Learning the unspoken history of Nova Scotia

Group’s goal is to create change and equip other immigrant youth to “stay, transform and thrive” in Nova Scotia

Elissama Menezes

A group of young people who immigrated to Halifax from around the world are joining together to find out for themselves about the “untold” history of the province, starting with Africville.

Elissama Menezes emigrated from Brazil in 2018 to do her master’s degree at Dalhousie University. She said a group of former international students from places like Japan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Chile saw a gap in programming and education for newcomers, and wanted to fill it.

“We came here to study and then we had some experience with programs that target immigrants, but they are more focused on work and they don’t really engage with the untold history of the land,” said Menezes

“So we got together to kind of understand how we as a community can make sure that we don’t repeat the past and we build the present and the future in a way that’s just,” Menezes said

They started the group Ripples 2 Waves as a way to “build a community of international students and immigrants that are aware of the past to transform the present and build a better future.”

Their goal is to create change and equip other immigrant youth to “stay, transform and thrive” in Nova Scotia.

Juanita Peters

The group’s first three-day event included a tour of the Africville Museum on Saturday, and a talk with a former resident of the community. Since Ripples 2 Waves got funding from the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, the programming is free for newcomers over age 18.

Until the 1960s, Africville was one of Canada’s oldest Black communities. Established in the 1800s, the community had stores, a school, a post office and a church. People paid taxes, but didn’t get municipal services like running water, indoor plumbing or paved roads.

An example of environmental racism in the province, the city of Halifax placed an open-pit garbage dump, an infectious diseases hospital, and slaughterhouses near the community.

In 1964, the city voted to remove the residents and their homes in the name of “urban renewal.” Over the next six years, the community was demolished and its residents were displaced.

Menezes said immigrants often learn history from the colonial perspective, so the goal of hearing from a former resident of Africville is to show people the history of the area through the lens of someone who lived it.

“I only first learned about the pre-Canada history of this land after my third year here,” said Hasan Sinan, another of the organizers. Sinan is of Palestinian and Lebanese descent who emigrated from Kuwait.

“And it was very shocking because, you know, the stereotype is that everyone here is polite and it’s a nice country,” Sinan added.

Referring to the history of Indigenous peoples and colonization, Sinan said it showed him a different side of Canada.

“It’s very important for us to not come here and be part of the problem,” he said.

Juanita Peters, the Africville Museum’s executive director, said people from many places can make connections between what happened in Africville and the history in their country of origin.

“The Africville story plays out in many different places around the world,” Peters said. “And we’re always interested in hearing their context to the story … so it’s different people sharing ideas, sharing histories and sometimes even coming up with some very interesting solutions.”

She said it’s important for newcomers and non-immigrants to learn this side of history.

“It gives them context as to what might be happening around them,” she said. “The people of Africville and their descendants are still here. Their stories are still very much alive.”