Shauntay Grant on upholding the Nova Scotian legacy of Africville in a children's book
Poet and author Shauntay Grant wanted to celebrate her Nova Scotia roots and history by depicting the underreported story of Africville, the vibrant black community in Halifax that thrived for more than 150 years before being demolished by the government in the 1960s.
Grant wanted to create a picture book that showcased the former community and collaborated with illustrator Eva Campbell. The end result is a beautifully told and illustrated book that was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award shortlist for young people's literature — illustrated books.
A part of Canadian history
"Africville was a black community in Halifax. It was settled largely by a group called the Black Refugees. There were three major migrations of black people to Nova Scotia in the late 1700s to early 1800: the Black Loyalists, followed by the Jamaican Maroons and then finally this group called the Black Refugees that arrived after the War of 1812. They settled in various parts of the province, including the shores of the Bedford Basin in Halifax.
"The Africville community grew out of this settlement of people. It was a thriving and self-sufficient black community for many years before all these things started happening to it. The city garbage dump ended up next to Africville. The school was closed and students had to go and do their schooling outside of the community. They had no access to running water or sewage and plumbing. Even though Africville residents paid municipal taxes, eventually city officials Halifax city officials decided to demolish the community and relocate its residents."
Telling a vivid story
"A big part of the process of this book was sitting down with former residents and people who live there. I showed them Campbell's rough illustrations and my words and asked them if it represented Africville as they remembered it. It was wonderful to get these affirming responses."
Always remember the past
"If you grew up in the black community in Nova Scotia, you know of Africville. The physical community was demolished in the 1960s, but I can't really say that Africville itself died. The people are so much a part of who the community is. They still gather every year — former residents, their children and their children's children — along with supporters of Africville.
"Growing up in Nova Scotia and going to the reunions during the summer was not uncommon. Visiting the site was something that I did within my creative practice but also as someone who is tied to the land and the stories of this place."
Shauntay Grant's comments have been edited for length and clarity.