Better Late Than Never: An Apology For Africville

Listening to tonight’s news I see that the city council in my just-recently-not-city have ratified a deal to formally apologize for the pretty shockingly racist destruction of Africville.

If you’re not from Halifax, the odds are you don’t know what this is all about. A capsule summary would be that there once was a community, called Africville, on the Halifax peninsula whose population was almost entirely black–the people came from a range of different origins1, but the community was apparently originally created for Black Loyalists in the years after the American War of Independence, and running right up to the War of 1812. In the 1960s, the community was razed and the population forced to relocate. There are some different flavours of official story behind it–some stuff about public safety and the community being an eyesore2–but my read of the information I’ve seen on it suggests that it was essentially the growing city of Halifax wiping out a marginalized3 community in order to get room for commercial expansion, and to build a new bridge to Dartmouth. (During my time in Halifax, there was also substantial residential development within the loose boundaries of the area–lots of condo complexes with harbour views going up.)

From a recent article‘s short background:

According to a collection of photographs assembled by the Government of Canada, Africville was “deemed an eyesore” by the city council of the day, and its residents were scattered to different parts of Halifax and the province.

It is commonly pointed out that while the residents of Africville paid full city taxes, they didn’t receive running water sewage or other city services.

Today it is generally acknowledged that racial discrimination was at the heart of Africville’s destruction.

For a less “capsule” take on the history, I refer you to CBC’s archives, specifically the Africville: Expropriating Black Nova Scotians topic, which has some good details, including a number of video clips from the times in question. The man-on-the-street racism question is particularly interesting.

Shortly after I arrived in Halifax–around 2002, I think–discussions started in earnest about some kind of reparation program.

And it looks like that process finally reached it’s head tonight with formal ratification of an agreement between the city and the community’s representatives4:

Halifax regional council has ratified a deal that will see former residents of Africville and their descendants receive an official apology — four decades after the City of Halifax razed the black community to make room for a bridge.

The society accepted the offer from the municipality on Saturday. Steed-Ross, one of the founding members of the society, wouldn’t reveal the details of the offer. According to one published report, it includes a $3-million payout and about one hectare of municipal land. There is no money for individuals or families.

On Sunday, the federal government announced $250,000 for the Africville Heritage Trust, which will help design a museum and a replica of the community’s church.

Read more

Apparently the Mayor will issue the apology tomorrow morning, along with details of the agreement. I think I’ll listen to the Halifax CBC Radio feed tomorrow.

  1. The Nova Scotia Archives have a great site for a concise history of African Nova Scotians that covers this stuff, as well as interesting stories like the mass migration of Black Loyalists to Sierra Leone, and the story of The Book Of Negroes.(back)
  2. Yeah, no racist code there. And, of course, the slum conditions weren’t the result of an ongoing system of discrimination or anything. Sigh.(back)
  3. Actually my read is that the community wasn’t just marginalized, but that there was a sizeable slice of the population who were quite happy to break up and move the black community. It’s ugly to see stuff like this happening within a couple of decades of my lifetime; within my parents’ lifetimes.(back)
  4. Actually, there’s a whole other thing about whether or not the group legally represents the community, but I’m not going to get into that.(back)

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.