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'The possibilities are endless': Ideas on future of Africville continue to grow

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The long-term vision for Africville in Halifax's north end will be the topic of discussion at upcoming public engagement sessions – something people with close connections to the land have already put a great deal of thought into.

Juanita Peters, executive director of the Africville Museum, says she would like to see something that will help extend the story of the community.

"There's all kinds of possibilities there in terms of, years ago, we had a conversation with the Museum of the Atlantic about creating something on that piece of land that told a bit of the water story, and the Titanic story, the Halifax Explosion story," said Peters.

"So, there's just so many possibilities and if you don't already know, we like collaborating a lot with other organizations and hearing their ideas of what that could be. The possibilities are endless."

Peters said discussions about what to do with the Africville marina area are already well underway.

"We're currently in the process of creating the feasibility study. We're looking at having a sailing school there, but not just a sailing school," she said.

"A sailing school that brings in people who traditionally would not be able to learn how to sail. Bringing in the partners who would help that happen and then all the other things that go with it."

Plans are also being discussed about future interpretive centres.

"So, when the apology was first made in 2010, it was said that there would be the church rebuilt on the land and the interpretive centre. So, it's been a long time since we've revisited that plan, but now we're going back to it and saying, 'What do people really want today? What would that interpretive centre look like? How would it service community? Where would it be?'"

Currently, public transit does not travel into Africville, which is part of the discussions being had about the community's future.

"If you don't have a vehicle, there is no way to get there. You can walk, but it's a very dangerous walk because there's no sidewalks. You know, we've been asking for active transportation for quite some time and... One of the things that came up in 2018 is HRM was looking at biking and walking trails," said Peters.

"Can you imagine a bike/walking trail that would take you from Africville to Pier 21. And we said, 'Oh my goodness. That would be something that I think people would be very excited about.' But you absolutely need real transportation to the site."

As summer months approach, Peters says the tourism numbers to Africville start to increase – something that has already started this year.

"The sun came out and people started coming in droves. We get a lot of school groups of course. But we get a lot of people coming from all over the world and my first question is, 'How did you hear about us? How do you know about us?'" explained Peters.

"And it's really interesting to see how the story of Africville and African Nova Scotians has travelled the world through various ways, and people looking for their connections, looking to hear more about the story."

Peters says the unique thing about the Africville Museum is its "living history."

"So the children of Africville are in their 70s and 80s and they're often on site. So, if you have a tour booked, we can actually bring them in specifically for that. But they bring a level of history that you can only get first-hand from them. They talk about their life growing up in Africville, what they did as kids. You know, how it affected them at the time and afterwards, so we're very fortunate," she said.

"But we also have a brand new audio tour, a walking audio tour... people can come, they use their phone and QR code at the park and listen to the tour, which is narrated by former resident Paula Grant Smith and she leads you through the park to specific areas."

According to Peters, Africville also saw an uptick in cruise ship passenger visitors last year.

"Because we were actually on site. The port actually gave us space with our exhibit down there and so people heard about our story, they came to visit. As a matter of fact, there's a group that came from Africatown in Mobile, Ala., and their story was fascinating."

Africville was settled in 1800s as a home for African-Nova Scotians in the north end of Halifax and grew to become a tightknit community before residents were evicted and it was demolished by the city in the 1960s.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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