HISTORIC - Canadian soldiers with a pile of artillery shells on the front in Northern France

Marking Black History Month in our province

Red Deer historian details the rich history in the Central Alberta area

February is Black History Month in Alberta. It is a time to reflect on the history and contributions of a relatively small, but important group in our province.

The first blacks began arriving in Alberta about 140 years ago. Most had worked as ranch hands and trail drivers in Texas and across the American West. As the cattle frontier gradually shifted northwards from Wyoming and Montana into southern Alberta, these black cowboys made their way into Canada.

One of the best remembered of these new ranching immigrants was John Ware. He had been born a slave in South Carolina. However, after moving west following the end of the Civil War, he developed an excellent reputation as a horseman and cattle herder.

Once in Alberta in the early 1880s, he worked briefly for the I.G. Baker freighting company, before securing a job on the Quorn Ranche near Calgary. By the 1890s, he had acquired his own small cattle and horse ranch on Sheep Creek near Millarville.

In 1892, he married Mildred Lewis and they started to raise a family of five. After 10 years, the family moved to a larger ranch along the Red Deer River in the Brooks district.

Tragedy struck in 1905. Mildred fell seriously ill with pneumonia and passed away in the spring. That autumn, John was fatally injured by a fall from his horse. Mildred’s family assumed the care of the children.

Among the first blacks to live in Central Alberta were Edward (George) and Hattie Thompson. Edward was born in Missouri, the son of Virginia slaves. Edward and Hattie had one daughter, who they named Latechange.

After living in Nebraska, the Thompsons moved to southern Alberta, where Edward found work on the local ranches. Around 1904, they decided to get their own place. They consequently moved to the Magic/Earlville district south east of Ponoka where they took out a homestead.

Tragedy struck in early February 1907. Deep snow forced Edward to take a detour from his usual route to the Earlville store and post office. He became totally exhausted on his way home with his heavy load of supplies. He collapsed in the snow. He was later found frozen to death, less than a kilometre from his home and safety.

After Edward’s death, Hattie and Latechange moved to Ponoka. Hattie took in boarders, did laundry and cleaned other people’s houses in order to make ends meet. In the mid-1920s, together with Latechange’s young daughter Alice, the Thompsons moved to Edmonton.

Meanwhile, in 1908, noticeable numbers of blacks began immigrating to Alberta, mainly from Oklahoma. Although there were no formal rules against their immigration, there were a great many informal rules which restricted their ability to cross the border into Canada.

One sizeable group settled at Keystone (later renamed Breton), north of Rimbey and west of Ponoka. The area was isolated, but that suited the new settlers. The isolation allowed the creation of a cohesive community and kept potential conflicts with neighbours to a minimum.

In 1911, with more and more blacks moving to Alberta, the Edmonton Board of Trade made a major effort to have the government ban further immigration. They circulated a petition that argued that black settlers would be “ill-suited to the cold climate of Canada”, ignoring the fact that many from the northern States had experienced just as harsh of winters as the ones in Canada.

When the petition was referred by Edmonton to the Red Deer Board of Trade, two local prominent local members vigorously opposed it. They were Raymond Gaetz, first mayor of the Town of Red Deer and Francis Galbraith, first mayor of the City of Red Deer and editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

Despite these two men’s opposition, the petition got widespread support. Severe restrictions on black immigration were soon imposed. It was not until the 1960s that black immigration to Canada began to grow again.

Just Posted

Blackfalds RCMP investigate break and enter at Fas Gas

RCMP search for suspect who cut through an outside wall to gain access

Operating Budget focuses significantly on community safety

Proposed 2% tax increase for operating budget, debate runs in January

UPDATE: Red Deer RCMP investigate non-suspicious death downtown

48 St. behind transit terminal was closed off earlier Wednesday

Team Canada dancer returns to Red Deer laden with medals

Red Deer dancer wins three silver medals and a bronze at World Championship

Local author releases brand new international thriller

Retired teacher Larry Stewart hosting a book launch this Saturday

Troubled Monk releases new spirit

Troubled Spirit vodka was introduced in early December

Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

What were Canadians were curious about: Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

Democrat wins stunning red-state Alabama Senate upset

Democrat Doug Jones wins stunning red-state Alabama Senate upset against Roy Moore

New fighter-jet competition to have national ‘economic interest’ requirement

Trudeau government wants to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s with 88 new fighters by as early as 2025

The top-binged shows on Netflix in 2017

Which show did you cheat on your spouse with by watching ahead?

2017 word of the year: Feminism

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017: ‘Feminism’

200 Russians to compete in Olympics as neutrals

The Russian Olympic Committee expects 200 to compete in South Korea

Researchers claim the ‘man flu’ does exist

Review of scientific studies suggests ‘man flu’ may be more intense: researcher

Trudeau appoints Supreme Court chief justice

Prime Minister Trudeau appoints Richard Wagner as Supreme Court chief justice

Most Read