PEI

The 'hidden' history of The Bog — Charlottetown's forgotten Black neighbourhood

After thousands of people marched through the streets of Charlottetown a few weeks ago, taking part in a Black Lives Matter demonstration demanding justice following the death of George Floyd, participants gathered at Rochford Square, looking directly onto a piece of the city's forgotten past: a place once known as The Bog.

'We have lived here and we've survived here a long time'

A house on Kent Street, next door to The Bog School, which was located on the corner of Rochford and Kent Streets in Charlottetown, with residents of The Bog posing out front. (Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island)

After thousands of people marched through the streets of Charlottetown a few weeks ago, taking part in a Black Lives Matter demonstration demanding justice following the death of George Floyd, participants gathered at Rochford Square, looking directly onto a piece of the city's forgotten past: a place once known as The Bog.

"It was a neighbourhood," says historian Jim Hornby.

"It was a community, a lot of intermarriages, people were poor, they were in the underclass but there was a lot of mutual support and real community." 

At its peak, The Bog was home to as many as 200 members of the Island's Black community in Charlottetown's west end. Today, there remains no trace of the neighbourhood and the community where it once stood.

Hornby said residents of The Bog worked in labour-intensive jobs like building streets in the city, sweeping chimneys and loading and unloading vessels at the city's waterfront.

'It's all along Rochford [Street]. It's pretty much from Euston to Kent [Streets]. On the west side of Rochford Street, that would be the main concentration,' Hornby says. (Meacham's Atlas (1880)/Island Imagined archives)

"And there were even some dirtier jobs but you'll have to read my book for that," he said. 

"They were a big part of Charlottetown in the 19th century from 1810 to a little after 1900 and they have pretty much been forgotten. But I'm hoping we'll eventually be doing something about that," Hornby said. 

There was never any mention that they had come here as slaves.— Jim Hornby, author of  Black Islanders

In 1991, Hornby's book Black Islanders was published, which catalogued the lives and origins of Prince Edward Island's Black community. While the book has since gone out of print, he said he's working on a revised second edition. 

"If you start trying to trace back to how people in society feel ... in Prince Edward Island, you know, in the 20th century it was not even acknowledged that we had a local Black population, much less, that it had come originally by people importing slaves," Hornby said.

"There was never any mention that they had come here as slaves."

'Like slavery itself, The Bog and in fact Government Pond which was a large physical feature of it had been covered up and forgotten,' Hornby says. Today, parking lot and government administrative buildings sit where the pond used to be. (Submitted by Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island)

Like slavery itself, Hornby said, The Bog and Government Pond, which served as a large defining feature of the neighbourhood has been "covered up and forgotten." 

"The government administrative buildings and their parking lots are sitting on a large part of it now," Hornby said.  

"It's all along Rochford. It's pretty much from Euston to Kent. On the west side of Rochford Street, that would be the main concentration." 

The Bog is just proof — as hidden as the story is — that Black people have existed here much longer than people think.— Tamara Steele, president of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I.

Despite hardship and anti-Black racism, some residents of The Bog achieved great success, including George Godfrey, a heavyweight champion boxer, and the West End Rangers, a Black hockey team, which was quite popular from 1900 to 1904 and was led by four of the Mills Brothers. The West End Rangers were a part of the Maritime Coloured Hockey League.

For Tamara Steele, president of the Black Cultural Society of Prince Edward Island, The Bog's legacy lives on.

"The Bog is just proof — as hidden as the story is — that Black people have existed here much longer than people think," Steele said.

"That we're not just the newcomers to the Island, we're not just international students. We're not just coming from other places, we have lived here and we've survived here a long time," she said. 

The West End Rangers, a Black hockey team from Charlottetown, was quite popular from 1900 to 1904 and was led by four of the Mills Brothers who lived in The Bog, says Hornby. (Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island)

Steele said the history of The Bog and the people, who worked, struggled and lived out their lives in the neighbourhood need to be remembered. 

"It is a history that exists that's not being told and it's not being told because it's about Black people.That's the bottom line," Steele said.  

"We need to stop erasing those histories and make them well-known so that we have a place as Black people in Canada's history books."  

We should be proud of our heritage and Black Islanders are part of our heritage.— Lori Cheverie, Manager of Bookmark

Lori Cheverie, who manages the independent book store Bookmark in Charlottetown, says while Black Islanders is out of print, the shop still receives regular requests for the book. 

Cheverie said Black Islanders is one of the top three books that are requested by her customers, every year.

"Every six months to a year, I'm asking him how he's making out on that second edition because we're constantly asked." 

Some residents of The Bog went on to achieve great success, including George Godfrey, a heavy weight champion boxer. (Submitted by the Nova Scotia Archives)

"I think it's important for every person to understand their history. We should be proud of our heritage and Black Islanders are part of our heritage so we should be aware of it." 

While there had been discussions, for some time, about reprinting the book, Hornby said he wanted to expand it rather than just simply reprint it.

He is currently working on the revised edition and is hoping to have it finished soon.

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