Africville brings 'something significant' to Halifax Convention Centre

·3 min read
Angel Gannon stands in front of a display at the new exhibit she built to celebrate Africville. (Submitted by Juanita Peters - image credit)
Angel Gannon stands in front of a display at the new exhibit she built to celebrate Africville. (Submitted by Juanita Peters - image credit)

A new exhibit at the Halifax Convention Centre takes Nova Scotians back in time, giving them the opportunity to take "A Walk Through Africville."

The travelling exhibit, which first appeared in the Museum of Industry in Stellarton early last year, opened in Halifax on Tuesday.

It features painted building facades that replicate historic locations along a street in Africville.

"I hope people walk out feeling something significant and having some impression of what it might have been like to be in Africville," Juanita Peters, the executive director of the Africville Museum, told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday.

Africville was one of Canada's oldest Black communities until it was demolished by the city of Halifax in the 1960s. Established in the 1800s, the community had stores, a post office and a beloved church. People paid tax, but didn't receive municipal services like running water, sewers or paved roads.

In 1964, the city voted to remove the residents to make way for industrial development. The community was destroyed over the next six years.

"I'm hoping that [the exhibit] helps people understand what was wrong with the original story and what was created — and I say created because it was an environment that was created by the city — that created such hardships for people," she said.

Submitted by Juanita Peters
Submitted by Juanita Peters

Peters started developing the idea for this new exhibit in 2019, after being inspired by the 30th anniversary of another exhibit that travelled Canada called "A Spirit of Africville."

Peters teamed up with the Laura Ritchie, the director of Mount Saint Vincent University's art gallery; Russell Gross, an executive of the Black Cultural Centre; and Irvine Carvery with the Africville Genealogy Society, to look at ways to expand and revive the former exhibit.

From there, Peters commissioned artist Angel Gannon, who has family ties to Africville, to build the exhibit.

"From the moment that Angel started carving and crafting to today, this exhibit has just given us so much joy," she said.

'It's bittersweet'

The exhibit launched on Saturday evening, and members of the community were invited to visit before its official opening on Tuesday.

Peters said some were surprised when they walked into the exhibit, expecting ordinary museum displays with information panels, but instead it was as if they were on an old street in Africville.

"We tried to create some of the important things that people talked a lot about. What were the things that community members remembered? What were the things that were important about it? What were the things that, you know, were not so great about it?" she said.

"So we hope that when people come through, they get not just an education, but understand that these were the things that were important to people of Africville."

Peters said many of the visitors didn't realize how the exhibit would make them feel.

"We heard that people felt a little overwhelmed and sometimes happiness can turn to sadness," she said.

"It's that loss, and sometimes you may hear something that reminds you of something and it's bittersweet."

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CBC Archives

Peters said she hopes the exhibit will inspire conversations about "the work that is left to be done in Nova Scotia" and efforts to right wrongs against the Black community.

The exhibit will be free to the public in room 202 of the Halifax Convention Centre until December. The public can access the exhibit from the Argyle Street entrance.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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CBC

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