AFRICVILLE: A Canadian Station for the Underground Railroad

Africville was an African-Canadian village located just north of Halifax and founded in the mid-18th century. The City of Halifax demolished the once-prosperous seaside community in the 1960s in what many said was an act of racism. The mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality apologized for the action in 2010. For many people, Africville represents the oppression faced by Black Canadians, and the efforts to right historic wrongs.

Halifax was founded in 1749, when African people held as slaves dug out roads and built much of the city. Some evidence indicates that this early Black community lived a few miles north of the city on the southern shore of the Bedford Basin—an area that became Africville. Other evidence suggests that some of the Maroons of Jamaica (Africans who escaped enslavement), resettled to Nova Scotia by the British government, moved to the basin in 1796.

The first official record of Africville is from 1761, when the land was granted to several white families, including the families of men who imported and sold enslaved African men and women.

In 1848, William Arnold and William Brown, both Black settlers, bought land in Africville. Other families followed and in 1849 Seaview African United Baptist Church was opened to serve the village’s 80 residents. After much petitioning by Africvillians, a school opened in 1883. A local resident had taught many of the children in Africville before the City school opened.

Africville residents ran fishing businesses from the Bedford Basin, selling their catch locally and in Halifax. Other residents ran farms, and several opened small stores toward the end of the 19th century. It was a haven from the anti-Black racism they faced in Halifax.

The City of Halifax collected taxes in Africville, but did not provide services such as paved roads, running water or sewers.

The City of Halifax continued to place undesirable services in Africville in the second half of the 19th century, including: a fertilizer plant, slaughterhouses, Rockhead Prison (1854), the “night-soil disposal pits” (human waste) and the Infectious Diseases Hospital (1870s). In 1915, Halifax City Council declared that Africville “will always be an industrial district.” Many Africville residents believed anti-Black racism was behind these decisions.

Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame to Tour Africville’s Black Loyalist Museum

Before the end of slavery in the United States, some freed and escaped slaves headed north to Canada’s Africville. In continuance of tradition, each July hundreds of former residents and their children head to the Africville Reunion on the former site—located on Bedford Basin’s shore on the northwestern end of Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia—to reminisce, to re-acquaint, and re-establish themselves as a community.

While Africville as a town no longer exists, its spirit continues in the unity of its people.

The Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame (MESHOF) and its Nova Scotia partners have collaborated to tour the Black Loyalist Museum, July5 – 28, 2019. The museum was featured in the film Book of Negroes.

Arif Khatib, MESHOF founder, said the complete travel package includes a tour of several Black cities including the Black Loyalist Museum.

“Nova Scotia is considered the birthplace of modern ice hockey,” said Khatib, “Through the years MESHOF has presented educational sessions about the establishment of Colored Hockey, its upstanding role models, and an organizational talent never seen in Black sport.”


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