There is this feeling when you’re driving in a new country, or in this case Province, for the first time. You don’t actually know where you’re going, where each stoplight will be, where the highway is, or how the roads merge; you simply obey instructions from the GPS. With a great GPS though, all you have to do is absorb the terrain around. Then there is this other feeling. I am driving on the streets of my dreams. You know that feeling of wanting to do something for a long time, and now you’re actually doing it. There is nothing like it. Driving was smooth the whole way from the airport until I was about 7 minutes from my destination. I needed to keep straight on Lady Hammond Road, but it was hard to read the signs up ahead. The lane I was in, was in fact a turning lane, and I could not see it until it was too late. I tried merging into the lane on my right, but was honked by incoming traffic. I realized, that lane too was also turning. I needed to be in the third lane over! The signs were totally off. Those sign makers didn’t seem to notice that the lanes curved and don’t reflect where the arrows were pointing. I followed the turning lane, then did a lane change after passing the traffic lights. The GPS rerouted. I obediently followed, for what felt like forever. I was beginning to think it was confused. It’s hard to know now, but I might have done three circles, and hadn’t noticed; at least not until when I saw Lady Hammond Road sign again. She didn’t fool me this time!
Now that I was on the right track, I followed the GPS into what seemed like a truck park. All I could see were big trucks. The GPS insisted that I was going in the right direction. I decided to stop and ask to be sure. I mean I was only 2 minutes from Africville Museum. The man I asked, pointed up ahead. It was the same direction my GPS was taking me. Now I could see an actual two-way road. I was on a street called Africville. Finally, I spotted the Museum sign on a post, but all I saw was a small house overlooking the sea. Where is the rest of the Museum? Had it closed? I parked my car and decided to try opening the doors. It opened. Brittany, who was standing at the entrance, greeted me. Immediately we bonded. I went straight to telling her how hard it was to find the museum. How I stumbled on some trucks, and was confused. How I made a few circles. How this was my very first stop in Halifax and I had just gotten off the plane. And how I was so excited to be there. Brittany said I wasn’t the only one that had difficulty finding the museum. That couple walked for 54 minutes trying to find the location. She pointed to the couple who had turned around to validate with a nod. She empathized with me. I was done venting, and was ready for my tour.
Brittany walked me to the first banner, Welcome to Africille, it read. She talked me through the entire history. I decided I had to take notes. Slaves had arrived in Halifax as early as the 1700s, but it was not until the 1800s when they were promised they could purchase land. Back then, Africville was called Campbell Town. These men and women paid their taxes, but did not receive services like other communities: No paved roads, no sewers, and no running water. Eventually, these deficiencies became the norm.
In the 1940s, Africville was now on the Government’s priority list. It was a prime location as the community was located on the harbour. The Government needed these people to leave. As a result unwanted services were sent there: Bone Crushing company, Slaughter Houses, Infectious Disease Hospital for men who came from the war, and a Medical Waste Dump. To add to that, in the 1950s when the government was deciding on a possible location for the city dump; Africville was selected, as it would pose a health risk for other communities like Fairview. People got sick, and it cost people their lives.
By the 1960s the government realized the people of Africville still hadn’t left their homes as they had anticipated. Drastic measures had to be taken. Government staff went door to door to make promises of a home-for-a-home in a different community. It didn’t work. The community wasn’t buying any more unkept promises. As a result, the city came with a garbage truck to evict the residences. Houses were bulldozed, including the only community church. A beacon to the community. The entire experience of being evicted from their houses, and having to leave the only home they knew, was totally traumatizing. They ended up living in subsidized houses. To this day, generations of the earlier families are still living in subsidized housing.
However, in 2010, Mayor Peter Kelly apologized. But, what was the purpose of the apology? Could it undo the scares that already had its crippling effect? Funds were offered by the government to purchase 2.5 acres of land. This is the land in which this church, and now museum stands. Brittany paused. The story had settled inside my heart. Does the community still exist? This museum is the only remnant of the existence of Africville. But, it also exist in the hearts of those who experienced it, so the spirt lives on. It’s hard to forget.
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