Exhibitionists·Video

Take a tour of Africville with Amanda Parris and author Shauntay Grant

Home to Halifax's Black community for generations, Grant wants readers to feel her love for the place.

Home to Halifax's Black community for generations, Grant wants readers to feel her love for the place

Author Shauntay Grant talks with Amanda Parris in Halifax. (CBC Arts)

The destruction of Africville remains one of the most shameful chapters in Canadian history, but one that should always be remembered. Located on the shores of the Bedford Basin in Halifax, Africville was a historically Black community that existed for more than 150 years. For most of that time, the community was denied basic amenities by the city, including sewage, access to clean water and garbage disposal. To add insult to injury, Africville also became the go-to location for undesirable municipal developments such as an infectious disease hospital, a prison and a dump. And by the mid '60s — in a final act of undeniable state-sponsored racism — the city relocated residents and destroyed Africville in the name of industry and development. 

The tragedy of Africville's story often obscures a larger truth: this was an African-Canadian community where people lived for generations. And that community has transcended the destruction of its physical space, often reuniting on the site they once called home. These are the stories that inspired Shauntay Grant to write her award-winning children's book Africville.

Grant is a celebrated poet, storyteller and author who is the descendant of Black Loyalists, Jamaican Maroons and Black refugees. Her work is often inspired by the history and folk culture of Nova Scotia's historic Black communities.

Flipping through the pages of Shauntay Grant's Africville. The illustrations are by Eva Campbell. (CBC Arts)

Earlier this year, we met for the first time in Halifax, and Grant gave me a tour of the area that once was Africville. There's a park there now, as well as a church and commemorative sundial. As you'll see in the video from our time together, Grant is well-versed in the tragic history of Africville's demise — but she's also determined to celebrate the strength and beauty of the community. In Africville, Grant's visually poetic descriptions are paired with vibrant colourful illustrations by Eva Campbell. The story dives into the imagination of a young girl who is attempting to recall the place that had once been a home for her family.

In 2010, the mayor of Halifax publicly apologized for the razing of Africville and announced a $5 million settlement for the community's descendants. Some of those funds were used to rebuild the Seaview United Baptist Church, which was established in 1849. The building is now home to the Africville Museum.

When I asked Grant why it has been important for her to write children's books about the experiences of Black folks on the east coast, she answered with tears in her eyes: "Because it's my home, it's my family, it's my history. The stories I want to tell are here."

Watch the video:

Amanda Parris visits Africville for the first time with author Shauntay Grant 4:30

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. (midnight NT) and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (4 NT).

About the Author

Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays, watches too many movies and defends Beyonce against all haters. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.