Canada Post Stamp Honours Community of Africville
~ A Brief History of Africville ~
A new Canada Post stamp honours community of Africville on Thursday in honour of Black History Month. The new stamp commemorates the community of Africville, which holds amazing historical significance. It was one of Halifax’s oldest and largest black communities in Nova Scotia and went through a period of controversial massive destruction and dismantlement in the 60s.
The new stamp features an old photograph of seven little girls from Africville superimposed with a painting of the former community. Bernice Byers-Arsenault is one of the seven girls on the stamp and said the photo was taken 56 years ago outside a Bible study class . She says she is honoured to be a part of such a special project and treasures the stamp. . Now it will be seen across the country.
“I was thrilled. Words can’t describe how I felt when I opened it. It’s an honour. We’re so important in that picture. We made history,” says Byers-Arsenault.
“We’re a community that’s lost, gone. We were a group of girls coming from a Sunday school class and someone took our picture and lo and behold, here we are on a stamp all over Canada.”
Africville was a small community located on the southern shore of Bedford Basin, in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada It was first settled in the 1830s when former American slaves and other Black Nova Scotians from a wide selection of origins. It was neglected by the former City of Halifax and became run down over the years.
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 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.
Throughout its history, Africville was confronted with much racial isolation. There were not many employment opportunities for the people of Africville, nor did they have access to formal education. 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 — 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.
Eviction and Relocation
By the 1960s, years of neglect and racism had made Africville one of the worst slums in the country. Many years earlier, the topic of relocation of Africville had been discussed. Concrete plans of relocation emerged in 1961. In 1962 Halifax adopted the relocation proposal unanimously, and the Rose Report, published in 1964, was passed 37/41 in favour of relocation. 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. 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.
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. 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.”
Post Eviction History
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.
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.
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. 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. The Seaview African United Baptist Church, demolished in 1969, was rebuilt in the summer of 2011 to serve as a church and interpretation center. The nearly complete church was ceremonially opened on September 25, 2011.
2014 – Canada Post Stamp Honours Community of Africville
This stamp and the issuing of this stamp is just one step down a long road of recovery. Today, Africville is a park and an historic site. The homes are gone, but there are many reminders of the old community. The stamp represents recognition that the community and its residents were relevant.
**ON A PERSONAL NOTE:**
During the major eviction years of the Africville residents, between 1964-67, I was between 8-11 years old. I was 14 years old when the last Africville house was demolished. By 1958, the city dump had been moved to the Africville area, and I remember going to the dump with my parents to drop things off, and seeing little kids and adults both scavenging the dump for anything they could use. I also remember the rats. Big rats … and lots of them. As a young middle class girl, I remember being horrified that anyone could like in conditions such as these. I felt sorry for them.
Another thing I remember is the black women and their children coming to our door in the summertime, selling baskets of blueberries for a dime. My mother always bought blueberries from them and I was always happy that she did.
Alright, alright … so this picture has absolutely nothing to do with the article, but I found it while looking for other photos and fell in love with it. Isn’t it beautiful?
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