Located on the shores of the Bedford Basin, Africville was officially settled in the 1840s when land was purchased by William Brown and William Arnold, although oral history suggests some families can trace their connection to the land going back to the 1700s. Africville was home to a predominantly African Nova Scotian community for more than 150 years before misappropriation and relocation between 1964 to 1970.
In the years before the relocation, Africville was a “thriving, close-knit community” where community members owned stores, there was a community school, a post office and the Seaview United Baptist Church, the spiritual and social focal point of Africville.
In spite of being a thriving community, Africville lacked many amenities such as sewage systems, access to clean water and proper garbage disposal, which other Haligonians took for granted. The situation was further compounded with the designation of Africville as an industrial land in 1947, the development of an infectious disease hospital, a prison, and the relocation of the city dump near Africville in 1955.
As the popular concept of “urban renewal” took hold, the municipality began considering the Africville lands for industrial development. In 1962, City Council adopted a recommendation to remove the “blighted housing and dilapidated structures in the Africville area.”
The city appointed a social worker to negotiate settlement prices and assist Africville residents. In July 1964, the City purchased the first of the Africville properties and the movement of residents to various locations throughout the city began.
The relocation program was largely completed by the close of 1967. The last Africville resident - Aaron “Pa” Carvery – left “his home” on January 2, 1970. By that time, approximately 400 people from 80 families had been relocated.
In addition to the loss of their homes, the people of Africville lost the Seaview United Baptist Church, the spiritual heart of their community. Feelings of loss and a strong community ties to Africville continue to this day, with an annual gathering of former residents and descendants of Africville at what used to be their community.
The quest for compensation
For many years former residents and their descendants have advocated for compensation and a memorial to Africville. Created in 1983 to remember the community, the Africville Genealogy Society became the body that would take up the cause in earnest with the City of Halifax, (later, the Halifax Regional Municipality), the Province of Nova and the Government of Canada.
In 1996, Africville was designated a National Historic Landmark, yet the issue of compensation and recognition remained outstanding.
The Africville Genealogy Society, former residents and their descendants filed suit against the City of Halifax in March of 1996 in search of compensation. With the municipal amalgamation, later that year, the Halifax Regional Municipality assumed responsibility for the former city’s liabilities.
Discussions between representatives of the Africville Genealogy Society and the Halifax Regional Municipality reopened in 2001 in an effort to try to find a respectful resolution outside the court system.
HRM introduced a framework to act as the basis for establishing a fitting memorial for Africville and settle the litigation, however it was recognized that the project needed participation of all three levels of government and the community to succeed. In June 2005 a committee was established with tripartite representation from government and the Africville Genealogy Society with the purpose of moving forward in the interests of the community.
The Genealogy Society, with support from the three levels of government, engaged consultants to prepare a feasibility study and business plan for the reconstruction of the Seaview United Baptist Church and the creation of an Interpretive Centre that would tell the Africville story. The consultants met with former Africville residents and their descendent and other key stakeholder before presenting their findings to the Genealogy Society and its steering committee partners in December 2006.
The Feasibility Study / Business Plan (2006) recommended the concept of reconstructing the Seaview United Baptist Church replica on the site where it once stood, along with an adjacent Interpretative Centre.
In the fall of 2009, the Africville Genealogy Society adjusted the scope of their project to include two phases. The first phase focused on the reconstruction of Seaview United Baptist Church replica and the second phase would undertake the building of the Africville Interpretative Centre. The Black Business Initiative (BBI) was brought onboard to help see the project through.
Settlement & Apology
In February 2010, the AGS and HRM reached an agreement to settle the litigation and move forward with the construction of the church and additional provisions to compensate for the loss of the community and the implications for future generations.
The negotiated settlement includes the transfer of land to allow for the construction of a replica of the community church; allocation of $3 million in financial support for capital construction and endowment; renaming of Seaview Park to Africville; development of an employment contract for maintenance of the park; establishment of an African Nova Scotian Affairs Office within the municipal government; and a formal acknowledgment by HRM of loss.
(Sources: City of Halifax and Halifax Regional Municipality records, Africville Genealogy Society website, Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Africville Museum, Canadian Museum For Human Rights).