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Africville Church (est. 1849) - rebuilt as part of the Africville Apology

Africville was a small community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. During the 20th century, the City of Halifax began to encroach on the southern shores of Bedford Basin, and the community was eventually included as part of the city through municipal amalgamation. Africville was populated almost entirely by Black Nova Scotians from a wide selection of origins. The city neglected the community throughout the 20th century until it deteriorated to extreme conditions. The community and its dwellings were ordered destroyed, and residents evicted during the late 1960s in advance of the opening of the nearby A. Murray MacKay Bridge, related highway construction and the Port of Halifax development at Fairview Cove to the west.

The community has become an important symbol of African Nova Scotia identity and the struggle against racism. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996 as being representative of African Canadian settlements in the province and as an enduring symbol of the need for vigilance in defence of African Canadian communities and institutions.[1]


Part of a series on the
History of
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax Town Clock.jpg

in earnest sometime after the War of 1812, it all began with a promise to Black Loyalists and War of 1812 Refugees of free land and equal rights. In 1836, Campbell Road was constructed creating an access route along the north side of the Halifax Peninsula which may have attracted settlement.[2] The community of Africville was never officially established, but the first land transaction documented on paper was dated 1848. Richard Preston established the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church (1832) and then went on to establish a network of socially active Black baptist churches throughout Nova Scotia.[3] Five of these churches were established in Halifax: Preston (1842), Beechville (1844), Hammonds Plains (1845), and another in Africville (1849) and Dartmouth.

First known as "The Campbell Road Settlement", the community became known as "Africville" about 1900.[4] Although many people thought it was named Africville because the people who lived there came from Africa, this was not the case. One elderly woman, a resident of Africville, was quoted as saying, "it wasn't Africville out there. None of the people came from Africa…it was part of Richmond (Northern Halifax), just the part where the colour folks lived."[5]

Africville began as a small and poor, but self-sufficient rural community of about 50 people in the 19th century; however, an influx of population and the imposition of industries and facilities starting in World War I led the community to evolve into a more crowded and neglected urban neighbourhood whose population peaked at 400 at the time of the Halifax Explosion. The community's haphazardly positioned dwellings ranged from small, well maintained and brightly painted homes to tiny ramshackle dwellings converted from sheds.[6] In the late 1850s, the Nova Scotia Railway, later to become the Intercolonial Railway, was built from Richmond to the south, bisecting Africville as the railway's mainline along the western shores of Bedford Basin. A second line arrived in 1906 with the arrival of the Halifax and Southwestern Railway which connected to the Intercolonial at Africville. The Intercolonial Railway, later Canadian National Railways, constructed Basin Yard west of the community, adding more tracks. Trains ran through the area constantly.

The Africville Seasides hockey team of the pioneering Colored Hockey League (1894-1930) won the championship in 1901 and 1902. The team beat West End Rangers from PEI to retain their title in a 3-2 single game victory in February 1902, and were led by star goaltender William Carvery, his two brothers on the team, plus three Dixon brothers also on the squad.

In the Halifax Explosion of 1917, elevated land to the south protected Africville from the direct blast and complete destruction that levelled the neighbouring community of Richmond. However, the community did suffer considerable damage. A doctor of a relief train arriving at Halifax made note of Africville residents "as they wandered disconsolately around the ruins of their still standing little homes".[7] Four Africville residents (and one Mi'kmaq woman visiting from Queens County, Nova Scotia) were killed by the explosion.[8] In the aftermath of the disaster, Africville received modest relief assistance but none of the reconstruction and none of the modernization which was invested into other parts of the city after the explosion.[9]

Daily life[edit]

Economically, the first two generations were not prosperous. Jobs were scarce and racism made life difficult. Many men found employment in low-paying jobs; many worked as seamen or Pullman porters, who would clean and work on train cars. Only 35 percent of labourers had regular employment, and 65 percent of the people worked as domestic servants.[10] They had limited opportunities. Women were also hired as cooks, to clean the hospital or prison, and some elderly women were hired to clean upper-class houses.

Opportunities were not only lacking in employment, education was also always a problem in the community. In 1883 they received their first elementary school, but were fully responsible for its funding. It was a poor community, so up until 1933 none of the teachers had obtained formal training.[11] However, even with the school, only 40 percent of boys and girls received any education at all. Out of the 140 children ever registered, just 60 children reached either grade 7 or 8, and only four boys and one girl reached grade 10.[12]

Monument at the site of Africville beside the A. Murray MacKay Bridge

To understand Africville, "you got to know about the church."[13] The Seaview African United Baptist Church was established at Africville in 1849 and joined up with other black Baptist Congregations to make the African Baptist Association in 1854. Their social life revolved around the church. Baptisms, weddings and funerals brought a sense of community for the people. Many other black communities would choose Africville as their location of choice for Sunday picnics and events. Everything was done through the church, "clubs, youth organizations, ladies' auxiliary and Bible classes".[14] The church was the centre of their unity and stability for so long. It showed the life and heart of the town.

Throughout its history, Africville was confronted with much racial isolation. The town never received proper roads, health services, water, street lamps or electricity. Simple things all towns received, they did not. The continuing issues and protests for water and sewage, clearly show the disproportionate relationship the city of Halifax had toward Africville residents vs. other communities. The lack of these services had serious health implications for the lives of the people, and the city's concerns for them was as existent as these facilities they demanded. Contamination of the wells was a serious and ongoing issue, so even the little water they did receive needed to be boiled before use. As the City of Halifax expanded, Africville became a preferred site for all types of undesirable industries and facilities — a prison in 1853, an infectious disease hospital in 1870, then a slaughterhouse, and even a depository for fecal waste from nearby Russellville. In 1958 the city decided to move the town garbage dump to the Africville area. While the residents knew they could not legally fight this, they illegally salvaged the dump for usable goods. They would get clothes, copper, steel, brass, tin, etc. The dump was the final step in labelling this area an official slum.[15]


The founding families of Africville listed on the Africville Monument at Seaview Memorial Park

During the 1940s and 1950s in different parts of Canada, the federal, provincial and municipal governments were working together to take communities labelled slums and relocate the people to better housing.[16] The intent was to use the land for business and industry. Many years earlier, and again in 1947, after a major fire burnt several Africville houses, the topic of relocation of Africville had been discussed. Concrete plans of relocation did not officially emerge until 1961. Stimulated by the Stephenson Report of 1957 and the creation of the City's Department of Development in 1961, the topic of relocation finally became a reality. In 1962 Halifax adopted the relocation proposal unanimously, and the Rose Report, published in 1964, was passed 37/41 in favour of relocation.[17] The Rose report finalized everything. It promised free lawyers and social workers, job training, employment assistance, education services, etc. The report never went into details or analyzed what the lives of residents would be like in their new homes, but was insistent that their best interests were at heart.

The actual relocation took place mainly between 1964 and 1967. The residents were assisted in their move by Halifax literally moving the Africvillians with the city dump trucks. This image forever stuck in the minds and hearts of people and clearly indicated the degrading style in which these people were treated before, during and after the move. There were many hardships, suspicion and jealousy that emerged, mostly due to complications of land and ownership claims. Only 14 residents held clear legal titles to their land. Those with no legal rights were given a $500 payment and promised a furniture allowance, social assistance, and public housing units.[18] Young families would make enough money to begin a new life, but most of the elderly residents would not budge as they had much more of an emotional connection to their homes. They were filled with grief and felt cheated out of their property. However resistance to eviction became harder as more people accepted and homes disappeared. The city quickly demolished each house as soon as residents moved out. The church at Africville was demolished in 1969 at night to avoid controversy. The last Africville home was demolished on January 2, 1970.[19]

After relocation, Africvillians were faced with just as many problems as before. The cost of living went up in their new homes, more people were unemployed and without regular incomes, none of the promised employment or education programs promised materialized, and none of the promises was granted as "benefits were so modest as to be virtually irrelevant…within a year and a half this post-relocation program lay in ruins."[20] Family strains and debt forced many to rely on public assistance, and anxiety was high among the people. One of the biggest complaints was that "they feel no sense of ownership or pride in the sterile public housing projects."[21]

Post eviction history[edit]

Part of Africville is now occupied by a highway interchange that services the A. Murray MacKay Bridge; however, the port development at Fairview Cove did not extend as far east as Africville, leaving the waterfront intact. In light of the controversy surrounding the community, the city of Halifax created Seaview Memorial Park on the site in the 1980s, preserving it from development. Former Africville residents such as Eddie Carvery carried out periodic protests at the park throughout the 1980s and 1990s.[22]

In May 2005, New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia MLA Maureen MacDonald introduced a bill in the provincial legislature called the Africville Act. The bill calls for a formal apology from the Nova Scotia government, a series of public hearings on the destruction of Africville, and the establishment of a development fund to go towards historical preservation of Africville lands and social development in benefit of former residents and their descendants. Halifax mayor Peter Kelly has offered land, some money and various other services for a replica of the Seaview African United Baptist Church. After the offer was originally made in 2002, the Africville Genealogy Society requested some alterations to the Halifax offer, including additional land and the possibility of building affordable housing near the site. The Africville site was declared a national historic site in 2002.

Africville Apology[edit]

Main article: Africville Apology

On February 23, 2010 the Halifax Council ratified a proposed "Africville apology" with an arrangement with the Government of Canada to establish a $250,000 Africville Heritage Trust to design a museum and build a replica of the community church.[23] On 24 February 2010 Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly made the Africville Apology, apologizing for the eviction as part of a $4.5-million compensation deal. The City restored the name Africville to Seaview Park at the annual Africville Family Reunion on July 29, 2011.[24] The Seaview African United Baptist Church, demolished in 1969, was rebuilt in the summer of 2011 to serve as a church and interpretation centre. The nearly complete church was ceremonially opened on September 25, 2011.[25]

Tributes and related media[edit]

African Canadian singer songwriter Faith Nolan released an album in 1986 called Africville.

In 1989, a historic exhibit about Africville toured across Canada and evolved into a permanent exhibit on display at Nova Scotia's Black Cultural Centre in Preston.

In 1991, the National Film Board of Canada released the documentary film Remember Africville, which received the Moonsnail Award for best documentary at the Atlantic Film Festival.[26]

Montreal-born jazz pianist Joe Sealy released a CD of original music, Africville Suite, in 1996. It won a Juno Award in 1997. It includes twelve pieces reflecting on places and activities in Africville, where Sealy's father was born. Sealy was working and living in Halifax during the time of the destruction of the community, and began the suite in memory of his father.

Canadian jazz pianist Trevor Mackenzie released the album Ain't No Thing Like a Chicken Wing in 1997 as a tribute to the neighbourhood where his father grew up.

In 1998, Eastern Front Theatre produced a play by George Boyd, Consecrated Ground, which fictitiously chronicled the Africville eviction. The story of Africville is also a significant influence on the work of George Elliott Clarke.

In 2006, Dundurn Press published Last Days in Africville (by Dorothy Perkyns), a fictional account of life for a young Africville girl at the time of its destruction.

In 2007, the Newfoundland metal/hardcore band Bucket Truck released a video for their song "A Nourishment by Neglect", which details the events surrounding the destruction of the Africville community.

Also in 2007, Heritage Canada began funding an independently produced documentary "Stolen From Africville" [1], written and directed by well-known Canadian activist and performer Neil Donaldson and Sourav Deb ([2]). Scheduled for a summer 2008 release, the film follows the lives of those displaced from the Africville community over the course of a year.

Additionally, in 2007, Canadian hip hop group Black Union released a song featuring Maestro about the historic community of Africville. The music video was recorded in Seaview Park. The video has over 50,000 views on YouTube.[27]

On June 15, 2009, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was presented with the book about Africville, at the Nova Scotia Alliance of Black School Educators. Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society, made the presentation[28] in his capacity as chair of the Halifax Regional School Board.

The Hermit of Africville, a biography of longtime Africville protester Eddie Carvery, was released by Pottersfield Press in 2010.[29] In 2011, Nimbus Publishing/Vagrant Press published Stephens Gerard Malone's novel Big Town, a fictionalized account centring on the eviction of residents and the razing of Africville.

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Africville. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  2. ^ "1836" Timeline Africville Genealogy Society Website
  3. ^ Canadian Biography - Richard Preston
  4. ^ Alfreda Withrow, One City, Many Communities, Nimbus Publishing, Halifax (1999), p. 11
  5. ^ Africville Genealogy Society. The Spirit of Africville. (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1992)
  6. ^ Donald H. Clairmont & Dennis William Magill, Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community Canadian Scholar's Press, Toronto (1999), p. 44-45.
  7. ^ "Personal Narrative Dr. W.B. Moore", The Halifax Explosion December 6, 1917, Graham Metson, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1978, p. 107
  8. ^ Halifax Explosion Book of Remembrance
  9. ^ Michelle Hebert Boyd, Enriched by Catastrophe Social Work and Social Conflict after the Halifax Explosion (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing 2007)
  10. ^ Africville Genealogy Society. The Spirit of Africville. (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1992) Page 17.
  11. ^ Donald Clairmont & Dennis William Magill. Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1974) Page 110.
  12. ^ Donald Clairmont & Dennis William Magill. Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1974) Page 111.
  13. ^ Africville Genealogy Society. The Spirit of Africville. (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1992) Page 27.
  14. ^ Africville Genealogy Society. The Spirit of Africville. (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1992), Page 25.
  15. ^ Donald Clairmont & Dennis William Magill. Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community. (Toronto:McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1974)
  16. ^ Tina Loo. Africville and the Dynamics of State Power in Postwar Canada, 2010. Acadiensis.
  17. ^ James W. St. G. Walker. Allegories and Orientations in African-Canadian Historiography: The Spirit of Africville. (Dalhousie Review, Summer 97, Vol 77, Issue 2, P155, 25p) Page 160.
  18. ^ Donald Clairmont, & Dennis William Mcgill. Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1974) Page 67.
  19. ^ "Africville: Canada's Most Famous Black Community", DeCosta 400
  20. ^ African Genealogy Society. The Spirit of Africville. (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1992) Page 73.
  21. ^ Clyde, Farnsworth. Uprooted and Now Withered by Public Housing. (New York: H.J. Raymond & Co. New York, 1995) Page 1.
  22. ^ John Tattrie,The Hermit of Africville,Pottersfield Press, Halifax (2010)
  23. ^ "CBC News - Nova Scotia - Halifax council ratifies Africville apology". 2010-02-23. Archived from the original on 24 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  24. ^ Halifax park renamed Africville", CBC News, July 29, 2011
  25. ^ "Africville replica church celebrated" CBC News, Sept 25, 2011; Dan Arsenault, "Tears and memories mark Africville church opening" Halifax Chronicle Herald, Sept. 26, 2011
  26. ^ "Remember Africville". Collection page. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  27. ^ August 13, 2007 (2007-08-13). "Black Union Ft. Maestro - Africville". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  28. ^ "The Africville Genealogy Society". Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ Bruce Nunn. Mr. Nova Scotia Know-it-All

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°40′28.5″N 63°37′6.6″W / 44.674583°N 63.618500°W / 44.674583; -63.618500