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Halifax and Africville 2: Elaborations

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Recent discussions (online and in person) regarding Halifax‘s relationship with Africville have kept the issue in the fore of my mind as of late, and forced me to ruminate further on the subject of racism and remembrance. (Before going any further, however, I’d like to state that no recent or particular event has brought on these digressions but for the constant reminder of the systemic racism that is part of our Canadian heritage.)

I contend that Africville, as it once stood, was a tight-knit community that stood beyond the pale of proper urban development, mainly due to the colour of its “Black Court”, Lawren S. Harris (1921).inhabitants. This is not a unique opinion, but one that follows the general consensus on the subject through reading and research on the community. The common consensus regarding Africville, in fact, is that years of passive neglect by Halifax’s “City Fathers” convinced the municipality to eventually relocate the village residents ‘for the sake of the community’. This has been elaborated online by Kim Peterson (2004), Pamela Brown (1998), and extensively documented in the 1971 Africville Relocation Report by Don Clairmont and Dennis Magill – now available online in PDF format, courtesy of Dalhousie University.

The neighbourhood, sitting on the north shore of the Halifax Peninsula, was without municipal water and sewer services, paved roads, as well as garbage collection (Report 61). Some land that Africville residents lived on had been expropriated for rail service in the early 1900s, and then rezoned for industrial use through to the 1940s and 1950s – while the community still lived on the site. As the Relocation Report details, the City had gone so far as to relocate its municipal dump to the borders of Africville in the 1950s (Report 68). Such actions demonstrate that Africville’s needs were ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to Halifax, and that, as the Chief Justice of the Nova Supreme Court stated, the issues endemic to Africville were historically “created by whites, because time after time, year after year, municipal councils had ignored the problem” (Report 68).

To put it simply, the residents of Africville were rarely consulted regarding the delivery of municipal services, as the municipality never expected to deliver the services in the first place. Turning to the Report, again, makes plain the systemic racism seen within Halifax Council and its bureaucracy. In 1915, a city engineer wrote that Africville is an industrial district, and that “industrial operations should be assisted in any way . . . we may be obliged to consider the future of the industry first” (qtd. in Report, 102). In 1942, meanwhile, a water line was proposed to be blasted through the bedrock down to the community but was cancelled as it was assumed that Africville would soon be relocated (Report 99). (Africville would not be relocated, forcibly, until the late 1960s). Without sounding crass, I hardly think that the residents of south-end or central Halifax would have put up with a similar lack of basic municipal services for decades.

I do not want to dwell much longer on these passively racist policies that turned Africville into a slum, or at the very least prevented it from developing into a community with basic municipal services. These policies are well known and in the public domain. Please read the digitized copy of Clairmont and Magill’s Relocation Report for further context. (I find Chapter Three, Pages 68-73 rather enlightening and fairly concise regarding the civic inaction and municipal policies that would lead to the forced relocation.)

My concern here is not to buttress established fact, but to force a remembrance. Residents of Halifax will acknowledge the story of Africville, if forced to consider this dark part of their heritage, but often will rather forget about this period, or assume that all is water under the bridge. Consider, for instance, the June 30, 2007 article by Halifax Chronicle-Herald columnist Peter Duffy, who questioned why “white Halifax” must “shoulder” the guilt its past. Its another case of “out of sight, out of mind”.

That Africville was but a small community of 400 residents or was one of several urban slums to have existed in Canada should not diminish the gravitas of its history. Nor should we, as a people, simply acknowledge these dark stains on our heritage and move on. As the Relocation Report shows, Africville was more than just a collection of derelict houses, but a distinct and legitimate community, consisting of people who lived distinct lives, who had families and occupations, and had personal stories. The Relocation Report does an incredible job at documenting the voices of the people who lived in Africville, including their thoughts on Halifax’s neglect of the village, its demolition, and their forced relocation. These voices are the voices of a disenfranchised people, and frankly,these are the voices of our parents and grandparents within greater Halifax.

Certainly not all of Halifax was racist, nor is all of Halifax racist. And certainly, there were other instances of such racist policies in Nova Scotia, and in Canada. The prevalence of prejudice does not mean we should ignore it, though. It is true that not all communities had running water in the 1940s in Canada, however, the very proximity of Africville to an urban centre the size of peninsular Halifax should have granted it basic services. Systemic racism destroyed this community, and it must be acknowledged, and remembered, on a regular basis.

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Written by mitchellirons

March 13, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Halifax, The Act of Forgetting, and Africville

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In another life I’d have called this not “The Spadina Bus” (cf The Shuffle Demons), or even “Crosstown Traffic“. I realized when I awoke this morning that I’d have to make a trip up to the library at Mount Saint Vincent University, but first had to stop at the library at Dalhousie University, thereby turning my day into an academic milk-run.

Half of my morning, it seems, was spent on the road.I’m not a fan of the bus rise toward MSVU, situated as it is on the Bedford Highway. Each trip on the No.18 Bus drives me past the Fairview Cove Container Terminal, which breaks my heart every time. The scene, in some ways, is non-descript: one is afforded a view of Halifax Industry In Action, followed by a small park, and finally the McKay Bridge looming in the background across The Narrows. What’s troubling about this image is not what is seen, however, but what has been effaced from the landscape, what has been lost to time by systemic racism.

I’m thinking, of course, of the former community of Africville, a small village of 400 Afro-Canadian ‘residents of Halifax’ (placed in quotes because they lived here, but were never welcome in the city) that was demolished in the 1960s in the name of progress – the construction of the bridge (1970), the container terminal (1982), and ostensibly to “improve” the quality of life of a people who had forever been refused municipal services and infrastructure and deeds to their land. To think that this group of families, who lived, worked, and prayed together, who were an integrated, tight-knit community, lost their homes, their community and their heritage ultimately to facilitate the construction of roads to the suburbs and a container terminal to ship goods to the interior turns my stomache inside out.

Sometimes I wonder how the tragic nature of the Africville story is compounded by this sheer number of goods being transported and cars being driven in and around the site of the community. Being stuck in traffic, with eyes focused on the garish “Speedy Print” (or is it “Speed Auto”?) sign, and with our minds left to wonder if we’ll make it home in time to watch the latest television programming revived since the end of the SAG strike is how we allow ourselves to forget about the dark side of our past. The act of forgetting is not passive. Forgetting may not be deliberate, but it is not accidental, eiter. We choose what is important to us, and for too many people, what’s important at Fairview Cove is not the travesty that is Africville, but a chance to beat the traffic on the Bedford Highway, or having the proper change ready for the McKay Bridge’s toll.

There should be some sort of signifier built on the side of the Bedford Highway to force people to think, and to force them not to forget, but to remember and realize and know the Africville story. A memorial does exist, in Seaview Park, Seaview Park Memorial to Africville. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.but I doubt that many people who drive in and out of town everyday ever stop at this site – a small and tarnished, yet hallowed ground wedged between a bridge and a container terminal. A memorial on the side of the Highway would appropriately force people to think about the past. The Highway does not cover the area that Africville stood, I know, but it is so heavily used, and simply too close to the site to simply leave alone. A road-side sign will not do. A cairn, or any small monument would be appropriate: what is needed is physical object large enough in size to force us to remember.

Aristotle, or at least some crackpot Aristotilean critics, suggests that the opposite of forgetting is not remembrance, but catharsis, that forceful knock-out punch of emotions that can set the record straight and help the subjects move on toward reconciliation and denouement. That’s what this part of Halifax needs – a cathartic reconciliation. It would be a small step, but a step in the right direction, nonetheless.

(originally written 2 March 2008)
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Written by mitchellirons

March 7, 2008 at 12:12 pm

The Torontoist, Christopher Bird, and Bad Satire

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Good Satire, which is difficult to achieve, is biting, directed, and clear. Poor Satire merely offends all parties.Case in Point: The Torontoist’s published article on renaming streets for dead soldiers, by Christopher Bird. Join in the discussion on whether making fun of dead people is in poor taste or not. Some one should have forced a re-write on this one.

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Written by mitchellirons

February 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Politics, Rhetoric, and the GST

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How many others out there are fed up with the rhetoric of the Conservatives in Canada? Apparently, we the public need to be ready for a strict, tight budget because times are tough and we ought to tighten our purses in case the US economy actually tanks and brings down the world. If the US Economy does tank, then we’re all definitely be up the creek without the paddle, but I must wonder why Stephen Harper’s Brain Trust did think about this when they lowered the GST by 1% on 1 Jan 2008?

Before going further, allow me to chart a little economic timeline of sorts, just to get some things straight:

23 Jan 2006 – Conservatives win a minority, with a pledge to reduce the GST from 7% to 5%.

1 July 2006 – GST Reduced to 6%

15 October 2007 – US FRB Chairman Bernanke states, again, the gravitas of the sub-primehousing situation on the US Economy.

23 October 2007 – Canadian Department of Finance’s Economic Update, using information current to 19 October 2007, states that (1) “Notwithstanding weakness in the U.S., economic growth in Canada continues to be strong“, but that “the risks to the Canadian economy are tilted to the downside . . . [because a] significantly weaker U.S. housing market and tighter credit conditions have added uncertainty to the U.S. economic outlook“.

30 October 2007 – Canadian Finance Minister announces a reduction in the GST to 5%, reducing the Government’s annual revenue by $5.5 Billion per year.

14 December 2007 – Bill C-28, an Act to implement certain measures of the Spring 2007 Budget, and also to reduce the GST to 5% receives Royal Assent.

1 January 2008 – GST Reduced to 5%

February 2008 – Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warns citizens that his upcoming budget will be cautious and prudent, because “you don’t throw money around when times are tight“.

It would appear, however, that Minister Flaherty is doing just that – throwing our money around when times our tight. In spite of his own Department of Finance’s opinion that the uncertain US economy could seveerly hamper our own, Flaherty, Harper and Co. are throwing caution to the wind to fulfill a ridiculous election pledge that can do nothing but negatively affect the government’s revenues in a time of fisca crisis. Despite the fact that world markets, governments and news agencies were well aware of the American sub-prime fiasco and its pending ripple effect, the Conservatives still reduced one of their revenue streams by 5.5 Billion Dollars/year.

One cannot speak about a lack of funds, or of fiscal prudence, when one also makes an assinine policy decision such as reducing the GST on the eve of a possible recession. The Canadian government will have less funds to use on useful and necessary social and government spending, but primarily by their own doing.

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Written by mitchellirons

February 25, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Halifax and the Chickens 3: Consolations

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It appears as though the case of Halifax v. Louise Hanavan, Chickens, et al. is drawing to a close. Ms. Hanavan’s one month roosting reprieve is about to end, and the urban farmer is making plans to send her three chickens out of town. They will settle in at Heliotrust, an Ecology Action Centre-affiliated farm to live their days, before shuffling off once more to the Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum. Ms. Hanavan (who does have an affiliation with the EAC, but this should not be held against her – everyone should have an affiliation to the EAC) is presumably satisfied with the way things are turning out, given her statements to the CBC and the Halifax Chronicle Herald that she is happy with the awareness for urban farming that has developed across Canada as a result of things.

The development of awareness is fair enough, but I still wonder how this series of events might appear to people who live outside of town. Hanavan’s story could be summed up as the tale about the Halifax resident who would like to “do her part” and practice small-scale urban farming, an act condoned by many other urban centres, but who has had to give up her venture due to the unfounded fears of her neighbours and of council. Perhaps this town isn’t open to new ideas in the manner it think itself to be?

Granted, Ms. Hanavan’s backyard operation contravened current municipal bylaws, and the wheels of governance move at an awfully slow pace (even if they’re moving in the right direction), so the one-month reprieve probably would not have done much to help her hennery. Nonetheless, the ordeal seems symptomatic of a larger political culture in Halifax that is constantly dissuaded against innovation or change. The same council that upholds ridiculous development and zoning bylaws in the downtown core must uphold anachonristic and arcane bylaws that prevent the development of locally sourced foods. Now, not all innovations are good innovations, and change should never happen just for the sake of change. However, some innovations and some ideas are good ideas, and must not be rejected simply because they are new or different from current bylaws and statutes.

As readers have previously noted, it is fairly easy to conflate and confuse these two subject (municipal politics and the Chicken controversy), and I have done so once already. What has happened to Ms. Hanavan, however, is similar to Council’s relations with residents against the Chebucto road widening, or proponents of HRM By Design: it is indicative of a council that cannot envision “the bigger picture” regarding urban renewal and civic activism. Or worse, it is indicative of a council unwilling to listen to its citizens. I do not presume for one moment that Ms. Hanavan’s own urban farming politics dovetails with my own politics regarding the the renewal of Halifax’s downtown, but I do believe the fiasco caused by her backyard operation is an example of the conservatism that prevails in a town that believes itself to be progressive.

Previous Links:
1. Halifax and the Chickens 2: The Old Guard, where the writer takes further note of Louise Hanavan’s story and continues to rant about hens and politics in Halifax.
2. Halifax and The Chickens, where the writer takes note of Louise Hanavan’s story and rants about hens and politics in Halifax.

Final Thoughts: Its a disgrace that I had to turn to Where Magazine to find a link to a local, civic museum. That’s another sign of how things go in this town.
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Mitt Romney, dye-jobs, and authenticity

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I don’t know about most people in the world, but I could never vote for some one who dyes his or her hair. It suggests a persona far too concerned with appearances as opposed to substance.

Mitt Romney Dye Job

It would appear that 2/3s of Florida would agree with me on this one.

(And its a bad dye-job, too!)

Written by mitchellirons

January 30, 2008 at 8:54 am

Halifax and the Chickens 2: The Old Guard

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[Addendum, 25 Feb 2008: the cornucopia of awesomeness is not without its errors, or its insightful readers who help point out our mistakes (see John van Gurp’s corrections (Comment No. 2) below for details). i happily accept all corrections. on this one in particular, i freely admit that i’ve conflated my recent dismay with local councillor Sheila Fougere with this touchstone issue of urban farming in Halifax, NS. keep posted for more insightful commentary (insightful in that it betrays my own biases) regarding urban governance. in the mean time, take it all with several grains of salt, and a dash of van Gurp to boot.]

Some extended thoughts today regarding the controversy surrounding Halifax, Louise Hanavan, and her former chickens.

Louise was forced to give away her three chickens to a farm outside of Halifax Hanavan Chicken Halifax, Courtesy CBC.caRegional Municipality’s urban core in order to comply with zone regulations. Her home and neighbourhood is zoned “R-2”, which has a clause restricting the harbouring of chickens and other fowl in one’s backyard. One of her neighbours (who shall remain nameless but whose national fifteen minutes of fame has rendered him Halifax’s Cranky Old Man) was of the mind that Ms. Hanavan’s local, organic operation was bringing rats to the neighbourhood. He claims to have seen a rat at another neighbour’s house and naturally assumed it had to have made its way to West-end Halifax for Ms. Hanavan’s chicken feed. Presumably, now that the chickens have been forced out of town, the rat population will quietly disappear.

Halifax, of course, is a centuries-old port town (see map), with a peninsula bounded by docks, wharves, military slips, rail lines and rail yards. Rats, surely, never live in these areas. As we all know, rats only live in suburban neighbourhoods where one finds chicken feed, and never in these industrial zones. Silly Ms. Hanavan, what were you thinking?

Summaries and snarky comments aside, some of the responses to Ms. Hanavan’s story reveal how conservative Halifax really it. This is a very traditional town that is not all open to even the possibility of change. Sheila Fougere, the local municipal councilor, noted (rightly, in fact), that Ms. Hanavan’s chicken operation is restricted by local by-laws and zoning restrictions. One can’t argue with that – by-laws are by-laws. But the councilor’s suggestion that Ms. Hanavan and other like-minded citizens ought to simply find fresh eggs at the Halifax Farmer’s Market or at a farm outside of town betrays her inability to find pro-active solutions. The councilor may as well have stated, “Why bother fixing outmoded by-laws?”. There’s no thinking outside of the box on this one for Ms. Fougere – Ms. Hanavan should just drive to the market and be done with it.

Of course Ms Hanavan can find fresh eggs at the market, but buying them there is not the point. The Market promotes local, organic, community-minded initiatives that stand in the way of the Sobey’s and Safeways of the North American grocery industry. This is only an assumption, but I’m pretty sure that Halifax’s local farmers would applaud Ms. Hanavan’s urban chicken operation, even if it meant one less person to sell to on a Saturday morning. Sheila Fougere Thinks Hanavan Should Give Up And Just Go To The MarketSheila Fougere’s response has the look and feel of one given to brush the issue aside as soon, and as quietly as possible. Telling Ms. Hanavan to just go to the market, jiggity-jig, is hardly a reasonable accommodation on this one. I’d rather see Ms. Hanavan selling her eggs at the market rather than buying them there. If Ms. Fougere wants to lead the city, or at least her ward, she should find real solutions to the problem, including revisions of the zone regulations.

(It must be noted that Ms. Fougere has been on HRM Council since 1998. Although she understands the mechanics of municipal governance and can work her way through any subcommittee meeting, her incredible length of time holding the seat has nurtured in her a form of municipal and residential relations that advocates personal opportunism and the status quo. This is common in all levels of government: Fougere runs not on a platform of policies and and ideas, but on all the good things that have happened since she’s been in office. This is admirable on one level, but it tends to shut down debate in the long run as the elected “voice of the people” becomes a sage politico who can argue for people to simply trust her experience because she’s been around for some time and simply knows better than any other possible candidate. HRM is not a small town, however. Change in political leadership is healthy; just as she calls for Peter Kelly to leave the Mayor’s Office because he has outlived his tenure, one could ask her to do the same for her own extended stay in municipal government.)

This sense of no-change, no-alterations, traditionalism is not limited to only Sheila Fougere. This past weekend, on Sunday, January 27, 2007, Jim Meek, of the Halifax Chronicle Herald suggested the Louise Hanavan’s Jim Meek thinks that Hanavan and her supporters suffer from political apathychicken coop is unnecessary and that large chicken processing plants are not as harmful to the environment as we like to think they are. He also suggested that a large number of people who support Ms Hanavan don’t participte elections. Perhaps Mr. Meek was attempting create a little balance in the Halifax chicken debate (much of the opinion has been one-sided – I don’t know if the Powers-That-Be are listening, though), but his facts are wrong and his opinions are off-base. First, even if Ms. Hanavan’s supporters do not vote in elections (a ridiculous assumption if there ever was one), they are still entitled to their opinion, and elected officials must still represent them. Second, large-scale slaughter houses are not eco-friendly in any sense of the word. If the likes of Mr. Meek or Ms. Hanavan’s neighbours are afraid of an infestation of rodents in Halifax or even an outbreak of bird flu in North America, they should look first not to the local urban chicken coop, but to the large plants and farms that dot the rural landscape. Louise Hanavan’s three chickens do not affect the environment in the same way that a shed full of thousands of heads of chicken will. For instance, whereas the small-scale farmer can turn gradually turn his manure into fertilizer, large-scale operations often have cesspools of effluent dotting the perimeter of the properties. Mr. Meek needs not even visit such a plant or farm to consider the scale: the next time he buys a pair of boneless, skinless “Maple Lead Prime” or “Lillydale” Chicken from his local grocery store, he should consider the large amount of stock before his eyes – all slaughtered animals – and question where the rest of chicken whose parts he’s buying, as well as the remains of every other chicken, cow, and swine on sale in front of him has gone to. Unlike Maple Leaf Foods, and every other food processor, Lousie Hanavan is being environmentally friendly, (and also is reducing her eco-footprint) by farming on a scale that is manageable and proportionate to her own needs.

As stated elsewhere, other cities allow urban farming. Given the fact that it is a provincial capital, is a coastal urban centre, and is of a relatively similar population., Victoria, British Columbia, has been the go-to example in the case of Halifax v. Chickens. Cities which are much larger than Halifax or Victoria could even deign to be, though, including Seattle, New York, and London, not only permit urban farming, but have by-laws explicitly stating such. Halifax should not just “get with the times” on this issue, but try to move ahead of the curve. What little arable land Nova Scotia has is quickly being turned into a suburban wasteland of asphalt, automobiles, and low population densities. If Halifax wants to consider itself progressive or eco-friendly, it needs to show what its done lately, and what its going to do in the future – shutting down Louise Hanavan’s chicken operation is not the answer. Deeds, not Words, Halifax. Deeds, not Words.

A few links:

My Urban Chickens – Urban Farming put to practice. Great Link.

Urban Hennery – Urban Living with some downtown hens.

Free Range Living – Urban Farming (stale)

Comments are welcomed and encouraged on this matter.

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Written by mitchellirons

January 29, 2008 at 12:43 pm