Canada Also Has a History of Black Oppression: The Story of Africville

One Canadian city destroyed an entire Black community for their land

I have been trying to come up with the right words to say to comfort my Black brothers and sisters in this turbulent time.

I wish I could take their pain away.

I don’t have the ability to do that but I can help by using my privilege and platform to tell the stories of Black oppression, stand up against racism, and watch out for People of Color in any way I can.

I am proud to be an ally.

I usually use my Medium account to tell the stories of true crime cases involving marginalized people and self-help topics.

Today, I will be telling you a different story about oppression in Canada. Canada is looked at as the United States’ calmer, nicer sister. However, I live here and I can tell you that Canada has its’ own dark history of oppression and racism.

Canadian history books commonly do not tell us about the residential schools Indigenous people were kept in, or the “Sixties Scoop” when Native children were hauled out of their homes and placed in White foster homes. I will be covering these stories at a later date, but I mention them here so people will realize that Canada has its own dark history with People of Color.

The demolition of Africville is one of the worst stories of Black oppression in Canadian history.

A Community Built From the Ground Up

After the American Revolution, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, large groups of Black settlers began to arrive in the ocean-port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Many of these Black settlers had lived through and escaped slavery. They were promised land and civil treatment and instead encountered racism and hate from the White colonizers who had settled on the land already.

The Black settlers were forced to make their own communities on land that was leftover. This land was not ideal for growing food, basically, it was inhospitable at the time.

Despite this, the communities thrived due to everyone working together to build a better tomorrow.

One of these communities was located on the South shore of the Bedford Basin and called Africville.

The first recorded presence of people in Africville was in 1848 and the Black community stayed there for 150 years, making it their own.

In that time, 400 people built their lives in Africville. They built stores, a church, a post office, and a school. They built their own little town from the ground up.

“You weren’t isolated at any time living in Africville, You always felt at home; the doors were always open. That is one of the most important things that has stayed with me throughout my life”

— A former resident of Africville

A City’s Opposition

Despite the residents taking pride in their homes and yards, the City of Halifax refused to provide the community with sewer services, clean water, and garbage disposal.

The male residents earned their income from fishing, farming, and the women were homemakers or domestic servants.

They paid taxes and these essential services were still withheld from Africville.

The city also placed unsightly structures such as a dump, slaughterhouse, prison, and an infectious disease hospital near Africville in a possible attempt to paint the community as undesirable.

In 1917, the Halifax explosion destroyed Halifax and damaged Africville. The city received millions of dollars in relief money but Africville never received help rebuilding or financial assistance from the city.

Despite the problems Africville experienced, it was a very beautiful place. It was a waterfront community with deep roots. Many Black celebrities such as singer Portia White and boxer Joe Louis visited Africville and enjoyed their stay in the seaside community.

Eventually, it became clear that the City wanted the land Africville was on to expand Halifax and build new properties. They used a Human Rights group to consult with the villagers, stating that it would be the start of a better life for the small Black community.¹

At a public meeting in Africville in 1962, 100 villagers voted against the relocation. They preferred to stay and improve the community they worked so hard to build.

In January 1964, the Halifax City Council voted to authorize the relocation of Africville residents, despite most of the villagers not being consulted about the plan to move the community elsewhere.

An Inhumane Demolition and Broken Promises

The city began moving the residents in Africville. They paid the homeowners with deeds for the value of their home and gave only $500 to the homeowners without deeds.²

The first homes were demolished in 1964 to make way for the City of Halifax’s “urban renewal” plan. The residents of Africville were forced to live in low-income housing despite being promised superior housing and an even better community than they had before.

Apparently the city’s moving company canceled so dump trucks were used to move the resident's belongings.

Halifax was rife with judgments and stigma when the residents of Africville arrived at their new home with dump trucks carrying their possessions.

The demolishment of Africville was swift and careless. Some residents have said that their homes were destroyed without their knowledge or they were only given 24 hours notice to move.

One Africville man came home from a hospital stay to find his home no longer standing.

The last home in Africville was dismantled in 1969.

The Aftermath

Many residents struggled to afford rent after their displacement from Africville. The amount of money they were given for their homes was barely enough to cover a downpayment on a new home or rent for low-income housing.

Jobs were non-existent for the Black people of Halifax. Many companies refused to hire People of Color. Some people from Africville moved to Montreal and Toronto to start over and the remaining residents ended up on social assistance to cover their living expenses.

The land of Africville was turned into housing, ramps for a bridge, and a shipping dockyard.

The site where Africville was located was declared a “National Historic Site of Canada” in 1996. It has been called “a site of pilgrimage for people honoring the struggle against racism”.

Africville’s destruction resulted in one of the longest civil rights protests recorded in Canada. In 1970, a former Africville resident named Eddie Carvery returned to Africville and erected his own protest camp.

Eddie demanded due financial compensation and an inquiry for the residents of Africville. He stayed at the encampment for over five decades on and off. In November 2019, his protest camp was dismantled.

A formal apology was given to all Africville residents by Halifax Regional Municipality Mayor Peter Kelly on February 24, 2010. He promised a church would be built in honor of the community.

A church-museum was created and named Africville Park. The remaining living former residents of Africville hold an annual summer reunion in the park to reflect and remember the community they built from the ground up.

“You weren’t isolated at any time living in Africville, You always felt at home; the doors were always open. That is one of the most important things that has stayed with me throughout my life”

This is just one of many examples of Black oppression in Canadian history. I hope people read about Africville and realize that racism did and does happen here.

I hope the solidarity and support the world has shown the last couple of weeks have made People of Color feel welcomed in a world they should never have felt segregated from, to begin with.

It will not make up for 400 years of oppression, but it’s a start.

[1] Celine Cooper. January 27, 2014. Africville
https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/africville

[2] Matthew Mcrae. Date unknown. The Story Of Africville
https://humanrights.ca/story/the-story-of-africville

Amy Cottreau is a freelance writer who hails from a small city in Atlantic Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching missing person cases.

If you enjoyed this story, please visit my website “Raining on Darkness” where I discuss hoaxes, true crime cases, and unresolved mysteries!

Wife, mother, and researcher of a myriad of subjects. I love to write about anything and everything! Writer for The Startup, Better Marketing, & The Ascent👊

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