Posted on February 22, 2010

Halifax Offers $3M Payout to Former Black Community

Michael Lightstone, Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 2, 2010

A $3-million payout and a chunk of municipal land are among key parts of an offer city hall has made to compensate the former community of Africville, a meeting in Halifax heard Saturday.

But a show of hands indicating support for the proposed settlement showed the room was essentially divided, said a man who attended the information session.

Some attendees leaving the roughly two-hour meeting criticized the offer, which was presented by an Africville Genealogy Society official and the group’s lawyer.

Steve Brown, a former Africville resident, said about 75 people were at the closed meeting, held at a Halifax public library.

When organizers asked for a show of hands accepting the offer, he said about half did so.

Society president Irvine Carvery refused to comment on the city’s offer, but he strongly disputed Brown’s version of the vote, saying, “The vast majority of the people put up their hands in favour of the package.”

He said that is the message that will be delivered to Halifax Regional Municipality officials.

Regional council has dealt with the offer in secret but would have to ratify any agreement in open council.

Brown won’t endorse the municipality’s proposal, which includes an interpretive centre and a church to be constructed as stand-alone buildings, because he doesn’t think it is good enough.

He said the parcel of land being offered the historic black community amounts to a little over one hectare.

According to minutes of an April 2007 genealogy society meeting, provided to people at Saturday’s compensation review session, roughly 1.6 hectares were being offered then.

Africville was demolished in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal and to make way for a Halifax Harbour bridge.

It is now a national heritage site.

Asked about the proposed $3-million compensation fee, Brown said he understood a substantial portion of that would have to go to the society’s lawyer for his 15 years of work on the Africville file.

He also said it’s too small a sum, considering the community of Upper Sackville got about $7 million in the 1990s for putting up with the municipal garbage dump for so many years.

“I don’t feel it’s an offer for the people” of Africville, said Brown, who was about five years old when his family was moved out of the north-end district, which is now Seaview Park.

“I feel it’s a plan for the city–big time–it’s a plan for them, not the people.”

Mayor Peter Kelly declined comment.

When asked if the Africville offer is an agenda-listed “legal matter” that will be part of a closed-door council meeting Tuesday, he said it “could be.”

The mayor has said he wants to see the issue finally put to bed.