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Canada’s Most Famous Black Community

Who: Over its 120-year history, perhaps 90 to 100% Blacks with a few white families. Permanent residents and transients. At its peak, Africville had perhaps 400 residents.
What: A small, self-contained, tight-knit Black community within the city limits of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At its peak, just before World War I, it was made up of approximately 80 families / 300 residents.
Where: Halifax, Nova Scotia -- in the northern edge of the Halifax peninsula, beside the Bedford Basin.
When: 1830s - 1970. Developed slowly after the War of 1812, grew after the American Civil War, thrived from the 1890s to the 1920s. Endured a bad phase during the Depression; rebounded during the late 1930s and after World War II. During the 1950s it began a slow downturn until the late 1960s. Relocation occurred between 1964 and 1967. The last house was bulldozed January 2, 1970.
Why: The controversy following the relocation, the spirit of the former residents, and the fact that it was a unique community has made Africville a national and international legend –- a lost community gone forever. It is also an enduring symbol of racial intolerance, the myth of urban renewal, and the value of community culture.

Details of the first origins of Africville are unknown. However, following the War of 1812, many of the Blacks who had settled in areas surrounding Halifax migrated to the Africville location in the 1830s because of the cheap land and closeness to city employment. This land was originally set aside for whites, but not occupied. According to city records, William Brown and William Arnold, descendants of Black refugees from the War of 1812, bought the first two lots that led to the establishment of Africville in 1848.

Its first monikers were “Campbell Road Settlement” and “Africville”. Eventually the latter won out, and by 1900, Africville was the name used by records.

In a basic sense Africville was an African Nova Scotian community –- an urban village in northern Halifax on the edge of the basin. It was self-contained within city limits, but had no city services -- no water, no sewage, no paved roads, no snow removal, no police.

1849: Famous preacher Richard Preston establishes a Baptist church in Africville which eventually becomes the Seaview African United Baptist church. In 1968 it would be demolished at night by city workers.

1851: According to the census eight families live in Africville.

1870s: In addition to the church, new homes, a school, and two stores are built. Population continues to grow.

1900-1920: Africville’s heyday, with up to 300 people. Africville has “beautiful houses, lawns, good fishing,” and because of World War I, high employment. Africville is protected from the Halifax Explosion in 1917 by the “Narrows” bluff of land. (The Halifax Explosion was the biggest manmade explosion in history until the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.)

Africvilleans worked as porters, labourers, dockworkers, and factory workers in the surrounding factories. Women worked as domestic servants, seamstresses, and factory workers in industries such as Moir’s chocolate factory. Other occupations included farming, managing piggeries, raising chickens, and bootlegging. Several Africvilleans, like many Nova Scotians, were involved in rum-running during American prohibition.

George Dixon, the champion boxer who held three titles, was born in Africville; Portia White, the opera singer, taught there; famous black personalities, such as Joe Louis, Louie Armstrong, and Duke Ellington visited. During World War II there were several stories about a German spy renting a room in Africville to monitor the convoys in the Bedford Basin. Africville family names included Dixon, Carvery, Brown, Mantley, Howe, Byers, Emerson and Thomas.

From the 1920s onward, Africville was increasingly besieged by uncaring and even racist city councils. Industries and institutions no one else wanted were set up surrounding Africville -- a prison, a bone meal plant, night soil pits from the railway, a slaughterhouse, a glue factory, a paint factory, and a tuberculosis hospital. In the 1950s the city dump and incinerator were moved next to Africville. It began to be seen by many Halifax residents –- Blacks as well as whites -- as a slum neighbourhood, a shanty town, and a social embarrassment. Interracial committees were formed, some without Africvilleans.

“They believed that the destruction of the community was inevitable, even desirable, and that interests of residents could best be served by insuring that they had the best possible chance to start a new life elsewhere. Faced with the growing support for relocation, most residents seem to have become resigned to the demolition of their community.” (Professor Don H. Clairmont)

In the 1960s, the infamous relocation was instituted under the banner of urban renewal. Some compensation was given, and much was promised -- dishonestly promised, many believed. Many promises were not fulfilled, such as training and employment.

The last house in Africville was bulldozed on January 2, 1970.

Africville did not die. Much has happened since its relocation and diaspora.

1971: The Africville Relocation Report, Volume 1, by Donald H. Clairmont and Dennis W. Magill, is released by Dalhousie University’s Institute of Public Affairs. (Volume 2 is released in 1973.) It inspires much public and private debate.

1972: The Black basketball tournament is established by former Africville families.

1982: The first Africville reunion takes place at Seaview Park.

1983: The Africville Genealogy Society is established to continue the spirit of Africville.

1987: “Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community” is released by professors Clairmont and Magill.

1989: A national visual exhibit on Africville tours Canada.

1991: The documentary film “Remember Africville”, directed by Shelagh MacKenize, is released and is nominated for best Canadian documentary. It wins the Atlantic Film Festival award for best documentary.

1992: The book The Spirit of Africville is released by several well-known authors.

1995: The Africville Genealogy Society files a lawsuit for compensation for relocation.

2002: The Government of Canada establishes the Africville area as a National Historic Site.

2004: The United Nations releases a report declaring that Africville’s former residents deserve compensation.

2005: “The Africville Bill” for compensation is filed in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Movie Clip Of Africville (3Mb .mpg)

The Destruction of Africville (6Mb .mpg)

Dacosta 400 - Mathieu DaCosta

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