The Society

Urban renewal was progressive way to

do things, in 1960s thinking

Chronicle Herald - JOHN McPHEE Staff Reporter
Feb 26, 2010

Progressive isn’t a word that’s usually associated with the destruction of Africville.

But some of the people who advocated its destruction had the best of intentions, according to sociologist Donald Clairmont.

"In North America, the major trend (in the 1960s) throughout the whole society was this urban renewal thing," said Clairmont, a Dalhousie University professor who has written reports and books on the black community that existed for more than 100 years on Bedford Basin’s shores.

Native people in the North were being moved into places like Iqaluit, Nunavut, and Newfoundlanders were relocated from the outports.

In Halifax, the removal of what was considered urban "blight" was also well underway in the ’60s, Clairmont said in an interview Thursday.

When it came to Africville, "the major players . . . were all into progressive causes."

Those players included local politicians, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, he said.

The rationale was that the residents would be better off in better housing with sewer and water services.

"Unfortunately, people who had those positions, even if they were well-intentioned, they were unduly optimistic what the renewal would be," Clairmont said in an interview Thursday.

Some residents were moved into substandard housing or into residences they couldn’t afford.

Support programs that were promised didn’t materialize either, Clairmont said.

According to former Africville resident Geraldine Parker, "they were taken out of their homes and moved into places that weren’t near as good as the homes that they came out of."

Parker grew up in Africville and had moved away by the time it was bulldozed in 1969. She recalled a safe community where children played away from the city streets.

"These kids were used to getting up, (running) in the field, and (staying) down there all day swimming," she said in an interview Thursday.

"They picked blueberries, played baseball . . . . They had all these things to do."

Many people were eventually relocated to the then-new development Uniacke Square.

"They moved them to the concrete jungle," she said. "They were free, and then they were confined."

The city took advantage of many older residents by not paying them market value for their houses, Parker said.

A particularly bitter memory is the fact the city moved people’s belongings in dump trucks.

"Some people had lovely homes and beautiful furniture," she said. "These were people who owned property and paid taxes, (but) we were second-class people. It was like we had no feelings."

The city apologized this week for the razing of Africville and offered $3 million to help build and run a church, museum and interpretive centre at the former Africville site in Seaview Memorial Park.

The apology was "a long time coming," said Parker, who would have preferred compensation for individual former residents and their families.

Some former residents vow to fight for better compensation, but for Parker, it’s time to move on.

"To keep this animosity, this hate within you, it’s hurting me more than it would help me. We forgive, but we don’t forget."

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