Juanita Peters is telling the stories of Africville
By Suzanne Rent
Juanita Peters is a born storyteller. Peters worked as a reporter and news anchor for 20 years, for various networks. She’s also a writer, playwright, and filmmaker.
“I’m a person of story,” Peters says. “I love story and I’m always looking for the right medium to tell that story.”
Now, as the general manager of the Africville Museum, she’s telling the stories of the historic black community in Halifax.
“Most of my work deals with social issues, mostly uncomfortable subjects,” Peters says. “Africville was one of those stories and it’s an ongoing story. It’s one of those stories that’s a living organism. It’s still producing questions and new information.”
What do you love about working here?
Every day is different. I love the space; it lends itself to so many different ideas and feelings. I love meeting the people, I love hearing their stories as well. And I love hearing for some people the similarities they may have encountered in their regions, their countries. We often get people as well who are hearing the Africville story or anything like it in Canada for the first time. That’s also very rewarding because I love to learn what their comments are coming to with brand new eyes and ears.
What are the comments?
About the museum itself, they are asking why it’s so hard to get to it. They are saying in this day and age, why is there no public transportation coming down here. They want to know why the church was one of the things that was given by the city in the apology and if there were any other reparations. And they want to know what other things were happening in the city at the time of this particular event. I refer them to a number of things they can read or watch to give them an idea of where Nova Scotia sat in the greater scheme of the Canadian mosaic.
What do people still not understand about the story of Africville?
The narrative that was presented was so good: ‘We’re going to rescue these people from any awful situation.’ What people don’t get is the city created the awful situation. The awful situation was all the undesirable things that were put into this living community’s backyard: the abattoir, the infectious disease hospital, the open dump. And the city still did not give them, even though these were taxpaying people, the same things as other taxpaying people: Garbage collection, running water. The other thing people have to understand is the lasting impact. If you live in a place and grow up understanding that your life is considered less than everybody else’s, it’s traumatic and it changes how you move through the world. And it changes what you think your opportunities are in life.
What do you think the future of Africville is?
For a long time, we’ve been trying to help people understand what happened and what people would like to happen. I find that we’re in a very interesting decade right now where there are some very interesting ears on all justice issues and we’re partnering with the most unlikely partners on different things. For example, I’m going out to build an exhibit at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport and that was an offer to us. We were talking with city planners last year and they’re looking at the Africville story through new eyes. They’re carrying that story beyond Nova Scotia in what you should and should not do.
What do you want to tell those learning the story of Africville for the first time?
They should come and hear this story because, in the Canadian context and landscape for African Canadians, it all began here in Nova Scotia. In 400 years, we have forged so many things. If you’re not interested or think you may not be interested in the social or political side of the story, you might be interested to know that Africville had an all-black hockey team. Nova Scotia had the only coloured league in Canada. And so, if you’re interested in sports, we can talk about that, too. In our history, Africville has a piece of everything that is truly Nova Scotian.
Juanita Peters is currently the general manager of Africville Museum. Juanita is a playwright, actor and film director. Peters has over 30 years of media experience. Her early career includes radio and television host/reporter for various networks including CBC NB and AVR. Member of ACTRA, Writers Guild of Canada (WGC), Actors Equity (CAEA) , Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre( PARC) and a founding member of Women In Film & Television Atlantic (WIFT-AT.)