There are entire blocks of Gottingen Street, the commercial artery that runs along one of Halifax’s oldest public housing projects, that were once considered by some too dangerous to walk down at night.
Today, they’re the trendy addresses for new, pricey condominiums, pet groomers, a vegan butcher and gourmet doughnut shops. But as the North End has evolved into one of the city’s most sought-after areas, it’s also becoming increasingly unrecognizable and unaffordable for many African Nova Scotians who have roots here.
“It’s just gone crazy,” said Irvine Carvery, who bought a house in the neighbourhood 45 years ago, and says he’s the last Black homeowner left on his street. “We’ve taken an area that was the historic home for many African Nova Scotian families, who struggled just to survive, and now that’s all gone. It’s right there in our face, and it bothers me.”
After four years of record population increases, Halifax is under increasing pressure to address the downside of its growth, and the people most negatively affected. Nowhere is that conflict more front and centre than in the North End, where the changing urban landscape and the city’s troubled history with its Black population are colliding on a daily basis.
Many African Nova Scotian families moved here after the demolition of Africville, a Black community on the shores of Bedford Basin that was dismantled by the City of Halifax in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal, an effort now widely acknowledged as based in racism. Some received little or no compensation for their demolished homes, and were placed in public housing.
Today, two generations later, many African Nova Scotians are stuck – unable to afford to move out of public housing and living in an increasingly pricey North End that no longer services their community, Mr. Carvery said. The predominantly Black neighbourhood that he grew up in, where kids played in the street and parents watched from the stoop, is disappearing quickly.
He said he thinks the solution is to rewrite the city’s history, by building affordable housing units in Africville. If approved, the plan would mark a symbolic return for African Nova Scotians to a community that had been the seaside home to hundreds of Black families since the early 1800s.
“It’s the next step,” said Mr. Carvery, who also is president of the Africville Genealogy Society. “This would go a long way to undoing a lot of the wrong that was done to the people of Africville.”
The proposal has support inside city hall, where in 2010, then-mayor Peter Kelly apologized for the demolition of Africville, and gave its descendants $3-million, a hectare of land and a replica church that is now a National Historic Site. The city still owns much of the land here, which has been reshaped by the ramp for the MacKay Bridge, the Fairview Cove Container Terminal and a dog park.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage also likes the idea of developing land at Africville in a way that benefits the city’s African Nova Scotian community, including potentially for housing. “I’m supportive of doing more economically and socially with the Africville lands. I’d support an initiative that turns Africville from being a negative part of our history to a very positive part of our future,” Mr. Savage said. “It’s fine to commemorate areas and acknowledge mistakes, but how do we make sure those communities that have been wronged can benefit going forward?”
Rodney Small, 42, says the city bears a lot of responsibility for Black displacement in the North End, because its master plan for growth has concentrated so much development in the community, and not provided enough housing options for mixed income levels.
“The sad reality is that in a very silent way, and not as abruptly as Africville, way more of our families have been displaced in the North End,” Mr. Small said.
“Gentrification has pushed me outside. I had to move outside the community that raised me in order to build equity. I couldn’t afford to live here.”
Mr. Small’s grandmother was among those displaced by the demolition of Africville.
When she was relocated, there was no compensation because she didn’t have legal title to the land her family had lived on for generations, he said.
“They sold her the façade. They sold lots of people the façade.”
As the North End has changed, Black businesses have disappeared and social services have been moved farther away. Mr. Small’s organization, One North End, is trying to change that by offering micro-loans to Black entrepreneurs to help re-establish a business class that serves the community, and closing the employment gap for Black youth.
He sees some reasons for optimism. The Black Lives Matter movement has energized reparations calls for the destruction of Africville, and some developers are beginning to involve the Black community in their plans for the North End. Mr. Small points to a major condo development planned for the former St. Patrick’s-Alexandra School site, which includes a proposal for a Black-run business incubator space and an arts centre.
For some, justice for Black Nova Scotians won’t be served until the story of Africville is rewritten.
The 2010 apology from the city for the demolition of the community was never enough for Eddie Carvery. Since 1970, he’s staged a stubborn protest, refusing to leave his birthplace. Living in a trailer by the water and approaching his mid-70s, he’s the lone resident of Africville.
He says he’s not leaving until his community can one day return.
“This protest isn’t about me. It’s about the injustice that happened to my community 50 years ago,” he said. “I’ve been at this a long time. And I’m not going away.”
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