Home > Uncategorized > Africville Still an Open Wound for Halifax

Africville Still an Open Wound for Halifax

share3.jpgThe Government of Canada‘s Involvement in the Forced Relocations of It’s Citizens

africville_90_edit (1)When this post was written sometime ago it did not seem possible to me that this type of forceful relocation of people was possible by a government of Canada and for sure not possible by a modern civilized, democratic  Canadian government, but here is the story of what all levels of the Canadian government,(federal, provincial and municipal) came together to do to the only totally owned and operated Black community in Canada.  These shameful acts did not happen in the 1800s they started this forced relocation in 1964.  We can not as Canadians claim that we did not know and it was a mistake of a growing country, or that their was insufficient law to protect this community; we can only say that we chose to ignore the law that should have protected these people and twisted and perverted it like we did to the First Nations People and the Inuit, because we as a government felt that we needed it and they would not sell and so we took.  After all who cared and would come to the defense of a little black owned and operated community.  The perpetrators of this heinous crime were right, because no one came to help, because no one cared and so from 1964 through 1967 the governments of Canada destroyed the homes of this community, by bulldozing down their homes whether they had agreed to move or not.  The order to do it may have come from one level of government but the other 2 levels din nothing to help the black people of Africville, before, during or after the destruction began. Note this did not happen all in one day it went on over years, the last house being bulldozed down in 1970.

download fI visited this community when I was in high school. We were doing and educational tour of Nova Scotia and had a few friends from what they were calling New Road and we all wanted to get a look at the place and visit where our oldest self-sufficient, totally Black owned and operated community in Canada was.  This was true Black history and the time was right, we were in the middle of Black awareness, Black is beautiful and the civil rights movement had taken off.   It was not on the first leg of our visit, but it was certainly the part of the tour that none of us children have ever forgotten.  the people of Africville were so nice to us, feeding us and sharing all that they had in terms of history and the life that they lived.  They were a proud people, proud of what they had accomplished and sad at the way the government, both local and federal were conspiring to keep them without the necessities of life, so that they could steal the land out from under them.  I was not even aware when they bull dozed that historic Black community down and through the last holdouts possessions into the back of open garbage trucks, but all I thought about when I did find out was what a loss to the Black Community, Nova Scotia, Canada and yes the world.  A historical treasure lost, because government and big business wanted it and took by force, what they could not get using the law correctly.  this is a human as well as historical tragedy, but puts into context how Canada even at this stage in its history was not above using forced relocations to further its goals and agendas.

images fAfricville was a small unincorporated community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin. It was a self-contained, tight-knit Black community within the city limits of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At its peak, just before World War I, it numbers were approximately 80 families, or 300 residents.  As one author put it and I paraphrase: 1830s – 1970. Africville developed slowly after the War of 1812. Africville saw some growth after the American Civil War and thrived from the 1890s to the 1920s. Africville endured a bad phase during the Depression, but rebounded during the late 1930s and again after World War II. During the 1950s Africville began a slow downturn until the late 1960s. The relocation of the Africville residents occurred between 1964 and 1967. The last house was bulldozed January 2, 1970.  I did have the pleasure of meeting some of the people displaced by this forced eviction and the stories they told varied somewhat about the living conditions there in Africville, but there is an underling feeling that nothing was done to bring their community up to code, or standard, because they were a nearly 100% Black community.  It is racism and greed that we are talking about, let there be no mistaking that and let the sugar-coating of the facts stop here.  Where a government could have help these people to better themselves they chose to take advantage and make a profit from the destruction of this community instead.  That it went on for so long is testament to what the government is capable of doing on all levels once it has the political will to do it.

images (3)There are stories of children just making it out on time as bull dozers collapsed the walls; there are stories of dump trucks being used to carry off the furniture of the residents of Africville. Watching some of the video footage of the demolition of Africville I was reminded of the demolition scene from Avatar that made the audience feel so bad; unfortunately no one felt bad enough to come to this community’s aid. Not the federal, provincial, or the civic government thought to save this community. Neither did the other good citizens of Halifax, or Nova Scotia at the time.  It is indeed a sad story born out of bad planning, no real consultation and no consideration as to how forced relocation would feel and affect these people. For the most part they were given $5oo. Some people were fortunate and given new homes and property but most were taken to the city of Halifax where prejudice, lack of education help to keep them poor and so the relocation became a swap of one ghetto for another. As I promised here are some video clips taken from that time, some interviews with the actual people who were evicted.

Eddie Carvery punchThere is still an ongoing battle to have the government of Nova Scotia and Halifax to compensate and formally apologize for the injustice and hardships I created for these people with their forced eviction. To this day all of petitions have fallen on deaf ears as did the petitions to get water, electricity, roads and plumbing. On the day Africville was made officially a historic site one resident of the former Africville summed it up best and I quote, “This is a happy event for some, but yet this is a sad event for me … to think I lost my birthplace for a park,” says Dr. Ruth Johnson, who was in her 50s when her home was levelled.There is among the clips an attempt by the then time mayor of Halifax to put right the lies as he called it about the relocation of Africville. One such lie was that they used garbage trucks to move the furniture. The mayor stands fast that what he did was in the best interest of the residents of Africville, the residents of Halifax and that he acted within the law.  Well the law is what the government says it is and we know that the government will change the law to get what it wants when it wants it, but the fact still remains that this does not make the act itself right, just unchallengeable.  the problem is that we have learned nothing from any of the forced relocations that this country has put it citizens through.

download (1)In this day and age we have a Conservative Government led by Prime Minister Steven Harper talking about forcing people to leave their families, friends and community ties behind and forcing them to move to different cities and provinces if they are unable to find work where they are.  They are talking about people like a commodity, or better yet a farmer’s field, or what he produces; with the people being the crop that is being rotated, or advised not to be planted.  What is worse though is that just about every township, city, province in this country is vying for their share of forcibly located, or relocated people.  They are rushing to enact their own laws either forcing the relocation of a people they feel they need  and will help their economic plans, or restricting the relocation of people they do not think fit in their province or will not help its economic plan.  This is not only being kept to educational back round, but is now getting into does the person for example speak French and if not are they the right person to live in Quebec and should the Quebec government allow non francophone people to move to Quebec, immigrate to Quebec and could Quebec for instance force a Anglophone unable to find a job in Quebec to move to English Canada and vice versa?  Once this happens we can say not enough Europeans here, to many Asians here, let’s put a freeze on how many of those people we let into Canada.  Oh my, that is what we are doing now under the Harper led Conservative government, with none or very little real objection from the people of Canada, or any other level of Canadian government; just like  Black people of Africville, the First Nations children to Residential Schools and the forced relocation of our Inuit to uninhabitable areas of the North.

Old clips of Africville: Movie Clip Of Africville (3Mb .mpg)

The link below contains interviews from those who were there and lived this nightmare. They show the actual bulldozing of these people’s homes.

Africville: Expropriating Black Nova Scotians | CBC Archives

I have borrowed a phrase here and a word there and all of these lovely photos from others who share my wish and hopes for better days ahead for the people of this community. I would just like to say thank you so much for the fine work that you have done. I hope that you will be pleased with what I have tried to accomplish by the merging our works and allowing me to bring your story to yet more people.

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  1. January 28, 2013 at 11:40 am

    part of a long history of forced “resettlements”, I’m afraid. I grew up in the US just north of Boston. Say what you will about Americans, you know what they are thinking. Here we Canadians hide our bigotry under layers of bureaucracy and “politeness”. But it’s there, just as big and ugly as it is in the US.

    • January 28, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      Very true Dorothy, but being transparent about being racist is nothing to be proud of. We need to end the problem yesterday.

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