Nova Scotia

Africville church bell returning after 53 years

For the families of Africville, the church bell represented its heartbeat. The community that once lined the Halifax waterfront depended on its chime to let them know what was happening.

Bell has been at Beechville Baptist Church since 1967

A coming soon sign is now in place to show people where the bell will be installed outside the Africville Museum. The bell will be kept outside the replica church in its own structure. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

For the families of Africville, the church bell represented its heartbeat.

The community that once lined the Halifax waterfront depended on its chime to let them know what was happening.

"The bell has a sound, depending on why it's being rung," remembered Irvine Carvery, who lived in Africville. "To a funeral, it's a toll, but when you're being called to service, it's uplifting."

On Monday, as families gathered to honour Africville as part of Heritage Day celebrations, they were thrilled to learn the bell was returning.

It will find a new home outside the replica of the community's church, which houses the Africville Museum.

"When we dedicated this building, we dedicated it to the spirit of our elders who have gone on," said Carvery.

"That place houses the souls and spirit of our ancestors. That was their bell. So now, it's a connecting of all these wonderful things together in this place."

Irvine Carvery and Linda Mantley say the church bell was the defining sound of their childhood in Africville. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

In the 1960s, Halifax expropriated the land and tore down the African Nova Scotian community, saying it was a slum.

The church was demolished in 1967 in the middle of the night. But the bell was saved, and for 53 years it has been housed at Beechville Baptist Church.

Linda Mantley became emotional when she learned it was coming home.

"I thought about all the elders that's gone, and we only have nine families left of the original people," she said tearfully. "I'm pleased that the bell is going to be returned."

As part of the announcement, organizers rang the current bell in the replica church for the last time. It will now be moved to the Beechville Baptist Church as a trade.

Juanita Peters, executive director of the Africville Museum, said it's essential that the piece of history is returned.

Families want to move back to Africville

"I'm emotional just thinking about it. I've never seen the bell before in my life, but just what it signifies," she said.

"No matter what was intended for this community, some how the good things keep coming back."

Carvery also renewed calls Monday for families to be allowed to move back to the land.

"The thing about it, is we, the people of Africville, have been going through these mixed emotions ever since the destruction of our community," said Carvery.

"In these days of reconciliation, what better sign of reconciliation would there be than to give people back their land and allow them the economic opportunity for development of their land?"

The bell will be returned in the coming months. A ceremony will be held to celebrate its arrival.

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