Nova Scotia

How an infilled area of the Bedford Basin could advance 'the Africville story'

A large piece of land that juts into the Bedford Basin and curves around Africville Park could one day be a marina or outdoor community space after consultation with community members, says the head of the Africville Heritage Trust.

Africville Heritage Trust in talks to take ownership of land across from where the community once stood

The Halifax Port Authority has been infilling part of the Bedford Basin since 2012 but a proposed land swap could see it turned over to the Africville Heritage Trust. (Halifax Port Authority)

A large piece of land that juts into the Bedford Basin off the shores of Halifax and curves around Africville Park could one day be a marina or a community green space after consultation with community members, says the head of the Africville Heritage Trust.

The area is part of a proposed land swap announced earlier this month that would transfer ownership of the site to the heritage trust. The deal hasn't been finalized and a staff report is expected to be presented at Halifax regional council later this year, according to a news release.

The land sits right across from the Africville Museum, and was created by the Halifax Port Authority when it began infilling a part of the basin with pyritic slate from nearby construction sites.

"We did not have a choice about that so it's kind of like making lemonade out of lemons, right? It's there now and, you know, what can we do to use that in a way that advances the Africville story?" Juanita Peters, executive director of the Africville Heritage Trust, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

Africville was one of Canada's oldest Black urban communities when it was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the construction of the MacKay Bridge. The city had built a garbage dump next to the community, and it lacked water and sewage services.

More than a decade after Halifax issued a public apology to Africville families, council has agreed to begin a "visioning" process about its future

The land swap is just one of the many discussions happening right now around Africville, said Coun. Lindell Smith, who tabled the motion at a council meeting earlier this week. 

Two young women walk by a house in Africville, N.S., around 1965. (Bob Brooks/Nova Scotia Archives)

"We need to really be able to say, what do the descendants, what does the community want when it comes to Africville, not what are we going to impose on it?" he said.

Peters said she expects the consultation around what to do with the infilled land to take many years, and involve both Africville descendants and north-end residents. 

The dream of a marina

One possibility is to create a marina, something the Africville Heritage Trust has wanted to do for a long time, Peters said. 

"The water was a good source of their [Africville residents] income and livelihood and food, and a lot of former Africville residents and descendants still, you know, boat in these waters, so the idea of building a marina was always at the forefront," she said. "So in some ways, this cove actually helps the development of that."

The area could also become an extension of the Africville Museum experience or outdoor space for people to enjoy, Peters added.

"We've always talked about working with HRM and the North End and creating a better walking, biking experience from here all the way to Pier 21, and enhancing the experience here in Africville, so there's lots to talk about," Peters said.

If the land swap goes ahead, there would also likely be a discussion about what needs to be done to make the site more useable, she said.

Peters is the executive director of the Africville Heritage Trust. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

The infilling project, called the Fairview Cove Sequestration Facility, began in 2012.

When Peters took over as executive director of the heritage trust in 2018, she said there were concerns from many people about the impact it could have on Africville.

"People were very upset because nobody knew what was going on, and so they were saying ... 'Why are they dumping things in Africville again? Why here?'" she said.

The Halifax Port Authority, which operates the terminal and is responsible for the infilling project, receives tipping fees for accepting the material.

Spokesperson Lane Farguson wouldn't say how much the port authority receives or whether that money could be used to improve the site. 

He said the port has never had plans to use the land, "but just to find the best use of it and perhaps that best use is community space and just work with all the partners involved to get to that goal." 

"We hope that people understand what we're doing is working with the people here, with the Africville Heritage Trust especially over the years, to explain what's going on and why, and then find the best use for this land when everything is transferred over," he said.

Some tough discussions ahead

Halifax council's larger visioning process will also explore the idea of reparations for the descendants of Africville, and what kind of development could take place in other areas of the land.

Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society, has suggested building some kind of mixed-use housing development in the next 10 years.

"Or maybe it's not Africville descendants that are living in these homes, but maybe it's descendants who are running it, who are collecting the rent, who are owning that property and using it as economic drivers for many things," Smith said.

Smith tabled a motion at Tuesday's council meeting for a 'visioning' process that could include looking at reparations and future development possibilities for Africville. (Courtesy of Lindell Smith)

His motion also includes a request for proposals to bring in a third party to help guide the conversation going forward.

"Everyone's not going to agree and I'm not going to pretend that this is, you know, a unicorn on a rainbow," Smith said. "There's going to be lots of really tough discussions and a lot of really difficult issues to be brought forward, but this is something that we haven't really done." 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning