Heritage status sought for original Africville home

A family that has owned an original Africville home for generations hopes to raise money to fix the aging structure's roof as part of a greater effort to preserve a piece of the former community's history.

'This house is a living record of Africville so it is crucial as a part of our national historic site'

The former Africville home now sits in Lower Sackville. (Robert Short/CBC)

A family that has owned an original Africville home for generations hopes to raise money to fix the structure's roof as part of a greater effort to preserve a piece of the former black community's history.

The home was moved some 20 kilometres to Lower Sackville, N.S., on a flatbed truck in the 1940s, long before the former City of Halifax demolished Africville in the 1960s and forced its residents out. 

Duke Ford's grandparents, Charlie and Lottie Johnson, gave the single-storey home to Ford's mother, Grace, as a wedding gift and moved it to family property on Settlers Lane, just off Cobequid Road.

Duke Ford wants to preserve his family's original Africville home that was moved to Lower Sackville in the 1940s. (Windy Ford/Facebook)

Decades later, the home, especially its roof, has begun to show its age.

"I got it all tarped now, but it's leaking," Ford, 66, said in an interview from his home in Vancouver.

"But I would like to do a fundraiser, at least get the roof done so I can get the grant to restore the inside."

Ford's older sister, Joan, still owns the home and lived in it until about 2016.

The simple, green house still has the same shingles and all its original cupboards. A piece was later added on to the back section of the house.

"All the Gyprock and stuff is all gone now, it all needs to be replaced," said Ford.

"But I have plans on living there for the rest of my life when I come home."

The roof on the home is in disrepair and needs to be replaced. (Robert Short/CBC)

The original coal furnace in the house was also replaced with an electric furnace and a bathroom was installed about 50 years ago.

"We were the first blacks on that Cobequid Road that had running water and a bathtub and shower," recalled Ford.

He is seeking in-kind help from local carpenters and donations of building materials to help him preserve the house, which is assessed at $107,700 according to Nova Scotia Property Online records.

Ford is also in discussions with the province to try to get the home designated as a provincial heritage property.

Lynette Macleod, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, said she could not comment on a specific application without permission from the applicant.

Duke Ford hopes to have the home designated a heritage property by the province. (Robert Short/CBC)

However, she said the process involves a site visit by staff with her department and a report once an application for a provincial heritage registration is accepted.

An advisory council on heritage property could take up to a year to make a recommendation to the government on whether to have the home registered under the Heritage Property Act.

It's not clear whether the Ford home is the last-standing Africville residence. 

Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Geneaology Society, said that depends on what was considered Africville's boundaries. Civic addresses were not used in the community, which was settled by former American slaves that came to Nova Scotia following the War of 1812. 

Archival photo of Africville in 1965, a few years before it was demolished by the City of Halifax. Many residents of Africville moved into the city's north end. (Nova Scotia Archives)

There are three homes still standing near the Fairview Cove Container Terminal that were occupied by Africville residents, Carvery noted.

"Those houses are still there, but the question gets to be, 'Was that considered to be a part of Africville?' They were all Africville people living in them. So we, like the community, just considered it to be a part of Africville."

Regardless, preserving the Ford home is very important, Carvery said, because it depicts the style of homes that were in Africville at the time.

"And I think that it would serve to dispel a lot of the myth around Africville being a place where, you know, it was just made up of shacks," he said.

The Africville Museum preserves the history of the former black settlement on the shore of the Bedford Basin. (Robert Short/CBC)

Beyond that, it's a tangible piece of Africville history. The former community was declared a national historic site in 2002. 

"Any time we can find an artifact of Africville, a real live building or another object, that had its origins in the community of Africville is very significant," he said.

"But this house is a living record of Africville so it is crucial as a part of our national historic site."

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca