Africville Relocation Report and the sale of St. Pat’s

The #9 bus picks up passengers in the part of Halifax formerly known as Richmond, near what once was Africville, and drives along Barrington Street towards downtown. On the way it passes the Irving Shipyards and a navy base. Across the harbour, on the Dartmouth waterfront there are three huge red and white striped smoke stacks of a gas burning power plant and near the harbour’s mouth sits the borg-like maze of pipes which is an oil-refinery. Each morning when I take that bus to work downtown I’m conscious that everything which is wrong with the world is present right here in little old Halifax.

The military-industrial complex occupies the majority of Halifax’s waterfront. Side by side they sit: the navy who, under Stephan Harper’s command, have awarded a huge contract to their neighbour Irving Shipyard to build fleets of warships. It was largely through the growth of these industries that the black community which had been established here two hundred years ago was forced to move into ghetto housing while their homes were torn down and paved over.

Recently I stumbled on “The Africville Relocation Report” by Donald H. Clairmont and Dennis W. Mcgill in the Halifax North Memorial Public Library and spent a couple afternoons reading it, learning a lot about how the decision was made to appropriate that land. The situation looked like this: the north end of Halifax near the Bedford Basin had been set aside for everything which the ‘fathers of Halifax’ did not want in their neighborhoods: a garbage dump, a prison, and a hospital for infectious diseases. Though a black community had been there almost since the time when British soldiers had built a fort here in 1749 and gradually extended a city around this military outpost, city council had done nothing to provide services for them from that time till 1962 –when council began to seriously debate what to do about ‘the slums by the dump,’ as a Halifax counsellor referred to what former residents emphatically remember as a thriving and loving community.  In the late fifties there had been talk of needing to appropriate more land along the harbour and basin for industrial purposes –building warships and another shipping port.

Though the Africville Relocation Report makes it clear that council already had eyes on Africville to open the land to industrial usage, connect roads, and extend the city’s urban plan, much of the debate in council between 1962-64 was framed altruistically as being concerned for what was best for the residents of Africville. Members of council argued that since most of the houses were in poor condition; since there was no sewage, running water, or electricity; since there was a network of paths between houses rather than a grid of streets; and since many of the claims of property ownership were unclear and problematic, that it would be best for the residents to be moved to a new location instead of providing basic services to those citizens in their chosen homes. Africville residents themselves surely did not want to move. They just wanted warm homes, clean water, to be able to sing in their own church and swim at their own beach.

Now, two hundred years after the British promised American slaves that they could be free on their own land if they fought in the War of 1812 –which was when many of the ancestors of Nova Scotian black people settled here, Halifax’s black community is again being slighted by Halifax Regional Council. A school which was built to educate the uprooted children of Africville near the ghetto they were forced into has been closed and sold to a developer –after three community groups, the North End Community Health Clinic, the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre and the Richard Preston Centre for Excellence, appealed the sale saying that it was in violation of one of council’s own policy which says that community groups should be given opportunity to propose a use for abandoned schools before they are offered up for sale. In an article published this morning, Tim Bousquet clearly outlined the situation. It is unbelievable to me that council would rather change their own rules, which they voted to do two days ago, rather than listen to the people they claim to represent. This is not what democracy looks like.

If it is alright for city council to whimsically change their rules, why can’t Haligonians get them to change more about the way the local political system functions so that citizens can play a part in deciding what is to happen, or at least so that council is accountable for breaches of their own policies?

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2 thoughts on “Africville Relocation Report and the sale of St. Pat’s

  1. Reminds me of situations elsewhere. Unfortunately. People are made promises and there is no deadline on that promise, and even if it is, excuse after excuse until the promise is deemed ‘untenable’ and then reneged outright, often with the BS excuse that the party promised to had not done enough to fulfill their end of the bargain.

    Politicians wait long enough for it to be someone else’s problem. And then, they get what governments (and their puppet-masters) always want – land.

    This is of course, the pretty side of the story. The ugly side seems to be far too often associated with institutional as well as cultural discrimination. I am of the understanding that some Inuit peoples in Canada understand this phenomena quite well with the developments concerning de Beers, and my countrymen in the Northern Territory in Australia are also experts walking many miles in these sorts of shoes. Or without shoes, as the case may be.

    The more independent communities are from institutional authority…it seems…the better…though it’s not easy acquiring the resources/equipment when someone else grips them with an iron fist. Nonetheless local communities are prone to thinking of solutions that work locally and it would seem to me that the Australian experience is that governments are more likely to fuck those up rather than help. (creativespirits.info is a great resource for starting to understand this dilemma)

    P.S. Thanks for listing CD as a friend/link. Your blog is in much finer form owing to it’s use of source imagery and quotes, and it is thus an honour to be associated in that way with someone who goes to the trouble. Keep on rocking.

    • My apologies I am not 100% if the peoples concerned are from an ‘Inuit’ nation specifically but they are in lands an outsider like me associates more with Inuit nation than other North American peoples and I forget off hand which group is being victimised in this case. I do know it has something to do with Harper and his mob putting in ‘aborigine protector’ type roles so de beers can mine there…..rather than actually reducing the suffering of the locals…it smells and looks exactly like the shit going on in the NT down under. Pardon my language as well but I find it difficult to not get cranky when this sort of history repeats itself.

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