Thursday, January 13, 2011

halifax magazine stands with the hermit once more

the jan/feb edition of halifax magazine just dropped through my mailbox and it's a great one. there's a lively new style for the cover to illustrate christina copp's monster article on next month's canada games in halifax, reesh woodbury tracks down the randall kennedy (if you've ever stared at the walls of a halifax elevator, you'll know who i'm talking about) and  angela mombourquette has a story on an eatery spotted in copenhagen called 'Halifax Burger.' reesh also has a piece on the rainmen that's worth checking out.

it's also got my follow to last year's africville apology and promise to rebuild the church. as editor trevor adams writes in the editorial, it was a strange story to work on. he writes:

'After we published an excerpt of The Hermit of Africville, we promised to stay atop the Africville story, holding government accountable for promises unfulfilled. To that end, we dispatched Jon Tattrie to find out why there has been little visible progress on the promised Africville Memorial.

"It turned out to be a strange story, with government and organizations willing to reveal little, but then spilling details with their own spin to other media after Tattrie's inquiries. Get the whole twisted tale on page 31. After his investigation, two things are clear: 1) There are still a lot of unfulfilled promises to Africville and 2) Long-time activist Eddie Carvery, the eponymous hermit of Africville, has been excluded from the process entirely."

you'll remember trevor also wrote a superb editorial on eddie last year.  halifax magazine's dedication to sticking with this story has been a great boost to eddie.

i'll post my story below. it was indeed a strange adventure - days after i sat down with mayor peter kelly, eight months of city silence was replaced by a barrage of press releases announcing HRM had transferred the money. after i found out who was on the mysterious africville heritage trust board, i got an interview with a member. days later, eight months of silence was replaced by a media blitz introducing the board.

another bit of strangeness to this story coming together. i was about 20 minutes into my interview with aht board member daurene lewis when we heard running water, followed by a stream of water flowing out of her ceiling lights. the interview was interrupted for 15 minutes as we frantically turned the lights off, moved her stuff out of the way of the water and called in work crews to fix the problem. when we sat back down, i said it seemed the board had a leak. the joke sank without comment.

a few days ago i received this notice:

 Africville Heritage Trust
> Note to Editors
> Africville Heritage Trust to Update Community
> The Africville Heritage Trust (AHT) will hold an Open House for the
> Africville Community to meet the AHT Board. The Board will also provide an
> update to the Community on plans for the construction of the replica
> at the Africville site.
> The Open House will be held at:
> North End Memorial Library
> Saturday, January 15
> 1 pm to 3 pm
> Daurene Lewis, Africville Heritage Trust Board Chair will be available to
> media following the Open House.

all good progress, except for one area: no one has talked to eddie carvery about this. you would think that if you were appointed to a board called the africville heritage trust board, you would find time to actually go to africville and speak to the only person still living there - to a political protester who has spent more than 40 years of his life battling for africville. but no. 50 years ago, people planned for africville up in halifax, while the residents of africville were shut out. people had no running water, no sewage and made do the best they could. here we are in 2011: eddie is living in africville, not being consulted about plans for its future, and living with no running water, no sewage, no electricity. he's not the only voice that matters, but his voice does matter.

the aht members are an impressive group. i hope they will see this article and see fit to go to africville and talk to eddie. as a starter, they can watch a youtube video of him talking about his protest here.

Promises Unfulfilled

In February 2010, HRM mayor Peter Kelly called a public meeting in the YMCA in Halifax’s North End. After decades of pressure, he was going to apologize on behalf of the city for the destruction of Africville. Flanked by African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Percy Paris, Africville Genealogy Society president Irvine Carvery and others, Kelly delivered the apology.

He promised money to rebuild the church that the city destroyed in the middle of the night in 1967. People cried, cheered, danced and sang songs of victory.

Almost a year later, the only sign of Africville in Africville is Eddie Carvery, taking his protest into its 41st winter. His camp is a few feet from the site of the original church, which is marked by a makeshift shrine he and his brother Victor built and the grave of his dog, Spike.
Carvery is not surprised nothing has happened on the ground and bemused by the ever-lasting delays. 
“The only thing I know for sure is there’s no church there,” he says.

Official promises to rebuild the Seaview United Baptist Church date back decades. The first promise was made in 1991 by Donald Cameron’s Progressive Conservative government. An access road was being built through Africville and the church was offered as compensation. The $1.5 million road was built, but the church was not.

Halifax Magazine investigated the state of the most recent promise to find out if the sanctuary is, as long promised, about to be built, or if the February promise was just another photo op doomed to fade with the camera flashes.

Reached on the phone at the office of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Percy Paris said the federal $250,000 has been paid and the provincial $1.5 million is waiting to be released once the project gets under way, as per the deal.

“People are anxious to bring closure to this file,” he said. “People are anxious to see justice being done here.”

He’s well aware of the long history of broken promises and said he’s made it a priority since taking office in 2009. “We’re going to bring closure to this on my watch,” he said. “One of the key differences between [1991] and now is that the province of Nova Scotia has a minister of African Nova Scotian descent.”

Sitting in a comfortable chair at the back of his City Hall office by a coffee table decorated with newspaper cartoons of himself, Peter Kelly says the city is swiftly delivering all of its promises. Of the $3 million pledged, $2.5 million has been paid and is being held in trust by a lawyer for AGS. The other $500,000 was held back to get water and sewer services to Africville. The land transfer, involving federal and municipal land, is underway and he was hopeful it would be done by the end of 2010.

Kelly directed further questions to the Africville Heritage Trust Board, which was created to oversee building and running the church. It was incorporated March 18, 2010, but had yet to go public.

Asked who was on the board, Kelly paused. “I understand they’re waiting to do a public announcement,” he said. Asked what precautions the city had taken to ensure the money will be spent on the church and delivering other promises, Kelly said only “it will happen.”

Days after being interviewed by Halifax Magazine, Kelly went public with the fact that the money had been transferred.

A search of the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks shows nine listed members of AHT. Two are also listed with AGS and a third is the son of an AGS board member.

Reached on his cellphone, Irvine Carvery confirmed AGS has the money and said construction will start in the spring.  He said the Africville Genealogy Society board appointed the Africville Heritage Trust board and that he and many other members of AGS are also on the board of AHT. There was no wider consultation for nominating members. The 12 directors can serve two terms, at which point it will seek out new members. At least half of the board is to be made up of people with direct ties to Africville.

Critics have voiced concerns the AGS board has expired its term and therefore has no mandate to appoint the AHT board. Carvery admitted his term as president ended in October 2010 and blames exhaustion from organizing the summer picnic for not holding elections. He couldn’t say when elections would be held.

“The trust board was established well before the end of the mandate of this [AGS] board,” he said.

Further investigation leads to an interview with Daureen Lewis at her office as principal of NSCC’s Leed Street campus. She was appointed to the AHT board in the spring and serves as chairwoman. She said the church will be built. “It’s not a question,” she said. Lewis, who was the first African Nova Scotian mayor of Annapolis Royal, said she brings her skills of working with municipalities to the board. She doesn’t have any direct ties to Africville.

The board is moving slowly to get it right, she said. Site plans are in place and AHT knows what the church exhibits will look like, but she would not reveal that publically. “It’s not top secret, but it’s a matter of we need to go to the community first and let them know what’s happening,” she said. “They should be the recipients of it first. They shouldn’t read about it in some publication.”

Lewis said AHT would meet with former Africville residents in a general meeting, but she declined to say where or when the meeting would take place. She also declined to say when or where the church would be built, only that it would happen sometime in 2011. She declined to say when the AHT board would assume a public role. She gave assurances that the board would operate openly and be accountable for how it spends the $2.5 million HRM gave it.

“Because we are publicly funded, everything would have to be very open and very transparent,” she said. Lewis couldn’t provide details on how it would make itself accountable.

“It needs to go to the community first,” she said.

Asked about what role AHT sees for Eddie Carvery, Lewis said she had not met the political activist.

“There is a very clear, definite recognition of Eddie’s involvement, Eddie’s contribution and what his commitment is to the Africville site,” she said. “It’s not the matter that somebody is going around anybody, it’s just we have not gone out to anyone at this point.”

One day after being interviewed by Halifax Magazine, Lewis went public with her role as chairwoman of AHT.

Back in Africville, Eddie Carvery is baffled no one from HRM, AGS or AHT has ever stopped by to talk to him. From his perspective as the only resident of Africville, it seems the same old story – lots of talk far away, but no direct consultation with the people on the ground.

“I’ve been here for 40 years. They haven’t come out and said, ‘Mr. Carvery, why are you in Africville?’” he says. “If I was included, I would feel I had some input. Evidently, all these years I’ve been sitting here, my input isn’t important enough.”


Sidebar: The Africville Heritage Trust Board has 12 listed members: Irvine Carvery, Daurene Lewis, April Howe, Paula Grant-Smith, Linda Mantley, Shawn Mantley, Andrew Murphy, Andrew Paris, Marie Chapman, Fred MacGillivray, Mickey McDonald and Phil Townsend.

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