The federal government is providing financial support for the Africville Heritage Trust Society (AHTS) to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
The $75,000 investment, which comes out of the Canadian Heritage’s 1812 Commemoration Fund, will allow the AHTS to collaborate with the Eastern Front Theatre to create a play about Africville’s Black refugees.
Accepting Sir Alexander Cochrane’s freedom offer based on their support of British interests during the conflict, the veterans found difficulty settling in Nova Scotia because they were not provided with land. Some of them lived in Preston and Hammonds Plains, which were far removed from potential job sites in Halifax.
Those that remained settled on the southern shore of the Bedford Basin in what became known as Africville which, for nearly 150 years, was home to the province’s Black families. In the 1960s, the Halifax city government acquired the land and demolished the homes, thus destroying the community.
Dr. George Elliott Clarke, whose poetry was interwoven with pianist Joe Sealy’s music as part of the 1996 released Africville Suite musical tribute dedicated to the birthplace of Sealy’s father, welcomed the federal government’s financial support to help Canadians better understand the contributions of Africans to the defence of colonial Canada in the War of 1812.
“In its original publicity about the War of 1812, the Canadian government recognized only British, First Nations and the French for their roles in preserving colonial Canada from direct American control,” said Dr. Clarke. “It was a shame and intellectual crime that the federal government originally omitted African-Canadians from recognition of our ancestral contribution to the war effort, including the important defence of Upper Canada.”
Senator Donald Oliver, who was born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, made the funding announcement on behalf of Canadian Heritage & Official Languages Minister James Moore.
“During Black History Month, Canadians can gain insight into the experiences of Black Canadians and the vital role this community has played throughout our shared history,” said Oliver. “Our government is pleased to support this play which will give Canadians a deeper understanding of the history of Africville, the courageous stories of our ancestors and their contribution in shaping our country’s history.”
AHTS executive director, Sunday Miller, said the War of 1812 had a monumental impact on establishing a Black presence in Nova Scotia after the influx of Black Loyalists.
“It is with great excitement that the Africville Heritage Trust partners with the Eastern Front Theatre to create a two-act play that will give insight into the hopes and dreams of men of African-descent who chose to fight in the War of 1812,” said Miller.
Historian Dr. Afua Cooper, who provided an overview to the Under a Northern Star historical collection that includes the story of the Black Loyalists and the creation of Africville, said the community’s destruction has had tremendous negative consequences.
“It’s certainly a good thing that the sorry treatment of Africville is being recognized and showcased in an artistic manner,” said Dr. Cooper, the James Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University.
A pre-production reading will take place during the 30th anniversary of the Africville Reunion Festival this summer from Sunday, July 28 to Thursday, August 1. The play will be presented at the Eastern Front 2014 SuperNova Theatre Festival and the Africville Church Museum in the summer of 2014.