Africville was one of Canada’s oldest black settlements. Founded by Black Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War, the area’s African-Canadian population grew after the War of 1812 along the Bedford Basin on Campbell Road, which was dubbed “Africville.” Africville was never able to officially incorporate as its own town, existing alongside the city of Halifax.
Africville faced systematic discrimination through lack of positive development and government neglect. Again and again, Africville got the shaft in comparision with the rest of Halifax, which reduced the area into an industrialized slum by the first half of the 20th century:
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 relationship between the city of Halifax and the Africvillians. 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 issues, 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—prison in 1853, a slaughterhouse, 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 couldn’t 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 pin in labelling this area an official slum. In 1870 Africville also received an infectious disease hospital. (source)
The level of underdevelopment in Africville was severe. Because of the railroads which ran into the heart of Africville, their local wells became polluted and water had to be boiled before drinking or cooking. Many of the houses become reduced to shanties. Most residents also had limited access to education, and there was little change for upward mobility for its residents. A strong sense of community remained, however, focussed at the Seaview United Baptist Church.
In the 1960s, Africville was slated for removal and relocation in the light of urban renovation, namely under the Rose Report of 1964. The process of removal took place between 1964 and 1967. Longterm Africville residents were surprised by the move, and many fought to keep their property. Most families, however, could not claim proof of ownership to the land, despite some families living in the town for over 150 years. In the end, the residents of Africville were forced to relocate. City dump trucks were provided to assist with the move.
As part of relocation, the residents were promised social assistance and public housing. Many were placed in housing projects, but none received any other promised government assistance or benefits.
The town of Africville was razed to the ground and part of the land was used for building a highway to the A. Murray MacKay Bridge; a majority of the land, however, remained undeveloped, despite the clamor for urban renewal which had prompted the town’s removal. In the 1980s, the Seaview Memorial Park was built in response to protests from former residents of Africville about their unjust treatment.
In 2007, the independent documentary “Stolen from Africville” was made about the obscure history of the town, a story that had never reached the Canadian mainstream — and international spotlight– until then. Since the airing of this documentary, the Nova Scotia mayor had issued an official apology for the actions against the people and descendants of Africville in February of 2010, and funding to rebuild the Seaview United Baptist Church and landmarks from the former town has been designated.
The land of Africville had also been declared a national heritage site, and the lost town has become a symbol of the often-ignored history of Canadian racism.
Africville: The Spirit Lives On – Website committed to preserving the history of Africville.
“Africville apology is a start, not an end” – Article in the Huffington Post in light of Nova Scotia’s apology in 2010 for the eradication of Africville
Africville: Expropriating Black Nova Scotians – CBC National Archives