Friday, July 16, 2010

Nova Scotia National Historic Site #3: Africville

Today, the area formerly known as Africville is a beautiful park located near Mackay bridge with the best views of the Bedford Basin anywhere in the city, but it was once home to a largely black community just outside of Halifax.

During the War of 1812, Black Loyalists were offered free land and supposedly equal rights. The Black Loyalists who came settled in an area along the south shore of the Bedford Basin that would later come to be known unofficially as Africville.

Popular opinion of the day was that Africville was named so because of the strong feelings of loyalty the residents felt towards their home continent. More likely though, is that the name was a subtle form of racism since most of the residents were black, and therefore could not have been recognized as true Canadians, even though none of them came from or had any special affinity towards Africa.

The city of Halifax further showed its disregard for the people who lived there by choosing Africville for the site of the 1850 Nova Scotia Railway line that bisected the community. In 1906, a second line was built through Africville by the Halifax and Southern Railway. The Nova Scotia Railway, which later became the Intercolonial Railway and still later CN Rail, established a train yard just west of the area. Along with it came even more lines running through Africville, and yet more trains.

Even up until its demolition in the late 1960s to make room for the A. Murray Mackay Bridge, Africville never once received proper roads, sewage, health services, water, street lamps, or electricity from the city of Halifax. Its people lived life in racial isolation, forgotten by the government officials at City Hall. The only time the city deemed Africville important was when it built a prison there in 1853, or an infectious disease hospital there in 1870, or the slaughterhouse, or the depository for faecal waste from nearby Russellville, or when it moved the city's garbage dump there in 1958.

In return for being dumped on, literally and figuratively, for over 100 years by the City of Halifax, being bulldozed, and having its people ignored and then evicted, the place once known as Africville was turned into Seaview Memorial Park in 1980, and declared a National Historic Site in 2002. In 2009 Halifax renamed one of its streets "Africville Road," and on February 24, 2010, Halifax Mayor, Peter Kelly, offered an official apology for the razing of Africville.

(Monument in Seaview Memorial Park dedicated to the original Black Loyalist settlers and all other residents of Africville who lived there from 1848 to 1969.)

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