Africville – The Lost Town
Linda Ward, CBC News Online | July 8, 2002

Demolition of buildings in Africville

In the north end of Halifax was a town called Africville ... until 1970, when bulldozers knocked down what was left of the community. The city had expropriated the land to make way for industrial development.

To some, Africville was a slum, populated by former American slaves who escaped during the War of 1812. To about 400 black settlers, it was a place where they could live in privacy, free from racism and discrimination.

The history of Africville

The town was officially founded in the 1840s, but many of the families who lived there can trace their roots in Africville as far back as the 1700s. Its people were among the first settlers in Nova Scotia, which once was a "slave society." However, the rocky terrain of Nova Scotia limited agricultural potential and prevented slavery from developing on a large scale.

Many American slaves migrated to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution, freed by the British to encourage them to leave their revolutionary masters. They were promised equality, but ended up selling themselves into slavery in order to survive.

In 1792, an agent of the Sierra Leone Company persuaded nearly 2,000 of the Halifax settlers to migrate to Africa. Then, in 1796, more than 550 Maroons, a group of African descent slaves deported from Jamaica, settled on the lands vacated by the black settlers. In 1800, they were shipped off to Sierra Leone where they helped to suppress a rebellion by the former American slaves.

Following the War of 1812, as many as 3,000 blacks streamed into the province and settled within a short distance of Halifax. The British had promised they would be given basic necessities to help them settle into a life of freedom. But the British did not follow through on their promise, and left the refugees to fend for themselves, without food, clothing or shelter.

The original Africville settlers were made up of the many blacks who had come to Nova Scotia over several centuries. These settlers moved to Africville in order to escape the economic hardships encountered on the rocky and barren land of their original settlements.

The first land purchase in Africville is believed to have been in 1848.According to Parks Canada, the population of Africville never exceeded 400 people, who came from up to 80 different families. It was a tight-knit community of law-abiding, tax paying, Baptist citizens who did their best to survive in the conditions they faced. By 1849, the newly formed community had established a Baptist church.

In the 1850s, some Africville residents were relocated due to railway construction. The city began building industrial sites all around and through Africville after Halifax residents rejected the unappealing structures. Africville became the home to Rockhead Prison (1853), the city's night soil disposal pits (1858), an infectious disease hospital (during the 1870s), a trachoma hospital (1905), an open city dump and incinerator (in the early 1950s) and a slaughterhouse.

The Halifax city council, according to its minutes, regarded the "area around Africville as a location for city facilities not tolerated in other neighbourhoods." In addition to the smelly, dirty industries that were relocated to Africville, the city failed to install water service, sewage or lights. Africville also lacked recreational facilities although the Halifax Recreation and Playgrounds Commission did provide facilities to other areas of the city. The residents had no fire or police protection, which led to illegal liquor and entertainment enterprises developing in the small town. By the mid-1940s, Africville was seen as a real problem for the city of Halifax.


In 1947, Halifax city council designated Africville as industrial land. However, the residents of Africville expressed a desire to stay and develop the area residentially. City council authorized the borrowing of funds to provide water and sewerage services, but the services were never installed. In the 1950s, discussions in the Halifax city council concerning the industrial potential of the Africville site increased. The city of Halifax owned sizable property to the south, east and west; railway tracks surrounded and intersected the community and the shoreline was valuable for harbour development.

In mid-1954, the city manager submitted to Halifax city council a report that recommended the shifting of Africville residents to city-owned property southwest of the existing community. The report stated: "The area is not suited for residences, but, properly developed, is ideal for industrial purposes. There is water frontage for piers, the railway for sidings, a road to be developed leading directly downtown and in the other direction to the provincial highway."

The city of Halifax claimed that the relocation was for humanitarian reasons as a part of a large urban renewal plan the city had proposed, including the improvement of living conditions, and the racial integration of Africville residents. They proposed welfare planning, co-ordinating employment, educational and rehabilitative programs with the re-housing of residents.

The city council set up an alliance of black and white "caretakers" to be the voice of Africville residents in relocation exchange decisions. The "caretakers" were members of the Halifax Human Rights Advisory, consisting of 10 members, four whites and six blacks. The white caretakers were university graduates or tradesmen with little or no knowledge of Africville's social structure and minimal contact with Africville and its residents. The black caretakers were all middle-class and were concerned about white discrimination against Nova Scotian blacks. Only one of them was from Nova Scotia and all had only little knowledge of Africville's history and social structure.

Africville residents were not consulted in the formation of initial relocation terms, and no attention was given to recommendations from the community. Consequently, the final terms favoured the city.

In the end, many citizens were shipped off to slum housing, their personal belongings transported in city garbage trucks. Bulldozers were sent in during the night to level the community; not only the houses, but the stores, businesses and even the church. One resident recalls,"Those who refused or were slow to leave often found themselves scrambling out of the back door with their belongings as the bulldozers were coming in the front."

Property claims were in chaos: only a handful of families could establish legal title, others claimed squatter rights, and others rented. They were given less than $500 compensation. Most of the residents were relocated to public housing in Mulgrave Park in Halifax. The total cost of the expropriation was $800,000. In 1968, the Africville relocation was proclaimed a success, and the last building was bulldozed in 1970.

The site where Africville was located is now a deserted park. All that remains of the community is a monument in the shape of a sundial inscribed with the names of early black settlers.

The after-effects

The city still holds that residents were removed involuntarily from their homes in the name of "progressive" relocation. However, the "new start" promised the residents of Africville has never materialized. They still suffer from socio-economic hardships and live in crowded public housing.

A bridge and park occupy the land that was once Africville

Some saw the abolition of Africville as a positive government action to bring employment, education and desegregation to a black slum community, while others saw it as another instance of whites taking land that they wanted to develop while disregarding the current residents. The people of Africville had lost their homes, their businesses and their livelihood. But to most of the residents, the biggest loss was their sense of community, their circle of support and the place where they had a sense of belonging.

The incident has become known as one of the most severe episodes of racial discrimination in Canadian history. But what is surprising is that few Canadians have ever even heard of Africville. Many former Africville residents spoke out about their loss and it has become the rallying point for Nova Scotia's black community to fight racism and to educate others on diversity. Above all, Africville has become a symbol of the link between social well-being and community heritage for all Canadians.

Famous Canadians from Africville:

  • Portia White was born in 1910 in Truro. She was famous for her singing. She toured Canada, the U.S. and Europe. One of her greatest accomplishments was singing for Queen Elizabeth in 1964.
  • William Hall V.C. was descended from a black American slave who fled the United States during the War of 1812. Hall was born around Hortonville in the early 1800s. In 1857, Hall was serving in the Crimean War. During that war, Hall helped save a fleet of naval officers. For this act of bravery he received the Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria. He was the first Canadian to receive the highest award for heroism.
  • George Dixon, a successful boxer in the late 19th century, was the first to hold world championships in three different weight classes. Dixon is also credited with being the inventor of shadow boxing as a way of training.
  • Rose Fortune was the daughter of black Loyalist refugees who came to Nova Scotia in 1783 when she was 10 years old. She appointed herself a policewoman (the first known in Canada), imposed curfews and enforced them by going around town and sending stragglers home. She lived until 1864. One of her descendants, Daurene Lewis, served as mayor of Annapolis Royal in the 1980s - the first black female mayor in North America.


Live footage: CBC

Africville und das Halifax der Schwarzen
von Christine Sadler

Im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert war Halifax begehrter Zufluchtsort für Schwarze aus den USA und Jamaika. Doch statt Schutz erwartete sie Feindseligkeit.

Nordwestlich der Innenstadt findet im Seaview Park über dem Bedford Basin jeden Sommer eine Versammlung statt, auf der Africville gedacht wird - der schwarzen Gemeinde, die hier ihren Platz hatte, bis sie in die sechziger Jahren dem Erdboden gleichgemacht wurde.

Enttäuschte Hoffnungen

Etwa sechstausend Schwarze kamen in drei Wogen in die junge Garnisonsstadt und Umgebung: 1782 amerikanische Loyalisten und Sklaven, 1796 Maronneger, die von den in Jamaika herrschenden Briten verbannt worden waren, und nach dem amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg 1812 Flüchtlinge aus den USA. In Nova Scotia waren ihnen britisches Recht, Freiheit und Schutz zugesichert worden. Aber sie wurden mit Gleichgültigkeit oder Feindseligkeit empfangen. Das Leben wurde ihnen so schwer gemacht, dass ein Drittel der Loyalisten und fast alle Maronneger noch im 19. Jahrhundert wieder aufs Schiff stiegen und nach Sierra Leone weiterzogen. Diejenigen, die blieben, bauten kleine Gemeinden auf.

Africville als Symbol

Die bekannteste Gemeinde ist Africville, das zum Symbol für den Kampf gegen Rassismus und Rassentrennung wurde. Africville lag in überaus reizvoller Umgebung am Wasser, und die kleinen Häuser verteilten sich rund um die Baptist Church, den Pulsschlag des Ortes. Trotz seiner Lage innerhalb der Stadtgrenzen und ständigen Drängens der Bewohner wurde Africville von jeglicher Entwicklung ausgeschlossen. Weder Polizeischutz noch Modernisierung der Infrastruktur wurden bewilligt; bis zum Ende blieb Africville ohne Wasser- und Abwassereinrichtungen. Stattdessen wurde quer durch die Gemeinde eine Eisenbahntrasse gelegt. Einrichtungen wie ein Schlachthof und eine Fabrik, die man in anderen Vierteln nicht haben wollte, kamen nach Africville, letztendlich sogar eine offene Müllhalde. Die Stadtverwaltung wollte das Land industriell nutzen. In den sechziger Jahren beschloss sie den Abriss der Gemeinde und Umzug der Bewohner in moderne Häuser. Nachdem der letzte Bewohner nach jahrelangem Widerstand 1970 seine Koffer gepackt hatte, wurde das Dorf vernichtet.

Heute wohnt fast die Hälfte der insgesamt 15.000 Schwarzen Nova Scotias in Halifax, wo sie die größte Gruppe der "visible minority" stellen. Die Erinnerung an Africville ist hier, in der ältesten schwarzen Gemeinde Kanadas, hellwach. Einziges sichtbares Denkmal ist ein Erinnerungsstein im Park.