The Society

Community gathers to remember Africville's story

Kristen Lipsombe
Metro Halifax
August 04, 2009

For Wanda Arab’s family, the annual Africville Reunion is a bittersweet occasion.

Not only is it a time to make new memories with family and friends in Seaview Memorial Park, but it’s also a time to remember hardships faced by former Africville residents – including Arab’s late mother Betty Byers - and obstacles that still stand in the way.

Children doing crafts at the reunion.“It’s important to come down here because it keeps all the families of African descent together,” Arab said yesterday as she watched her three children create colourful tie-dye T-shirts, one of many activities that brought people together for this year’s five-day festival.

“It’s keeping the love and closeness so that we won’t forget what Africville is all about,” the Rockingham resident said.

Despite 26 years worth of Africville Reunions, Arab said residents and their descendants are still “fighting for either compensation or an apology” from the city Halifax for forcing them off their land in the 1960s.

But at least she and her children get to experience Africville once a year, Arab said.

“It was like one big family from what I heard, and that’s what it’s like this weekend.”

Daughter Melanie Arab, 18, helped younger siblings Aaliyah Arab, 7, and Paul Arab, 5, splash colour on their white T-shirts. She said it’s important for Africville families to show their support for one another. “It’s good for us all to get together.”

If those that came together from last Thursday through yesterday are like a family, then Bernice Arsenault was like a mother hen. The former Africville resident and reunion organizer rounded up children yesterday to teach them how to tie-dye – and teach them “a sense of community.”

“We’re trying to educate the younger children so that they can carry on our legacy,” she said. “Once we’re gone, somebody has to carry it on.”

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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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