African Heritage Month

Post prepared by Brenna Williamson

February is African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia. Today’s post offers a brief history of African Canadians in Nova Scotia, focusing on the Africville community.

Scroll to the end for a list and description of recommended further readings on Africville available at the St FX Library.

Black Settlers in Nova Scotia

Black people have called Nova Scotia home since at least the early 18th century. Large numbers of Black settlers arrived in the province after both the American revolution and the Civil War. Many of these settlers were former slaves who had been promised land in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, when they arrived they faced continued hardships and racism from white settlers and were unwelcome in existing communties. Black settlers were often forced to develop their own communities.

What was Africville?

Africville was one such community of Black people in Nova Scotia. It was located on the south shore of Bedford Basin, outside Halifax. Africville first appears in recorded history around 1848, and it existed for 150 years. Former residents have described it as a very close-knit community. It had its own stores, a school, a post office and the Seaview United Baptist Church. However, the community faced many ongoing difficulties.  Despite the residents, who paid taxes to the city, asking for services such as sewage, access to clean water and garbage disposal the City of Halifax refused to provide these basic amenities.  In addition the city built many unattractive developments (including a prison, a garbage dump and an infectious disease hospital) adjacent to the community.

The Relocation and Destruction of Africville

In the 1960s the city of Halifax forceably relocated Africville’s residents under the guise of improving the residents’ standard of living, despite the fact that many of the issues the community suffered though this was a result of the city’s own refusal to provide basic infrastructure to the community. After relocation, residents faced new challenges including racism in their new homes and a loss of their community support networks.

The Africville Apology

In the 1980s, many former residents sought justice for the destruction of the community and the displacement if its inhabitants. In 2010 a public apology was made by the Mayor of Halifax and a settlement was finally reached. Part of the settlement was used to rebuild the Seaview Church (now the Africville Museum).

Learn more about the history of Africville with the following titles:

Africville (Novel) by Jeffrey Colvin

  • The author’s debut novel, published in 2019
  • A historical fiction about life in Africville, that tells the story of one family through three generations
  • Set in the early 20th century and told through third person narration
  • Themes explored include ‘passing as white’ and the enduring connections to home and family through space and time

Razing Africville: A Geography of Racism by Jennifer J. Nelson

  • An academic work published in 2008
  • Examines primary sources such as news reports, urban planning and city council documents and scholarly accounts of the eviction of Africville’s inhabitants
  • Argues, using a geographic lens, that ongoing measures to regulate black bodies and control spaces result in a ‘geography of racism’

Africville: The life and Death of a Canadian Black Community by Donald H. Clairmont & Dennis W. Magill 3rd Edition

  • A classic work of scholarship, originally published in 1974
  • Describes the history of Black immigration in Nova Scotia including the settlement of Africville and the decision to relocate the community in the 1960s
  • Reveals the social injustice that followed the life and death of the community
  • This third edition contains additional updated material and emphasizes the ongoing importance of Africville to Nova Scotian Black history

All books are available through the St Francis Xavier University Library catalogue

Additional Resources & References: 

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