Nova Scotia

New panels in Africville Park tell story of life in historic Black community

Visitors to Africville Park in Halifax will now have more of a sense of what life was like for residents of the Black community that once occupied the site. Five new information panels were installed in late May. 

'When they took this away, they took part of our life away,' says former resident

Bernice Byers-Arsenault and Lyle Grant admire one of the five panels installed at Africville Park. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Visitors to Africville Park in Halifax will now have more of a sense of what life was like for residents of the Black community that once occupied the site.

Five new information panels were installed in late May. 

The steel panels are the result of a collaboration among the Africville Genealogy Society, Africville Heritage Trust and the city. 

The panels explore different aspects of the community that stood along Bedford Basin.

The community had stores, a post office and a beloved church, but Africville did not receive municipal services such as running water, sewers or paved roads. It was considered a slum by some Halifax residents.

In 1964, the city of Halifax voted to remove the residents of Africville to make way for industrial development. 

Residents with deeds to their property were provided compensation equal to the value of their home, but residents without deeds — many of whom had lived in Africville for generations — were offered $500.

One of the panels explains home ownership in Africville. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Bernice Byers-Arsenault, a former resident of Africville, said she hopes the information on the plaques helps open up the history of the community to members of the public. 

"They're beautiful and I encourage people to come down and have a look at them," she said. "It just keeps our spirit alive."

Byers-Arsenault said she was young when the community was destroyed and she recognizes the need to move forward while keeping the spirit of Africville alive. 

She said Africville was "one big happy family" engaged in the same activities as other communities before the city took it all away. 

"When they took this away, they took part of our life away," she said.

The new panels are designed to give some insight into the history of Africville and the people who once lived there. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Lyle Grant, a former resident of Africville and president of the Africville Heritage Trust, said the panels mark three years of collaborative work. They were delayed by the pandemic but the message they deliver is "loud and clear."

More changes to come

The panels, he said, were designed to show how people lived in Africville and the type of people who lived there.

"It also lets people know that there's more down here than just a park," he said. 

According to Grant, there will be more changes coming to Africville Park. There are plans for a marina within two years. 

He hopes more people will explore Africville Park and some of its lesser-known features like the lookoff at the end of Novalea Drive, which gives commanding views of the harbour and park. 

"It's going to be beautiful down here — it already is — but we're just going to add to it," Grant said.

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.

 

With files from Paul Palmeter

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