Seaview United Baptist Church is very significant to the community of Africville. Former residents wanted to mark exactly when the Church was demolished following purchase by the City of Halifax. Unfortunately, Halifax Municipal Archives does not have historical evidence of the exact date of demolition, though our research indicates the Church was demolished by City crews between October 18 and November 20, 1967. The research is summarized below, with chronological excerpts from archival records attached.
Don Clairmont’s Africville: An Overview report (taken from the Halifax Clerk's Office historical reference file on Africville) provides a brief history of the role of the Church in the Africville community.
Timeline of documentation:
January 22, 1963 – Letter from the Development Officer working to relocate the Africville community to the Halifax Human Rights Advisory Committee notes that Africville residents want to continue to live near a church building of their own and speculates on the future of the Africville Seaview United Baptist Church.
May 29, 1967 – Minutes from the Redevelopment Committee’s Africville sub-committee (102-42C) notes a staff report about a meeting with Reverend Bryant and church deacons regarding the disposition of the Church. A public meeting at the Church to canvass opinions of residents is proposed. Among considerable discussion, the sub-committee brings up the fact that the Church is on leased City property, thus the asking price of $30,000 was too high and should be renegotiated.
July 19, 1967 – Redevelopment Committee’s Africville sub-committee received report that the Deacons of Seaview United Baptist Church were willing to sell the Church.
August 31, 1967 - Article in the Halifax Mail-Star newspaper announces that bulldozers will move into Africville the following week to demolish buildings
Sept. 28, 1967 - Halifax City Council approves purchase of the church for $15,000 via Quit Claim Deed, and moves that the Church “be demolished as soon it can be conveniently vacated”.
October 18, 1967 – Memo from City Real Estate Division to Director of Works stating the Church is ready for demolition and requesting demolition as soon as possible for safety reasons. Memo is annotated at bottom left with a Work Order number 2994, and hand-written date of Nov. 20, 1967, a person’s initials, and the words “demolished” – probably indicating completion of work order. (The work order referenced in the memo has not been located; these types of operational records are not normally retained long-term.)
October 26, 1967 - Memo from the Mayor to Acting City Manager, copied to Director of Works, noting that a number of houses in Africville have not been demolished and requesting their immediate destruction to avoid squatters moving in. The Church is not mentioned. (This may explain why the Church's demolition was not initialed as completed until Nov. 20, 1967.)
Nov. 10, 1967 – Memo from Junior Superintendent of Works to the Director of Works with a statement from the men who worked on demolitions in Africville. This document does not relate to the Church, but does indicate that demolitions in Africville were performed by City staff as part of their regular work duties.
- 102-39B.797 - Engineering and Works subject files, Africville Property Acquisition, 1965-1971 (Note that signatures of labourers have been redacted.)
August 15, 1968 - City documents show the purchase of the property from Church trustees for $15,000. This date is almost one year after approval to purchase the property and well after the Church was apparently demolished. It is filed in the 1967 file, as that is the year in which the acquisition was initiated. Researchers should note that many other property acquisition files have long delays between approval to purchase and executing the sale, and this was not an isolated incident.
- 102-5-4-T-50 1967 - Clerk’s Office Property Acquisition File - Africville - Seaview United Baptist Church, 1967
- 102-39C - Engineering and Works property acquisition case file, 1967
Other types of records that were searched
City of Halifax demolition contracts 1966-1968, held at the Municipal Clerk’s Office, were also searched, but none appeared to be for the Church or a civic address on Barrington Street that could be the Church.
The Works Department issued annual Building Demolition Reports – Archives have them 1956-1963 (102-39L-1: Ordinance 50 Implementation [Dilapidated Buildings]). These note the dates a demolition was ordered and the date a demolition was undertaken (sometimes days or months later). They distinguished between demolitions undertaken by the owner and demolitions undertaken by “City Forces.” While this file only covers demolitions carried out under Ordinance 50, and thus not applicable to the Church, it does indicate that City staff performed ordered demolitions. Indeed, these records include numerous bids on tenders for demolition received from “City Forces,” indicating the City was also in the demolition business.
In other Africville property acquisition files, demolition permits are filed. Therefore, it is likely a demolition permit for the Church would have been created. Demolition permits for Africville are also included in 102-39I-29-01, Africville building permits and applications. These are digitized and searchable online, and include a finding aid, though no demolition permit was found for the Church.
Other records checked but no pertinent information was found:
- 102-4.06.450 - City Manager's Office subject files, Demolitions, 1964-1976
- CR5 - Halifax Human Rights Advisory Committee records
Halifax’s Finance Department no longer have any financial records that would document the payment made to the Church trustees for purchase. That type of record is destroyed after a required retention period.
HRM Municipal Compliance, Planning and Development, continue to hold some City of Halifax permits (including demolition permits) on microfiche, organized by civic address. They were unable to locate anything filed under 1844 Barrington Street, Africville, or Service Road related to the Church or its demolition.
Civic address conundrum
Records are often filed by civic address, so if there is uncertainty around a civic address, it can be difficult to know for sure whether specific records exist.
Seaview United Baptist Church was last listed in the Churches section of the City Directories in 1961. That entry locates the Church at 1844 Barrington Street, but no demolition records for that address were found, so could it have been filed under a different civic address? Between that last listing in 1961, and the demolition in fall of 1967, the civic addresses along Barrington changed. The northern portion of Barrington Street has changed names several times: it was later called “Service Road,” before being renamed Africville Road in 2009. As well civic addresses were never consistently applied throughout northern Barrington Street or in Africville, as they didn't conform to the grid-numbering system adopted in the mid-1960s. The Church is not listed under any other civic address.
The Churches section of the City Directories listed all active local churches, arranged by denomination. In the 1961 Directory, Seaview United Baptist Church was listed at 1844 Barrington Street, with Rev. Donald Skeir and Rev. William P. Oliver as pastors. The Church does not appear in the 1962 listing. Other Baptist churches listed in 1962 include Central Baptist, Cornwallis Baptist, First Baptist, Mulgrave Park United Baptist, Reformed Baptist on Windsor, and West End Baptist.
Further information and the perspective from former residents
In 2017 CTV aired a number of stories using the archival records presented here, along with interviews with former Africville residents:
- Africville church: The demolition of the heartbeat of a community
- Exclusive: Documents solve mystery surrounding Africville church's demolition date
- 'Obviously this was wrong': Uncertainty surrounds unexpected demolition of Africville church
- Interview with Brenda Steed-Ross and Irvine Carvery as well as a short follow-up story
During the research for these broadcasts, CTV News discovered that Africville Baptist Church records are held at the Black Cultural Centre, and that the Church had paid membership in the African United Baptist Association up to 1967.
For any questions, or to suggest other resources about Seaview United Baptist Church, contact the Halifax Municipal Archives.