Nova Scotia

Museum fixes wrong Africville information in Halifax Explosion exhibit

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax has corrected erroneous information about damage done to Africville in the Halifax Explosion.

'We felt it was incumbent upon us to replace it,' says curator

Roger Marsters, curator of marine history for the Nova Scotia Museum, says it's important that public institutions are more inclusive of racialized and marginalized communities. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has fixed a Halifax Explosion exhibit that contained inaccurate information about Africville.

Last week, Troy Adams, an African-Nova Scotian actor who was performing a play about the Halifax Explosion at the museum, publicly complained about the error.

The day CBC News published the story, the museum's curator, Roger Marsters, apologized to Adams and took immediate steps to correct the information to better reflect the African-Nova Scotian experience of the explosion.

"They thanked me for going forward with the story because this is a situation that they're trying to rectify and they want to include all facets of Halifax and the community and the racism — make sure that they're representing properly," Adams said in an interview.

Two thousand people died and 9,000 were injured on Dec. 6, 1917, when a munitions ship caught fire, causing a massive explosion in Halifax Harbour.

Erroneous panel replaced

The original panel said that Africville, which was located on the shore of Bedford Basin before the community was razed in the 1960s, was "largely sheltered by high ground" during the explosion and that only one person died.

The panel has since been replaced with a new one containing information about Africville's first black settlers and saying that the explosion "sent a storm of wreckage" through Africville.

This new panel in a Halifax Explosion exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic replaced a previous one that incorrectly said that Africville was largely sheltered from the disaster. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"Seaview Baptist Church, at the community's centre, was heavily damaged," the new panel reads. "No fewer than eight African-Nova Scotians were killed in the explosion; at least four were from Africville."

Marsters said the original panel was installed in 1994 when the museum first developed its permanent Halifax Explosion exhibit, Halifax Wrecked.

"It reflected the knowledge of those who were preparing the panel at the time," Marsters said Tuesday. "Subsequent research has shown that information to be inadequate and inaccurate. And so we felt it was incumbent upon us to replace it."

Striving to be more inclusive

When Adams spoke to reporters last week, he was not aware that another temporary exhibit at the museum, Collision of the Narrows, and an interpretive banner at the museum's entrance contained more accurate information that Africville was heavily damaged.

Most recently, the museum worked with Parks Canada to develop interpretive signage on the Halifax waterfront and made sure that one of those panels reflected the experience of Africville and the explosion.

African-Nova Scotian actor Troy Adams reads a Halifax Explosion exhibit panel at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which states that Africville was largely sheltered from the blast and only one resident of that community died. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The museum, Marsters said, is committed to ensuring that its public institutions are more inclusive, particularly of the experiences of historically racialized and marginalized communities.

Adams said he's satisfied with the museum's response to his concerns.

"Where their apology was coming from was an honest place."

This panel in a temporary Halifax Explosion exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax speaks about the heavy damage done to Africville. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

And Adams has no regrets about pointing out the errors.

"Black Nova Scotian history has been erased for as long as I can remember," he said. "There's many lessons with this. But first and foremost is, at least for me, what I realize is that no voice is too small."

About the Author

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