R for Relocation


The community of Africville situated in the northern part of the city of Halifax was started by African American refugees after the war of 1812. The area was often catalogued as a slum and a place in which even the most basic infrastructure was not present. Through the decades this neglected community had to put up with different forms of abuses. During the industrial expansion of the city in the twentieth century, Africville became the host of the unwelcomed; a prison, an Infectious Disease Hospital, an oil storage facility, a dump and a slaughterhouse. Jim Silver (2008) explains how these were placed around the area in his paper “Public Housing Risks and Alternatives: Uniacke Square in North End Halifax”. During the 1960’s a forced relocation program of the so called slum was executed to free the community’s area for industrial development proposes. All inhabitants where moved to a newly- constructed public housing program in the nearby Uniacke Square (Jim Silver, 2008).

The total absence of people’s participation in the relocation program pulverized any chance the community had at improving their living situation. On the one hand racist behaviors on part of city officials led to the classification of Africville community members as problematic or dangerous slum dwellers. This pretext was used to relocate them without taking in to account any other possibilities. In fact, the real character of the community was described by Silvers as follows, “Residents had a strong sense of community; few were on social assistance; most raised healthy families in their modest homes; music was an important part of the lives of many” (11: 2008). He depicts them as strong community which could have had a high chance of improving conditions if appropriate actions had have been applied. The officials’ only priority was to provide basic shelter and the enforced relocation left people without any other options.

“Residents had a strong sense of community; few were on social assistance; most raised healthy families in their modest homes; music was an important part of the lives of many” (Silver 2008).

Until this day the situation has remained static. The heirs of this space have to struggle with all the same difficulties that their grandfathers endured: racism, social segregation and lack of opportunities. Nevertheless a new force is slowly obliging Uniacke Square inhabitants to relocate once again. Statistics taken from Silver’s work suggest that a rampant process of gentrification has been taken place in recent years (18: 2008). The situation has caused a strong reaction from the community because once again they see their living space being threatened by an external influence. Social segregation and racism are the two main forces that have disturbed this community from the very beginning. In the early years of Uniacke Square the racism of locals towards the Africville community members took place on a regular bases. Silver in his paper give some examples: “we don’t want africville people here”; “we don’t cut niggers’ here” (21:2008).

Currently the area where Africville was once located is a green public space, the industrialization development never took place. Nevertheless the unpowered, socially segregated community has paid the highest price for the misgivings of local authorities. The hidden power behind decision makers that leave aside the concerns of less powerful individuals in order to fulfil the side agenda of certain dominant groups has prevailed. Thus, this case study gives us a historical outline of how poorly handled initiatives with a complete disregard of public interests have affected the fabric of the entire community.

Jim Silver. (2008) Public Housing Risks and Alternatives: Uniacke Square in North End Halifax. Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.

Further information:
Collections Canada


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