The Roberts Street Social Centre and Anchor Zine Archive in Halifax, where I did a two-week residency, is moving, or closing. It’s really sad to think about this place not being around anymore, although I realize that, like zines themselves, its strength is in its minorness. Spaces that appear in the cracks, like weeds, are more tenuous and vulnerable than institutions with a lot of financial and state support. But they’re also more adaptable and more resilient. They’re always going to be getting hassled by landlords, police, the city. But they’re also always going to grow somewhere else. I thought a lot about marginal places when I was there, and I’m thinking about them again now. I made some observations while I was there, which I called to myself The Tour of Unfinished Business, or Structural Curiosities of Halifax.
1. From the roof of the Archive you can see the Staircase to Nowhere. It sticks straight up into the air looking all Escherly. It’s part of a firefighter training station, and it’s for drills where they practice running up and down stairs, saving people. I never saw this happen.
2. The Archive used to employ a hamster to cut the grass. They would plop the top part of its cage down on the lawn, just the wire part and not the plastic bottom, and let the hamster go at it. They’d move the cage over every half hour or so. One day someone stole the hamster, leaving the cage. Who would do such a thing, the archivists wondered. “Stole” is probably a kind guess.
3. The Overpass to Nowhere no longer exists. It was an unfinished structure that used to go, or not go, over Seaview Park, which itself used to be Africville, the former black community over one hundred years old that got absorbed and then razed by the city. You could sit on the edge of the Overpass to Nowhere and dangle your legs and look out over the harbour. When it became clear there was no intention to finish the overpass, the city tore it down. The Overpass to Nowhere therefore no longer fails to cross Africville, which is not there.
4. The Lilac Forest is not really a forest. It’s not even really a grove. It’s maybe five or six clustered lilac bushes in Seaview Park, which is what Africville became, remember, after it was levelled by developers. The lilac bushes suggest the yard of a house that must have existed and is now gone; a yard is meant to be a gesture toward the outdoors, like an accessory a house wears that recalls some other life. In this case though it is the gesture that has overtaken the gesturer. What is a yard called when it’s not attached to a house? The yard, like the community, has been absorbed.
5. The Archive is barely an archive at all. It’s a collection of book-shaped material, most of it flimsy and cheap – photocopies, staples, newsprint. This material might be a kind of congealing of an ephemeral state, relationship, or idea. The Archive stores it and also lends it out, which is why it’s barely an archive. What archive lets you take a one-of-a-kind book with you in your backpack? Nevertheless, the Archive succeeds at preserving what seemed at the time like momentary concerns – things people once took seriously, and still do, if they remember.