From the Penticton Western News
Armchair Book Club
June 30, 2006
By Stephen Kimber
Did you know that in the 1960s the city of Halifax evicted an entire black community and then bulldozed their homes?
The city claimed the demolition was necessary. Africville was derelict. It didn’t have sewer, water or street lights. The residents, who had successively occupied the area since the War of 1812, didn’t hold deeds or land titles.
But, Africville was loved by its residents and had a real sense of community. So why was it destroyed?
Simply put, these black Nova Scotians were sitting on prime real estate and the city wanted it. It’s a sad piece of Canadian history, made even worse by the fact that the people received little or no compensation for the forced move.
Our latest book club selection is a chance to get acquainted with this chapter of Canadian history, and at the same time to enjoy a rollicking good read.
Stephen Kimber’s Reparations is a fictional legal thriller, which is set against the backdrop of the destruction of Africville. Boyhood friends, one black and one white, meet up again as adults – in the courtroom. One is a judge. The other is a lawyer, representing a man who embezzled money from the city to give to the people of Africville.
This is a tale of political backroom deals, vote-buying, newsroom bribery that keeps stories off the presses, and of course, includes many details of Halifax’s racist past.
Reminiscent of a Tom Wolfe thriller, Reparations has many plot twists and a huge cast of characters — including overly-ambitious politicians, avaricious businessmen and intrepid reporters. Kimber keeps you guessing at how each of his character’s lives will intersect.
Even though Reparations is a novel, it’s based on fact. The history of Africville is complex, and Kimber does a thorough job of his research.
But, I’m not surprised that this author put in the time required to make his story seem authentic. Kimber is a professor of journalism at the university I attended in Halifax, and I remember him working in his office well into the night – long past the time many of us students left for home.
The year I was in Halifax, Africville descendants filed a civil suit against the city for fair compensation. More recently, the United Nations called for reparations to be paid. So far, nothing has happened.
The bulldozed site of Africville never became the industrial park the city wanted. It’s now a patch of grass, a few scattered benches and a memorial plaque. The citizens dispersed, some able to forge ahead and go on to future successes, but many were never able to get over their loss of community and cultural ties.
And, as a last slap in the face, it turns out that it would have been cheaper for Halifax to simply give Africville sewage, water and lighting than it was to relocate its residents.
Wherever you are tomorrow, on Canada Day, celebrate this country’s successes. But, consider picking up a book like Reparations, which is reminder that Canada has failed many people, and that more can always be done to make this country a better place.
In two weeks we’ll be reading a book by another Canadian journalist, Jan Wong, called Red China Blues. Continue to send in questions, comments or suggestions for future book club selections. Happy Reading!