Africville by Shauntay Grant: A Book Review

The cover of the book Africville by Shauntay Grant

Title: Africville by Shauntay Grant
Illustrated by: Eva Campbell 
Published in 2018 by Groundwood Books 
Age Range: Picture book (ages 4-7)
Location: Nova Scotia

Book Summary

When a young girl visits the site of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the stories she’s heard from her family come to mind. She imagines what the community was once like —the brightly painted houses nestled into the hillside, the field where boys played football, the pond where all the kids went rafting, the bountiful fishing, the huge bonfires. Coming out of her reverie, she visits the present-day park and the sundial where her great- grandmother’s name is carved in stone, and celebrates a summer day at the annual Africville Reunion/Festival.

Africville was a vibrant Black community for more than 150 years. But even though its residents paid municipal taxes, they lived without running water, sewers, paved roads and police, fire-truck and ambulance services. Over time, the city located a slaughterhouse, a hospital for infectious disease, and even the city garbage dump nearby. In the 1960s, city officials decided to demolish the community, moving people out in city dump trucks and relocating them in public housing.

Today, Africville has been replaced by a park, where former residents and their families gather each summer to remember their community.

Thoughts About the Book Africville by Shauntay Grant

One of the lesser-known events in the history of Canada is the story of Africville. When I first heard about it, I was shocked. Why hadn’t I heard about this before? 

Africville was a Black community on the shore of Bedford Basin in Nova Scotia. It thrived for more than 150 years, before being tragically destroyed by bulldozers in the 1960’s due to racial discrimination. The community began after the American Revolution when Loyalists came to Canada. The people who lived there were mostly descended from former slaves who had been promised land in Nova Scotia, only to encounter discrimination upon arrival. They were forced to live on the most inhospitable land, only because of the colour of their skin. 

The story of Africville is a story of community and perseverance amongst great difficulty. The people of Africville were not given the same treatment as the nearby areas- they did not have access to essential services such as sewage, clean water and garbage disposal services, even though they paid taxes just like the residents of Halifax. The city of Halifax even decided to put a prison, a home for people with infectious diseases and a garbage dump in Africville. Despite all this, the residents of Africville built a vibrant community that felt like family. The city finally decided to relocate the residents (with a garbage truck!) and bulldoze the community in the 1960’s. 

I find this incredibly shocking, not just that people were treated this way, but the fact that I had never heard of this story. I believe this story needs to be told. 

One way to share the story of Africville is by reading the children’s picture book called Africville by Shauntay Grant. This is a story told from the perspective of a young girl visiting the site of what was once the vibrant community of Africville. She remembers stories told to her by relatives to imagine what Africville was like when it was standing. The gorgeous illustrations, by Eva Campbell, capture a simple time of beauty, love, joy and a loving community. The art alone drew me in and made me long for a community like this one. The words are few but moving. Because I knew the story behind the book, the words and art together caused me to really feel the great injustice that was done to the people of Africville. 

Africville by Shaunty Grant is a beautiful picture book that serves as a jumping off point for a study about the Canadian Black community, racial discrimination, injustice, and a lesser-known part of our Canadian history. The story comes complete with an information page in the back which tells the story of Africville along with a few photographs and resources for further information. 

Even though this book is a picture book written for ages 4-7, I read it to my older children. We found it to be a great starting point for further study and conversation. I believe it’s incredibly important that we teach our children about these kinds of events in our country’s history.

Learn More About Africville


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