Nova Scotia

Africville signposts mark former businesses and homes

New signposts at the Africville National Historic Site of Canada show visitors where businesses and homes used to be in the community.

'People don't understand that this land is important,' says Africville Heritage Trust director

Summer students put up signs marking former Africville businesses and houses. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

New signposts at the Africville National Historic Site in Halifax show visitors where businesses and homes used to be. 

The signs are meant to remind people how large the community once was, and of its importance, Africville Heritage Trust executive director Sunday Miller said.

"It's just not a big wide open green space," Miller told CBC's Information Morning during a visit to the historic site. "I mean it is now, but it wasn't then. It was a community."

The replica of Nova Scotia's historic Africville church has been built. (CBC)

'This land is important'

But not everyone sees it the same way.

At one point, Miller spotted a young man walking his dog off leash, even though the site ceased to be an off-leash dog park in 2014. She confronted him, but he responded that she was being unreasonable.

"People don't understand that this land is important," Miller said.

Two boys lifting the cover of a well in Africville, with nearby sign reading 'Please boil this water before drinking and cooking.' (Nova Scotia Archives/Bob Brooks)

'No support, no services'

Many early residents had been slaves in the United States, but risked their lives to start again in Nova Scotia. They knew that coming here and owning land would help them reach their potential, Miller said.

"They did whatever they could to hold onto [the land], even though they were given no support, no services even though they paid their taxes."

But the former city of Halifax didn't invest in Africville. In the 1960s the city condemned the area, razed the community and relocated residents

Sunday Miller wants to develop walking trails in Africville Park. (CBC)

'We need to reclaim it'

"There's such a huge component historically, and morally, that this is not a place for dogs," Miller said. "We need to reclaim it."

Twenty of the signs that went up this summer were torn up. Miller doesn't know what happened to them or why. One of the summer students who helped put them out saw three of the signs in a bush.

Brenda Steed-Ross, a former resident of Africville, said the signpost where the post office used to be reminded her of going there as a kid. She says that's just one of her many fond memories.

"You get a lump in your throat when you think about it," Steed-Ross said.

'Something amazing'

Steed-Ross said she understands the importance of this project, especially for descendents of Africville residents.

"There's a lot of them that were little tiny things leaving Africville, which you wouldn't have all that memory, right?"

Miller said it would be great if they could also create walking trails and tours.

"I think we can do something amazing here in Africville."

About the Author

Natalie Dobbin

Associate Producer

With files from CBC's Information Morning