The Seaport Farmers’ Market and Halifax’s Race Problem

14 Apr

Last week, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market announced that several “prepared food vendors” would be moved from the market’s busy main level up to its mezzanine level. According to the Halifax Port Authority (the government agency in charge of the market, not to be confused with the Halifax Party Authority, which used to be some drunk dude’s house on Hunter street) this will be done to make room for more farmers. Which, fine, makes sense since it is, after all, a farmers’ market. Farmers gonna farm, I guess. Here’s where things get tricky: all of the vendors asked to move were “ethnic” foods, including Mary’s African Cuisine, Viji’s Veggies, Stella’s, Pierogis 4 U, Turkish Cuisine and Amin’s Indian food. Meanwhile, two other prepared food vendors – Julien’s Pastry Shop and The Cake Lady – are allowed to stay where they are on the first floor.

It would be easy to argue that there aren’t any racial undertones to this situation. After all, pierogies fall pretty firmly into the camp of Foods Traditionally Consumed By White People. The argument put forth by the Port Authority that they’d prefer to have all of the farmers on one level and all of the ready-to-eat food on another seems reasonable enough at first glance. And if there are enough businesses operating on the mezzanine, well, won’t that just draw more traffic up there? Plus, the Port Authority is really, really insistent that “Ethnicity has nothing to do with this decision.”

First of all, I think there are probably racial undertones to anything that even just maybe sort of seems to have racial undertones. Secondly, I feel pretty cautious about anyone who feels the need to insist that no, for sure, this decision which impacts only “ethnic food” vendors definitely has nothing to do with ethnicity. Finally, I’m skeptical of claims of not-racism because this is Halifax, a city that struggles with its deep-seated racism. Not only that, but this is the same farmers’ market that a few years ago considered flat out getting rid of the “ethnic” vendors based on the idea that cruise ship passengers shopping at the market are looking for “authentic maritime culture.”

Of course, what they mean by “authentic maritime culture” is: white people culture. Specifically, they mean the pseudo Scottish-Irish-Celtic culture the east coast is famous for. They for sure do not mean M’ikmaq culture (although there’s nothing more authentically maritime than that), or Black Nova Scotian culture (in spite of the fact that there’s been a thriving Black population in Nova Scotia since the 1700s), or any of the other races or ethnicities that been in and around Halifax for hundreds of years. In Halifax municipal government speak, maritimer is synonymous with white and everyone else is a come-from-away. Even if their family has been occupying this land since long before the white people arrived.

I love Halifax. Both of my father’s parents grew up in the north end, and I was lucky enough to visit at least once a year when I was growing up. Later, I moved there for school and wound up staying for nearly a decade. It’s one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived, and has a lot going for it – friendly people, a great local arts scene, a sweet work-to-live-not-live-to-work vibe and a really big hill with a clock tower on it. It’s also the most white supremacist places I’ve ever lived, and I say that as someone who grew up in a city that used to be called Berlin and at one point had a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm in a downtown park.

A big part of Halifax’s race problem is that it doesn’t want to admit that it has a race problem. Ask most people about the destruction of Africville (a predominantly Black community that was literally razed to the ground in the 1960s) and they’ll glibly tell you that it needed to be torn down to build the new bridge and anyway wasn’t it, like, actually a dump? They don’t want to hear about the tight-knit community that existed there; they’d rather not know about how the provincial and municipal governments purposefully placed a prison, an infectious disease hospital, a slaughterhouse, a fecal waste depository and, yes, finally the town dump next to Africville. If you mention the fact that the Africville church was secretly demolished by the city at night to limit protests, they’ll roll their eyes and say that was a long time ago and why isn’t everyone over that by now.

It was not a long time ago. The church was torn down in 1969. The final house in Africville was demolished in 1970. And the pervasive racism that led to the demise of Africville is still going strong in Halifax today. According to Sherwood Hines, three businesses in Halifax have been fined in the last year for not serving Black customers. IT IS 2015 AND BUSINESSES IN HALIFAX ARE FULLY NOT SERVING PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THE COLOUR OF THEIR SKIN. That is literally a thing that is happening and I don’t even know what to say about except: Halifax, you should be fucking better than that.

During the last few years that I lived in Halifax there was a lot of talk about “revitalizing” the north end. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea, especially since there was a several-mile radius that contained no banks or grocery stores or pharmacies. I was like, “Perfect, I can’t wait to not have to haul food all the way from Quinpool road. Bring on the revitalization.” Except, of course, what folks meant by “revitalization” was gentrification. Almost all of the new businesses that have moved into the north end are owned by white people, employ a primarily white staff, and serve white customers. The Black population in the north end no longer feel like they belong in their own neighbourhood.

The movement of the “ethnic” food vendors and the gentrification of the north end are all part of the same problem: cultural erasure and whitewashing. White Nova Scotians are eager to preserve the idea that maritime culture is a bunch of white people singing sea shanties and downing cod, and the folks selling samosas and dolmas don’t fit into that narrative arc. But you know what, Halifax? Not only is that narrative racist, reductionist and completely inaccurate, it’s also played out. YOU ARE BETTER THAN A BUNCH OF DRUNK FRAT DUDES PUKING ON THE FLOOR OF THE SPLIT CROW BETWEEN VERSES OF BARRETT’S PRIVATEERS. Nova Scotia is diverse. Nova Scotia has always been diverse. How about we recognize that and celebrate it instead of tucking away those inconvenient shish taouk vendors and pretending that Black culture isn’t a thing that’s been happening in Nova Scotia for three hundred years?

Halifax, you need to get your shit together. You have an amazing population, and it’s time to start serving all of them.


21 Responses to “The Seaport Farmers’ Market and Halifax’s Race Problem”

  1. stupidityhole April 14, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

    Good read.

  2. dray0308 April 14, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    I laugh at the phrases used to refer to “white people culture!” But authentic maritime culture is a good one ! Lol

  3. 30fatsingle April 14, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

    Bravo to you for bringing attention to this issue … I have to laugh when I hear people say that racism doesn’t exist in Canada. How can you fix the problem if you don’t acknowledge it? I have never been to Halifax but I am from Newfoundland so I’m familiar with some of what you speak of … namely, the stereotype of what Atlantic or Maritime culture means.

  4. Emily McEwan-Fujita April 14, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

    I live in Halifax and I am very unhappy with the way Halifax Seaport Farmers Market is treating these vendors. Also: the “the pseudo Scottish-Irish-Celtic culture the east coast is famous for” was constructed to exclude those of us who speak Scottish Gaelic, even though Gaelic is the very language that so-called Celtic culture sprang from. At the time of Canadian Confederation in 1867, Gaelic was Canada’s third most widely spoken
    language after English and French. However, the British and then Anglo-Canadians have been doing their best to destroy Gaelic since the 1800s. So “East Coast Celtic” is pretty much English-only. In related news, last Thursday the Liberal government cut 40% of staff (2 of 5 positions) from the provincial Gaelic Affairs office. Ach tha sinn ann fhathast (We are still here). *osna*

    • Big Chimpin April 16, 2015 at 2:18 am #

      Liberal, NDP, Conservative it don’t matter. Same shit, different toilet. Remember, the NDP redrew electoral boundaries to effectively suppress Acadian and African Nova Scotian voters.

    • Rebecca April 17, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      I had the opportunity if wanted, to learn Gaelic in school.

  5. maxsunkangshu April 15, 2015 at 2:03 am #

    Do you live in Halifax ? The population is not that big I think..Just personal thought. 😉

  6. April 15, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    Just to clarify….This story here is one of irresponsible journalism. The story was filled with half truths, for example it completely neglected to mention that 35 white vendors have already been moved to the exact same location or that many ethnic vendors are remaining on the first floor. Moving vendors has to do with the amount of days they’ve commited to attending the market and not the color of their skin. Typical Coast sensationalism is the only story here.

    • Brazen Lee April 15, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

      “Coast sensationalism” Is.. that.. a… thing… ?

    • heathernegus April 16, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      I agree, this is irresponsible blogging at best. Grounded in opinion instead of fact.

  7. Emily April 15, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    “[…] and I say that as someone who grew up in a city that used to be called Berlin and at one point had a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm in a downtown park.”

    That’s a racist statement against Germans , as if being German or being of German heritage were synonymous with being a white supremisist .

  8. suthrheim April 15, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    What the fuck is this shit?
    Arent you shitheads tired of such shitty untrue arguments? Why dont you get into power and then make it illegal to be european and then Kill us all already?

    Also fuck your metaphor about the Kaiser indicating Germans are somehow inherently racist. Go. FUCK. YOURSELF.

  9. suthrheim April 15, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    What the fuck is this shit?
    Arent you shitheads tired of such shitty untrue arguments? Why dont you get into power and then make it illegal to be european and then Kill us all already?

    Also fuck your metaphor about the Kaiser indicating Germans are somehow inherently racist. Go. FUCK. YOURSELF

  10. Elaine April 16, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    I worked at the seaport market for about two years and I did notice the difference how vendors were treated. It’s a shame but there is an issue at the market and for that matter in Halifax as well. I know I sound like I may live in a bubble at times but I just wish this shit would stop. Both sides needs to remember we all bleed red.

  11. Ghost April 16, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    This article is very racist toward white people. You are a hypocrite

  12. Aly April 17, 2015 at 1:22 am #


    As someone who has only visited Halifax, I wholeheartedly agreed with (and loled at) this statement.

  13. Rebecca April 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    I am not saying there isn’t racism in Nova Scotia and I am not standing up for the possibility that it could be an act of racism to move vendors away from the main floor of the market but what I will say is that I find this article offensive.

  14. The Chaos Realm April 20, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing, and sharing, this fascinating article. I love it not just because I’m interested in the maritime history of ALL mariners (feel free to recommend any further reading into this kind of Halifax history), but because I am also interested in social activism. And, we have similar issues here in Sarasota, and Florida in general, with gentrification, not to mention its abysmally intolerant, violent, and classist war against the homeless population. (A stance which continues to make US national news).

    Re: Food Trucks, here in Sarasota. Even a local commissioner was quoted in the paper regarding the reasons behind a ban on food trucks on Siesta Key because “we don’t want those kinds of people” out on the (upscale) Key. Great job!

  15. S. Weld April 27, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve lived in Halifax for almost 20 years, and you’d be crazy not to recognize that there’s a serious race problem here, institutional and otherwise. However, sensationalizing this situation (changes at Seaport market) without taking the time to examine the actual circumstances and realities behind it is irresponsible and in my opinion does more harm than good. I also take issue with the generalization in paragraph 6, which claims that if you “Ask most people about the destruction of Africville (a predominantly Black community that was literally razed to the ground in the 1960s) [they’ll] glibly tell you that it needed to be torn down to build the new bridge and anyway wasn’t it, like, actually a dump?” (and so on and so forth). I know a lot of people, with a lot of backgrounds, in a lot of fields, in this city and I can say categorically that I’ve never heard anyone blithely dismiss the Africville relocation. In my experience (admittedly anecdotal) the Africville relocation is roundly condemned by all but the most ignorant of citizens. Perhaps the next time you decide to Racesplain our problems to us, Anne Theriault, you can at least take the time to do your homework.

  16. Claudia Ramke Bennett December 12, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

    I am extremely surprised by this article. Here I was thinking how great and open Canada was. But I am very disappointed. You are not open. The country is just as prejudiced as the USA.


  1. The Seaport Farmers’ Market and Halifax’s Race Problem | Librarian to be. . . - April 15, 2015

    […] The Seaport Farmers’ Market and Halifax’s Race Problem is an article that was written by Anne Theriault of The Belle Jar and it is an excellent piece on pointing out Halifax’s problem with race, both historically and today. There are people who run businesses in Halifax who have been fined this year for not serving black people. (Is this 2015 or 1815?) Seriously Halifax, you need to be better than this, you’ve had 300 years to be better than this so it isn’t a new thing for you. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: