Two demolished Black neighbourhoods – Africville in Halifax and Hogan Alley in Vancouver – will be recognized with Canada Post commemorative stamps to be unveiled during Black History Month in February.
For more than 150 years, Africville was home to a strong and proud community of Black Nova Scotians. In the 1960s, Halifax’s city government acquired the land and in the process displaced close to 80 Black families and 400 individuals from Canada’s largest and oldest Black community.
Parts of the land were used for an off-leash dog park and construction of the approaches to the A. Murray Mackay Bridge. Ottawa declared Africville a heritage site 11 years ago.
Hogan Alley was a four-block strip that for almost half a century was the cultural centre of Vancouver’s Black community. The neighbourhood was razed in 1970 with the building of the Georgia Viaduct.
Historian and poet Dr. Afua Cooper said it’s significant that Canada Post is issuing stamps to honour these communities.
“It’s about high time,” said the holder of the James Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. “The bulldozing of Africville was an act that dislocated the residents and robbed them of their land and home. Blacks in Halifax are still suffering from the impact of this maltreatment. The stamp recognition is a small but important step in righting this wrong.
“Hogan Alley declined as a result of the highway that was built through it. Because of this ‘urban progress’, many Black Vancouverites lost their homes. When one looks at what happened in Africville and Hogan Alley, one realizes that much of the history of Blacks in Canada has been bulldozed, erased and buried.
“These commemorative stamps from Canada Post, in many ways, are about recovering and honouring the Black past.”
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, said the stamp is an excellent acknowledgment of the Black settlement.
“Africville was a seaside village that the City of Halifax always disrespected, exploited and explored all at the same time,” said Clarke who is the City of Toronto poet laureate and William Lyon Mackenzie King Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University.
“The people who made their homes there did so in spite of the pollution, the vermin and the infectious diseases that Halifax either dumped on their doorsteps or pumped into their yards.
“Yet, the people were powerfully resilient and most left only because the bulldozers were growling round their doors. I can’t help but note the vicious irony that a stamp is being issued to honour Africville now when the village was once one of the few Black Canadian jurisdictions that had a post office and where mail could be received that was addressed simply to ‘Africville, N.S’.”
In 2011, Seaview Park – a recreation area that Halifax city established in the razed community – was renamed Africville while a plaque was unveiled last February to honour Hogan Alley and the history of Vancouver’s Black community.
Vancouver’s only Black church, the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel which was co-founded by Nora Hendrix, the grandmother of guitarist Jimi Hendrix, was located in Hogan Alley.
Several prominent Black Canadians have been honoured with Canada Post Stamps since 1999 when Portia White, considered one of Canada’s greatest vocalists – was recognized with a millennium stamp bearing her image.
A domestic stamp to mark Oscar Peterson’s 80th birthday was released on August 15, 2005. Peterson, who died in December 2007, was the first living Canadian to be honoured with a stamp for his lifetime work.
Trinidadian Joe Flores who arrived in Vancouver in 1885 and became the city’s first official lifeguard 15 years later, Montreal-born pianist Oliver Jones, Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, John Ware who brought the first cattle to southern Alberta in 1882 helping to create that province’s ranching industry, Abraham Shadd who was the first Black Canadian to hold public office, Viola Desmond who was the first Canadian to be granted a posthumous pardon, Rosemary Brown who was the first Black woman elected to a Canadian legislature and William Hall, the first Black Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery during combat, have also been recognized with stamps.
“These stamp collections visually narrate some of our country’s defining moments, from our darkest days to those of immense pride,” said Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport with responsibility for Canada Post. “The 2014 program offers us some incredible stories to remember.”
Canada Post president and chief executive officer Deepak Chopra said everyone is encouraged to take note of these stories as they truly mark who we are as Canadians.
“Collectively, we continue to capture moments that will long live through our stamp collection,” he added.