rarely, if ever, mention one of the most important stories in Canadian Black History: Africville.

Their story is very unique; many of the families who settled there can trace their origins in as far back as the late 1700s. Many others say it was established by Black slaves from America after the War of 1812. It was officially founded in the 1838. Regardless, these African people were among the first settlers in Nova Scotia. According to Parks Canada records, the population of Africville never exceeded 400 people, derived from up to 80 different families. It was a tight community of law-abiding, tax paying, mostly Baptist citizens who did their best to survive in the conditions they were forced to live in by the Canadian government.

Despite the healthy-looking reputation Canada has of equality and the anti-slavery movements, the downfall of Africville shows another side of the story. Simply put, in the decades before the city of Halifax actually bulldozed Africville to the ground, the government made life miserable for its Black citizens. Due to unequal political rights and discrimination, the residents of Africville had no say in what came to pass with their community. The city built up a series of offensive industries around the community’s borders; a prison, night soil disposal pits, an Infectious Disease Hospital, plus a waste disposal site and incinerator.

As a result of these industries and a lack of sewage, water, and lights, Africville was distinguished as a dirty lawless slum. In reality it was a group of heart bound citizens striving to survive while being systematically treated like lower class citizens. In the 1960s Halifax began post-war renewal projects to clean up the city and wanted to clear out the area where Africville stood. Canadian government officials offered the residents of Africville other places to live, jobs, and economic opportunities in turn for tearing down their homes; the residents resisted, but having no rights, the city went through with it anyway. Many citizens were shipped off to slum housing, their personal belongings transported to their new locations in city garbage trucks, and they were given less than $500 compensation. Bulldozers leveled the entire community; houses, stores, businesses, and even the church were all destroyed in the dead of night.

The site where Africville once stood is now an underused park. It stands only as a memory of the spirit of Africville, a small but strong modest city that survived hundreds of years of neglect and turmoil. The surviving citizens now put their efforts into recovering the history of the community and its amazing spirit. Irvine Carvery, head of the Africville Geneology Society and others hold annual reunions to support their heritage recovery efforts.

Reference:
Richards, Phillip M. Best literature by and about Blacks.
Detroit : Gale Group, c2000. vii, 330 p. 016.8109896073 RIC

Black writers : A Selection of sketches from Contemporary authors. Detroit : Gale Group, c1999. vii, 330 p. 016.920009296073 BLA

Returning the gaze : Essays on racism, feminism and politics. Toronto : Sister Vision Press, 1993. xxiv, 266 p. 305.48 RET

Alexander, Ken. Towards freedom : The African-Canadian experience. Toronto : Umbrella Press, c1996. 288 p. : ill. 305.896 ALE

Africaville Genealogy Society FB

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