Africville, which is situated on the southern bank of the Bedford Basin, was first inhabited in the 1840s when William Brown and William Arnold made their initial land purchases, though according to oral tradition, some families may have had ties to the area as early as the 1700s. Before being demolished and relocated by the City of Halifax between 1964 and 1970, Africville was the site of a predominately African Nova Scotian community for more than 150 years.
Prior to the move, Africville was described as a “thriving, close-knit community” with locally owned businesses, a community school, a post office, and the Seaview United Baptist Church, which served as the community’s spiritual and social hub.
Despite being a bustling neighborhood, Africville did not have access to many of the amenities that other Haligonians did. These included, among other things, sewage systems, access to clean water, and appropriate rubbish disposal. Africville’s designation as industrial land in 1947, the construction of an infectious disease hospital, a prison, and the relocation of the city landfill nearby in 1955 all served to exacerbate the situation.
The municipality began examining the Africville lands for industrial development as the fad of “urban renewal” gained traction. The Regional Council of 1962 decided to eliminate the “blighted housing and dilapidated structures in the Africville area.”
To help inhabitants of Africville and negotiate settlement prices, the city hired a social worker. The city bought the first Africville property in July 1964. The neighborhood was demolished, and people started moving to different parts of the city.
By the end of 1967, the relocation program was essentially finished. Aaron “Pa” Carvery, the final resident of Africville, left “his home” on January 2nd, 1970. At that point, 80 families with a total of 400 members had moved.
The Seaview United Baptist Church, the spiritual center of Africville, was also lost along with the residents’ homes. Since an annual reunion of former residents and Africville descendants is still held there, there are still grieving processes going on as well as strong community links to Africville.
The Quest for Compensation
Former residents and their descendants have fought for restitution for the destruction of their neighborhood and a monument to Africville for many years. The Africville Genealogy Society, founded in 1983 to preserve the history of the neighborhood, was the organization that began formally advocating for the issue with the federal government of Canada, the province of Nova Scotia, and the City of Halifax (after the Halifax Regional Municipality).
Although Africville was named a National Historic Landmark in 1996, the matter of payment and recognition was not resolved.
In March 1996, the City of Halifax was sued by the Africville Genealogy Society on behalf of former residents and their heirs. The Halifax Regional Municipality took on the obligations of the previous city with the municipal fusion later that year.
In an effort to reach a peaceful conclusion outside of the judicial system, negotiations between the Africville Genealogy Society and the Halifax Regional Municipality were restarted in 2001.
The Seaview United Baptist Church was to be rebuilt, along with the development of an interpretive center that would recount the tale of Africville, and the Genealogy Society, with the cooperation of the three levels of government, hired consultants to prepare the feasibility study and business plan. Before presenting their results to the Genealogy Society and its steering committee partners in December 2006, the consultants spoke with former Africville residents, their descendants, and other important players.
The idea of building a replica of the Seaview United Baptist Church and an accompanying Interpretive Centre on the location where it formerly stood was suggested in the Feasibility Study/Business Plan (2006).
The Africville Genealogy Society changed the project’s scope to include two phases in the fall of 2009. The Seaview United Baptist Church replica’s reconstruction was the primary emphasis of the first phase, while the Africville Interpretive Centre’s construction was the primary objective of the second. The Black Business Initiative (BBI) was enlisted to assist in completing the project.
AGS and the town came to an agreement in February 2010 to end the legal dispute, continue the church’s construction forward, and make further provisions to make up for the community’s loss and its effects on future generations. You can read more about this at https://www.halifax.ca/about-halifax/diversity-inclusion/african-nova-scotian-affairs/africville
Reference and photo credits to: https://www.halifax.ca/