The Story of Africville
The story of Africville is one that has been largely ignored by Canadians; it is not taught in our history classes, no compensation has been given to those who were affected by it, and most of Canada remains blissfully unaware of the trials the citizens of the village faced.
Africville was a small African-Canadian village located just north of Halifax. The community was established in the early 1800s by formerly enslaved African Americans from the Thirteen Colonies, as well as Loyalists who were freed by the Crown after the American Revolution. It quickly became a booming community, composed entirely of Black Canadians. While the quality of life was nowhere close to that of Halifax, the residents were not limited to certain jobs because of their race. Black children were able to attend school and receive a proper education, and there was a sense of pride and unity throughout the community. It was home to the Africville Seasides, a successful hockey team in the Coloured Hockey League that was located in Nova Scotia. The village also had a church: the Seaview African United Baptist Church. The church was known as the heart of the town;it served as a place for people in the community to come together and run clubs, events and facilitated other organizations.
While the culture and community of Africville was quite diverse, they were mistreated by the government for many decades. The residents of the city were faced with heavy taxes, but were provided with no quality services. They had no paved roads, running water, functioning sewage systems, adequate police protection, funded schools, or other basic government provisions. This made life in the city extremely difficult. While they did have a school, they were not given enough funding to hire trained teachers, and instead relied on members of the community to teach the fundamental subjects. In 1854, a railway extension was placed directly through the village without any consultation to the residents; homes were destroyed and many people were displaced. The railway construction continued throughout the early 1900s, and the residents who lost their homes were never given compensation.
As time progressed, the city of Halifax continued to place undesirable establishments in and around Africville, including a fertilizer plant, a slaughterhouse, a prison, and an infectious disease hospital. Later on, human waste pits that had been deemed unsafe for residents were placed around the village, once again without any consultation. Africville began to be viewed as a wasteland by the residents of Halifax, despite the fact that it was situated in a beautiful location. Eventually, the school was shut down and black students were bused out to larger, “white” schools, where they faced discrimination and restricted learning. In 1947, plans to turn Africville into industrial land were approved, and projects began. The area was zoned for urban renewal and residents were forced to move off of their land, despite overwhelmingly voting against relocation. The community felt strong ties to the land that they had worked so hard for:
“When you are in this country and you own a piece of property, you’re not a second-class citizen. That’s why my people own this land, they worked for it, they toiled for it. It is land that they own, and they try to hang on to it. But when your land is being taken away from you, and you ain’t offered nothing, then you become a peasant - in any man’s country.” said Joe Skinner, a homeowner in Africville.
As urban renewal projects progressed, the city became known as a warzone . People lost their homes without warning and were carted into cities on the backs of dump trucks. In 1967, the church was torn down. This was seen as the true death of Africville; the church was symbolic of everything that they had worked so hard for, and to see it destroyed was enough to make the residents who remained in the village decide to leave.
While many assume that the tragic story of Africville was a standalone occurrence, it unfortunately was not. Hundreds of primarily black inhabited cities across Canada were razed for urban renewal. Thousands of black citizens lost the homes and communities that they had built up from nothing. Today, Africville has become a symbol of the fight against racism in Nova Scotia. The Africville Museum was established in 2011, built to resemble the Seaview church that had once been the centerpiece of the community. The original bell from the church has been placed outside of the museum as a tribute to those who lost their livelihoods, and as a promise to do better.
Africville museum. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://africvillemuseum.org/
Africville. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/africville