Plans for new MacKay Bridge spark renewed calls for Africville reparations

·3 min read

As Halifax Harbour Bridges looks at replacing the MacKay Bridge, a former resident of Africville says any plan going forward must include reparations for the destruction of the historic Black community.

Irvine Carvery lived in the community along the Bedford Basin when the bridge was first being built in the 1960s. Africville was eventually demolished and its residents were relocated to make room for the bridge.

"I just hope that the lessons of Africville have been learnt by everyone in terms of consulting with the people of Africville, and keeping in mind that those are our historic lands," Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society, told CBC Radio's Information Morning this week.

Carvery said even though a new bridge could be years away, now is the time to start talking about how it could impact the Africville land.

There have long been calls for the land to be returned to former residents and descendents of the community, and for reparations to be paid.

"We should be receiving revenue from the bridge for the current bridge that is there, for all the years it's been there," Carvery said.

"That infrastructure has generated lots of wealth and yet nothing, nothing, not a penny has come back to the people of Africville, so any new development on Africville lands would absolutely have to include some form of reparations."

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

Halifax Harbour Bridges included preliminary plans for a new bridge in its submission last week to the province's utility and review board about toll increases.

Alison MacDonald, a spokesperson for the commission, said a feasibility study recommends that the MacKay Bridge be replaced rather than refurbished.

"We're really not into any kind of a process yet but of course there would be certain groups, certain people that we ... will absolutely consult with through the process," she said.

Hundreds of people lived in Africville for more than a century before the land was expropriated by the city in the 1960s.

In 2010, former residents and their descendents received an apology and $3 million from the city, one hectare of land and a replica church, which is now a national historic site.

"I'm sitting here by the church and it just reopens all my memories of the struggle of the people of Africville, from the time we left to 2010 when we received the apology. It all just comes rushing back," Carvery said.

Dave Irish/CBC
Dave Irish/CBC

He hopes to see some kind of mixed-use housing development on the land in the next 10 years. He said this redevelopment plan is still very preliminary but could include a seniors' residence as well as affordable and market housing.

"The people of Africville would have first dibs, but then it would open up to everybody in the city to assist with the affordable housing problem that we have here," he said.

Carvery said there are about 12 hectares of undeveloped land on the site right now, and he believes a housing development and new bridge could co-exist.

MacDonald said if the plan for a replacement bridge moves ahead, it would likely be built in 2040, with construction beginning in about 10 years.

"Ten years goes by really, really quick," Carvery said, "and now's the time before any decisions are made to open discussions around the impact of what it would look like to the lands of Africville."

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