The Society

In praise of Africville memories

Halifax Herald
Mon. Aug 3, 2009

Herald Photo - Irvine CarveryOrganizers of this year’s Africville reunion in Halifax’s Seaview Park stretched the annual event to a five-day happening over the Natal Day weekend. It started Thursday.

In advance of the community get-together, The Chronicle Herald chatted with Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society, about the traditional black community on the shores of Bedford Basin that was razed decades ago.

A sundial monument in the park pays tribute to Africville’s founding families.

The society was formed in the early 1980s by three women, who, like Mr. Carvery and his family, were forced to relocate. The group has for years been seeking redress from the municipality for what it says was a historical wrong done to a minority community by a racist city council.

Mr. Carvery spoke in a recent phone interview from his Halifax home.

Q: What was Africville, the community, like when you were a kid growing up?

A: Well, when I was a kid it was a great place to be in the summertime, because we had the water. We spent a lot of time on the water and in the water. You had the woods surrounding the community, where we could play. Wintertime was a little tougher because it was cold. The homes were heated by wood stoves, so that meant as a young fella my job was going out there and helping my older brothers cut wood in the wintertime, and drawing water for our home. So, you know, it was a little harder in the winter. But the most vibrant memories I have of the community are just the people, the families, because you could go anywhere in Africville, anybody’s home, and just walk in. People just treated you like you were family.

Q: When you’re in Seaview Park today, or perhaps with your kids when they were younger, what goes through your mind?

A: Whenever I go out home, when I have a quiet moment, my memories go back to when I was living there. There are some landmarks that are still there that were there at the time. So based on those, you can place where everybody was in the community. So I just a lot of times go out there and meditate and just think back on the community itself.

Q: What do you say to those who’ve called Africville a slum in need of urban renewal?

A: I would say the same thing that I would say to the people who made the decision to destroy it — they didn’t go there, they didn’t know the people living there. You know, you can’t make a judgment on a community based on the physical attributes of a community. A community is so much more than that. That’s what I say to them.

Q: Is there much progress on the compensation issue and negotiations with Halifax city hall?

A: There’s been a lot of progress. We have a five-year business plan for an interpretive centre and to rebuild the (community’s former) church, which is being supported by all three levels of government at this point. Halifax Regional Municipality is ready to come on board with their support. The only thing that delayed it this time was that we had a provincial election (June 9), which put everything on hold until after the election. Now, we are gearing up to move this project forward. So, we’re very optimistic that we’re going to go ahead with the project.

Q: Why does the genealogy society feel that former Africville residents or their descendants should receive anything from the city in terms of redress?

A: It’s a historical injustice. When you look at the history of the community of Africville, an African-Nova Scotian community, you don’t just look at the destruction of the community. You have to go back in time, in history, and remember that all of the basic services were denied our community. And there were all of the unwanted services that were put into our community to make our lives very difficult. And the other thing that people need to come to grips with and recognize is the fact that back in those days, racism was a big part of society. I mean, we’re still deal­ing with the fallout from those racist decisions that were made throughout history. That’s the reason why compensation for the people of Africville needs to hap­pen — in recognition of the past.

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The Africville Genealogy Society gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage for this project.
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