Seaview Park church replica will honor memory of Africville

This Halifax Daily News column originally appeared on December 18, 1991. It is worth noting that by June 2006, the church had still not been built.

Seaview Park church replica will honor memory of Africville

MONDAY’S announcement by Deputy Premier Tom McInnis that the province has not only agreed to reroute a truck access road to avoid interfering with Seaview Park, but has also decided to build a replica of the Seaview Baptist Church there, both represent significant symbolic victories for the former residents of Africville.

Seaview Park, of course, is located on the site of Africville, the Halifax black community that was bulldozed out of existence in the ’60s in the name of integration and urban renewal. At the time, most people in Halifax’s white community undoubtedly expected Africville’s residents — like the community itself — would disappear with the moving vans.

Few in the city’s white — or black — communities could have guessed then that the issue of the relocation would still be a matter of emotional debate today.

But then again, few people reckoned on the tenacity of the children of Africville, people such as Irvine Carvery, the current president of the Africville Genealogy Society, and the late Deborah Dixon, one of the founders of the society, who were too young to fight the relocation, but not too young to remember their community or to want that sense of togetherness again.

Through the society, which had its beginnings in 1982 as little more than a means to organize annual community reunions, and evolved into an important lobbying organization, the children of Africville refused to let the rest of us forget their community was taken from them without their consent.

In 1987, Carvery even went to Halifax city council to demand the city not only apologize for taking the land, but also allow the former residents to return to Africville and re-establish a community there.

Although his plea was ignored — "My presentation went to the basement or wherever those things go," Carvery said later — he refused to go away.

So did the issues he raised.

Africville: A Spirit That Lives On, a travelling exhibition about life in the community organized by the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery and the Genealogy Society, and Africville Remembered, a half-hour National Film Board documentary about the community that was broadcast on the CBC this fall, are teaching a new generation about what was lost when Africville was destroyed. Last spring’s proposal by the Halifax Port Commission to put a truck road through Seaview Park galvanized the former Africville residents, as well as their growing number of supporters in Halifax’s black and white community, to press their case with government officials.

Their success this week is a tribute to their determination, as well as a credit to a new, more responsive attitude by the provincial government.

The province’s decision to build a replica of Africville’s church as a museum and memorial is an especially important acknowledgement that Africville residents should never have been relocated without their consent.

That church, as Laura Howe told a conference on the lessons of Africville just more than two years ago, was Africville’s "vocal and spiritual heart."

Howe, who grew up and raised her family in Africville, told those who attended the conference how she found out city crews had razed the church.

"I remember my son coming home (late) one night and he said, ‘Mom, the church is gone.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, it can’t be. It was there a week or so ago.’ He said, ‘No, mom, it is flat to the ground.’ It was done in the early hours of the morning," Howe explained sadly.

"It seemed to me to be such a cruel thing to do to a church. Maybe that’s why it was done when no one was around.

"Our church," Howe said, "meant so much to us. All over the community, we could hear that bell. How it would toll. You could almost hear the words — come to church, come to church. No matter where we go, we always say there will never, never, never be another church like that little Seaview Baptist Church."

Perhaps not, but now at least, finally, there will be a replica of that to remind all of us of the importance of community.