The band re­turns to form and to Hal­i­fax

Where will I say I’m from when this place no longer ex­ists?

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY WENDIE L. POITRAS

Agri­cola, North, Bar­ring­ton and Cogswell Streets were my old bound­aries—my safe place, my sanc­tu­ary, my com­mu­nity, my hood. Now it seems as though it be­longs to some­one else. Its grad­ual trans­for­ma­tion from a his­toric Black com­mu­nity to a trendy place to live and be en­ter­tained has ren­dered un­fa­mil­iar, un­com­fort­able and un­af­ford­able spa­ces for many of the Black peo­ple in the com­mu­nity to oc­cupy.

There are about 50 African Nova Sco­tian com­mu­ni­ties through­out the prov­ince and the in­ner city of Hal­i­fax is one. It’s home to a large pub­lic hous­ing project where many of the former Africville res­i­dents set­tled after “re­lo­ca­tion” in the ’60s, the African United Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion’s mother church and home to the best bas­ket­ball pro­gram in the city. Uni­acke Square, the Corn­wal­lis Street Bap­tist Church and the Com­mu­nity Y are, re­spect­fully, places ev­ery Black per­son who grew up in the in­ner city over the last 50 years were more than fa­mil­iar with.

At one time, this was a vi­brant com­mu­nity of home­steads oc­cu­pied by the Go­lars, Pat­ter­sons, Skeirs, Downeys, Browns, Dayes, Adams, Smiths, Park­ers—the list goes on. Many of these Black fam­i­lies resided in homes on May­nard, Mait­land, Creighton, and Ger­rish Streets. It is where my grand­mother—‘Mama Beryl’ to all—raised her fam­ily be­gin­ning in the 1920s. Civil lib­er­tar­ian Vi­ola Des­mond lived on May­nard Street and op­er­ated her busi­ness on Got­tin­gen. Now all of this his­tory is dis­ap­pear­ing right be­fore my eyes.

My mother’s par­ents and my fa­ther, along with many oth­ers from out­ly­ing Black com­mu­ni­ties, mi­grated to this up-and-com­ing Black neigh­bour­hood in the core of the city. This be­came the kind of place where folks went next door to bor­row a cup of sugar or an egg or two with­out hes­i­ta­tion. It was a com­mu­nity where mem­bers helped raise each other’s chil­dren; a place where peo­ple sat look­ing out their win­dows ac­knowl­edg­ing those who passed by and where daily events were dis­cussed over a cup of cof­fee or tea with your neigh­bor. It was truly a com­mu­nity in ev­ery sense of the word.

Now many of the neigh­bor­hood prop­er­ties are owned by those who are not fa­mil­iar with its his­tory. In most cases, the chil­dren of these new res­i­dents do not at­tend the com­mu­nity’s el­e­men­tary school, recre­ation cen­tres or pub­lic li­brary’s after-school pro­grams. It is es­sen­tially two com­mu­ni­ties coin­cid­ing and one is on-course to swal­low the other up. There is still a Black pres­ence in the com­mu­nity, al­though it is shrink­ing and for the most part limited to the con­fines of Uni­acke Square and its im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings. Only a hand­ful of homes are still owned by Black fam­i­lies.

My hope for the newer busi­nesses mov­ing into the com­mu­nity is that they fol­low the ex­am­ple set by es­tab­lish­ments like Dee Dee’s, Al­tere­gos’ and EDNA, who have made a con­scious ef­fort to hire peo­ple from the com­mu­nity or host com­mu­nity events.

When a com­mu­nity is sub­jected to the grow­ing pangs of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, does it mean the orig­i­nal oc­cu­pants have to feel that they no longer be­long? Could it be­come a place where those who are more priv­i­leged cre­ate col­lab­o­rate spa­ces with in­ten­tions of im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for all? When will we aban­don the quest for per­sonal suc­cess over the suc­cess of the com­mu­nity as a whole?

There is a lot at stake for my­self and peo­ple like me who have roots in this place. Un­like a lot of other fam­i­lies, mine can­not trace its an­ces­try back to a spe­cific lo­ca­tion. I am of African de­scent and most likely West African. I won­der where I will say I’m from when this place no longer ex­ists. I am con­cerned that 20 years from now, I will be telling my grand­chil­dren that I am from a com­mu­nity that ex­ists only in my mem­ory.

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