CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 16. . . .December 18, 2009
After a brief introduction explaining why this group of black Canadians came to the Bedford Basin outside Halifax, NS, author Welldon continues telling what life was like in this small, but vital, settlement. The life of the village is followed from early days to when the people had to relocate and the village was demolished to build a road. Although this road was never built, the people of Africville would not let the spirit of the community die. They instituted an Africville Genealogy Society and an annual Africville picnic to preserve their heritage.
Welldon writes evocatively as is evident in the excerpt. Despite the fact that there were no paved roads, central heating, running water, garbage pick-up or snowplow services, she clearly documents the feeling of community within the village and the richness of life there. The feeling of community is very evident throughout.
The children of Africville did not grow up in a community where everyone locked their doors and no one knew their neighbours. They grew up in a special community. Irvine Carvery was one of those children. Africaville was a place that gave him a feeling of belonging. It was a place where he felt safe. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him.
It is through the memories of Irvine Carvey that the story is told. The book is not meant for research but as a window into a little-known aspect of Canadian life. It also points out that citizens are not always treated fairly by governments. For instance, Welldon does not gloss over the feelings of discrimination felt by the villagers. Africville had no fire department and no fire hydrants. The government said there was too much rock in the ground to pipe water in. The Africville people knew this was not true. They knew the government could pipe in the water if they cared to. But they did not do this.
Other forms of discrimination were evident. Although the schools were no longer segregated, “Some teachers believed that Africville children were not able to learn as fast as white children.” Despite these displays of prejudice, the children had lives much like other children. They had chores but also such amusements as sledding, hockey, swimming fishing, and picking berries. They also enjoyed the stories from their grandparents.
The Children of Africville is nicely designed. The font is larger than normally found in a book of this size (approximately 17 x 21.5 cm) making it highly readable for the anticipated age range of readers. The 81 pages are divided into three chapters: “Growing Up in Africville,” “Leaving Africville,” and “Not Just a Memory.” Variety in the page layouts adds interest. Each of these chapters is subdivided into five to eight parts. The edges of the left hand pages of each chapter have a different coloured borders taken from photographs or newspaper articles. The titles and subtitles are in dark blue. The title is sprinkled liberally with both black and white and coloured photographs. In addition, there are a number of small but information sidebars. They are easily distinguishable by their bright orange or gold colour. Furthermore, quotes from the text are repeated throughout the book in bright colours and a larger font. Despite the fact that this nonfiction book has no index, this is not seen as a detriment; the Table of Contents is certainly adequate. There are such useful addenda as A Timeline of Nova Scotia’s Black History, Acknowledgements, Resources, a poem Africville Lament, and Image Sources.
Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at: www.heartofthestory.ca.
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