Nova Scotia

Africville replica church celebrated

The replica of Halifax's Africville church was unveiled Sunday, but the church wasn't quite ready for visitors.

Church construction not quite complete

The replica of Nova Scotia's historic Africville church was unveiled Sunday, but the church wasn't quite ready for visitors.

Africville, the former black settlement in north-end Halifax, was settled in the 1830s when former American slaves and other black people moved to the area. But it was neglected by the former City of Halifax and became run-down over the years.

In 1917, elevated land to the south of the community protected Africville from the direct blast and destruction of the Halifax Explosion, which levelled Richmond, the community next to Africville.

Four Africville residents and one Mi'kmaq woman visiting from Queens County were killed in the community, which received considerable damage.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Africville received a small amount of relief assistance but was not reconstructed or modernized as other parts of the city were.

In the 1960s, the city evicted the more than 70 families living there and bulldozed their homes so part of the land could be used to build approaches to the A. Murray MacKay Bridge.

In 2002, the area became a national historic site and the United Nations urged the Canadian government to pay reparations to the community in 2004.

Back to Africville

The park was renamed Seaview Park until July, when the former residents of Africville received an apology from Mayor Peter Kelly and the name was officially changed back to Africville.

Halifax Regional Municipality is paying $3 million to construct the church, which includes a museum.

Daurene Lewis, chair of the Africville Heritage Trust, said there have been construction delays.

"The exterior is just about all finished. We still can't get inside but they are trying desperately to have things so that people can at least look in and get a sense of what it's going to look like."

Her group considered postponing Sunday's event for another three weeks when the church will actually be finished. But this is an important weekend for black Nova Scotians, as Halifax is hosting the African Diaspora Heritage Trail conference — an international summit that honours African culture around the world.

There's also a delegation from the Smithsonian Institution in the United States eager to see Africville.

Regardless of the hasty opening, Lewis said, it is an important milestone for the descendants of Africville: "It's hard for them to believe that after all these years of work it's happening. It's there."

'Beginning of recovery'

George Elliott Clarke agreed with Lewis that the reconstruction of the Seaview African United Baptist Church was long overdue.

"Well this is the beginning of a recovery of culture and history that had been neglected, which some thought that they could basically bulldoze away," the Nova Scotia author told CBC News Sunday.

"I think it's a lesson to everyone that if you do not try to maintain your culture — if it's important — then it's very likely that you may lose it or others will try to take it away from you.

"That may be an unfortunate lesson to have to reinforce here in front of this beautiful church, but our forebearers did not appreciate that lesson enough, so the original church ended up being bulldozed and the whole Africville community dispersed."

Eddie Carvery, who has been protesting his community's destruction since 1970, said while he welcomes the church it doesn't correct the injustice.

"When they look at what they've done to us as a society, and when we get a public inquiry; when we're compensated for what they took from us; when our land reverts back to us, that's when I'll be able to go back home," said Carvery, who lives in a camping trailer in the former village.

It's been a busy week for the Africville Heritage Trust. The group fired its executive director Wednesday. Regardless, Sunday's opening went ahead and there will be another ceremony when the church is actually finished.