Updated: Aug 14, 2021
Black Canadians from Nova Scotia (Black/African Nova Scotians) have lived in the area since before the founding of Halifax in 1749. Between the late 1700s and early 1800s, a large group of Black settlers arrived in the province. Some were enslaved by either English or American settlers, and others had been freed by the British Crown due to their loyalty during the American Revolutionary war. On top of being granted freedom, these Black Loyalists had been promised plots of land, job opportunities, and other provisions.
Unfortunately, a lot of the land promised by the Crown was inhabited by white settlers of European descent who viewed them as inferior. The racism, discrimination, and oppression, forced the Black population to settle on inhospitable land. This marks yet another time in history when Black people were given the short end of the stick but persevered and developed a strong and vibrant community.
We’re probably not the only ones who hadn’t heard of Africville before, but we are making sure we highlight this small community that is a large part of the Black history in Canada. Africville was a predominantly Black community on the outskirts of Halifax. This community existed for over 150 years before it came to a tragic end, but we’re going to focus on the admirable determination and resilience of the people who built the community.
The City of Halifax refused to assist Africville with the most basic infrastructure like roads, sewerage,electricity, clean water, health services, garbage disposal, and a depository for fecal waste. The contamination of the wells caused by the City of Halifax caused sickness to the Africville residents who were forced to boil their water before using it for drinking or cooking. While other communities in the city took standard amenities for granted, the ignored residents of Africville, who paid their taxes to Halifax, built a thriving and close-knit community, with the little resources they had.
The Black population of Nova Scotia had three options back then:
1. Relocate to another area in Canada with somewhat better living conditions, but face the same racism.
2. Accept an offer from the British anti-slavery organization, The Sierra Leone Company, and resettle in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
3. Stay and work towards building a strong community.
While the City of Halifax added on to the issues by establishing undesirable developments around Africville like an infectious disease hospital, a prison, and a dump, the determined residents set up stores, a school, a post office, a Baptist Church and more. The Seaview African United Baptist Church became the center of the community’s social life. It wasn’t just a place for baptisms, weddings, and funerals, but other Black groups travelled to Africville for Sunday picnics and events hosted by the church.
Ice hockey, is probably not the first, second, or third sport that comes to mind when you think about Black people, but The Africville Seasides hockey team was part of an all-black ice hockey league, The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, and won the championships in 1901 and 1902.
There are many other Black communities in Canada, like North Preston, which is the oldest and largest indigenous Black community in Canada. Some of the first settlers of North Preston were Maroons, Black Jamaicans who had been deported after an insurrection.
While it’s important to celebrate the Black communities that are still standing, like North Preston, it’s important to bring attention to the ones like Africville that were forcibly shut down. Africville might have been demolished, but the history and resilience of its residents can never be erased.