The spirit of Africville and its residents lives on today

Black History Month: Last semester, a group of Western students approach The Gazette and asked if they could write about Black History Month. Here's what they had to say.

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Black History Month

From the 1800s to 1960s, Africville was an unincorporated community of black Canadians who congregated around the shores of the Bedford Basin, located on Halifax’s northern periphery. By the 1960s, Africville’s infrastructure was dilapidated. Its residents lived in a different world than their neigbours in Halifax; while Halifax had public services, authorities continually refused to extend Africville the same municipal utilities. Most people in Halifax owned property, while many Africville residents had no legal title to land " even though many of their families had been there for generations. Halifax was white; Africville was black.

Regardless of circumstances, the community of approximately 400 residents had a legenday reputation for social dynamism and unifying ethos. The residents continued paying taxes to the municipality. They administrated their own school, medical services and a flourishing United Baptist Church. And they even fought, and won, a political battle in the late 1950s to obtain roads and services. This, of course, remained a hypothetical.

From 1964 to 1967, despite an acerbic and protracted battle, the city of Halifax systematically evicted residents and razed their buildings, ostensibly for urban renewal and racial integration. Africville was abrogated, and in its place was the A. Murray MacKay suspension bridge was erected. The last resident, Aaron Carvey, was forced off the grounds in January 1970.

“Living conditions,” former resident Terry Dixon reminisced, “That was one of the things they used against us. There were other communities, and not just black communities, that had also the same type of living conditions, if not worse. Maybe they weren’t up to standard to the people who set the standards. But to us that was home.”

Africville’s legacy remains deeply contested to this day. As a result of protests, the City of Halifax established Seaview Memorial Park on some of the former Africville grounds in the 1980s to prevent further development. In 2005, the provincial Legislative Assembly tabled the Africville Act, which proposed a formal apology, public hearings, historical preservation and monetary reparations for former families.

But the spirit of Africville endures. A Genealogy Society emerged to preserve its traditions. An annual pilgrimage and festival celebrate its history " the life and death of a Canadian black community. And the Toronto Jazz virtuoso Joe Sealy commemorated the community with his twelve-part album, Africville Suite, in memory of his father. Africville has now been consecrated a national historic site.

For more information on Africville, check out Digital Archives: Africville"Expropriating Nova Scotia’s Blacks; Donald H. Clairmont and Denis William Magill, Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community, 3rd ed. (Toronto, 1999); and The Spirit of Africville, ed. by Africville Genealogy Society (Halifax, 1992).

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