The Current

'Call it what it is — white ignorance': Gentrification frays the social fabric in Halifax's North End

Halifax’s North End has been transformed in recent years, but as house prices creep up and gentrification creeps in, what’s left for the families and community that have lived there for generations?
A sign on the side of a building promotes a new development on Gottingen Street in downtown Halifax. (CBC)

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In 2011, a stranger knocked on Melinda Daye's door and asked, out of the blue, to buy her house.

Surprised, she explained it wasn't for sale, but the stranger made her an offer anyway.

A few decades earlier, that knock at the door would have been unimaginable.

Melinda Daye is a former chair of the Halifax Regional School Board. (Robert Short/CBC)

Daye, a former chair of the Halifax Regional School Board, has lived her whole life on Creighton St., a neighbourhood in the city's North End that didn't always have a reputation as desirable real estate.

"The way they sometimes wanted to paint our community," she said, "was that there was drugs, and there was violence, and nobody wanted to come to Creighton St."

Rodney Small talks representation in Halifax

6 years ago
Duration 1:24
Rodney Small speaks about creating businesses that better reflect the population they serve as part of the Facing Race Town Hall in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

That's not the life she knew, painting her own picture of a vibrant community where everyone looked out for one another.

"There was that sense that I wasn't any worse off than the next one," she said — even though some lived in poverty.

This has changed in recent years, as real estate prices have crept up and gentrification has crept in.

"Now, you see this shift... 'I want to live on Creighton St., I want to live on Maynard St,'" she said.

"'I want to live there so much so, that I may have to move you out.'"

Former chair of Halifax school board addresses racism in predominantly black communities

6 years ago
Duration 1:33
Melinda Daye speaks to Anna Maria Tremonti about race and education as part of the Facing Race Town Hall in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

She described the feeling of being pushed out of her own home and community.

"Homes that have been boarded up for years have now been renovated and remodeled — but not for you to live in," she said.

'White ignorance'

Housing is not the only thing that's changed. Businesses in the community has been transformed as well.

Rodney Small grew up in the North End and has seen shops and services transform from those who primarily serve the local community, to places where residents don't feel welcome.

Rodney Small grew up in the North End and he is now a business development manager at Common Good Solutions. (Robert Short/CBC)

Small is now a business development manager at Common Good Solutions. He believes businesses have a social responsibility to the communities they live alongside.

"I don't frequent those businesses because I don't feel welcome," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, at a town hall event in Halifax.

"I don't spend my money where I don't feel welcome — I understand my buying power."

From L to R: Melinda Daye, Irvine Carvery and Rodney Small. (Robert Short/CBC)

Small is unequivocal about new businesses that he believes are holding little regard for their neighbours.

"Call it what it is: white ignorance," he said.

"When you have people that actually are willing to come in a community with such a strong history and not willing to indulge in that history and learn about that community, it is what it is: ignorant, plain and simple."

Hiring locally

One businesswoman who has paid attention to these concerns is Ditta Kasdan, who runs DeeDee's Ice Cream Parlour on Cornwallis St.

Kasdan had been living in the North End for a couple of years when she opened her store in 2010. She was looking to start a business, but didn't have a large amount of capital.

Nor was she fully aware of community tensions.

After attending community meetings, she decided to make an effort to hire young people from the area. Last summer, she had a staff of six local young people.

"Some of those youths, I've been working with for probably three years now," she said.

"So you begin to know them, you begin to know their families. You get to know their aspirations, what they wish for in their lives — not necessarily just working for me for the rest of their lives.

"So very much I feel more a part of the community."

Black ownership

There are a number of initiatives trying to tackle youth unemployment, but Small said that it's not just about jobs.

"We have to be able to change the narrative from not only employment, but black ownership," he said.

When businesses in the community engage with young people, there's an opportunity for mentorships "that can encourage and empower them to want to own someday."

Irvine Carvery, the president of the Africville Genealogy Society, agreed.

"We need to own our own business. We need to hire our own people," he said.

"Until we have economic independence, as blacks living in Canada for 400 years, we are always going to be challenged by what the larger society feels that we are deserving of."

The existing community has been historically marginalized, Carvery said, which has excluded them from the growth and transformation happening around them.

"The marginalization of the black population in Nova Scotia and Halifax did not adequately prepare us to take advantage of the economic opportunities, the home-ownership opportunities that became available."

A community of closed doors

Carvery remembers when the area was considered "the ghetto."

Nowadays, as more people have recognized its close proximity to schools, hospitals, entertainment and other amenities, the area has become desirable, driving gentrification.

These changing demographics have frayed the fabric of community.

"When the community was predominately all-black ... people sat on their stoops, people congregated on their porches, they communicated with their neighbours — it was a community," said Carvery.

"But what I find, strikingly, surprisingly, is that the new folks coming in, they come home from work, they put their car there, they go in their door, that's it."

A condo development in Halifax's North End; some people are working to try and stop gentrification in their neighbourhood. (Molly Segal/CBC)

Condo dwellers, he said, have their own underground parking, so are only visible when their cars are clogging up the traffic.

It's not the first time that new groups have moved to the area, he said.

There are Lebanese families in the area that are in their third generation, and he has seen an influx from the gay community over the years as well.

But gentrification adds nothing of value to the community, he said.

In the face of it, Carvery believes his community will stand strong.

"We will sit out on our stoops, and we will continue to gather, and express our culture the way we always have."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

The Halifax town hall event on race relations in Canada was produced by The Current's Yamri Taddese, Pacinthe Mattar and Ruby Buiza.