Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS, Geographical Names Program Coordinator
February is Black History Month, a time dedicated for the commemoration of the history, heritage and legacy of the Black community in Canada. Since 2009, Canada Post has produced a series of commemorative postage stamps recognizing aspects of Canada’s Black community. These stamps have featured individuals and communities as well as military contributions and sporting accomplishments. In 2012, John Ware, southern Alberta’s famous Black cowboy and rancher was featured.
This year, Canada Post turned the spotlight once again to Alberta, this time producing a stamp recognizing the community of Amber Valley.
Amber Valley is a rural community located approximately 125 kilometres northeast of Edmonton and 25 kilometres east of Athabasca. In 1911, a large number of Black Americans left Oklahoma for a new home in north-central Alberta, seeking escape from racism and discrimination. They travelled by wagon train to Winnipeg and then by rail to Edmonton, from where they continued their journey northward to the Pine Creek District (soon renamed Amber Valley).
At Amber Valley, they established a thriving community that eventually reached more than 1,000 people. Unfortunately, these Black settlers did not find the freedom from discrimination they hope that Canada would provide. They faced discrimination and harassment on the journey and their arrival in Alberta resulted in a rise in anti-Black sentiment and pressure on Ottawa that led to severe restrictions on Black or African-American immigration to Canada.
In spite of this discrimination and racist immigration policies, the community of Amber Valley thrived, and its residents, many of whom were connected by family and friendships back in Oklahoma, developed even closer ties. Amber Valley began to decline following the Second World War as many of its young people left the rural community seeking better opportunities in Alberta’s larger towns and cities. Still, the legacy of Amber Valley lives through the memories of its descendants and the contributions they continue to make to Alberta and Canada.
When Amber Valley was chosen by Canada Post to be featured in its Black History stamp series, historians and institutions were approached to assist in the stamp’s development, including the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, playwright, filmmaker and historian Cheryl Foggo and Dr. Jennifer Kelly of the University of Alberta. Staff here at the Historic Resources Management Branch, as well as the Remington Carriage Museum, were also approached and were pleased to provide input on the stamp design and the accompanying explanatory texts.
Recognition of Amber Valley by Canada Post comes at an opportune time. Over the 2020 Christmas break, the farm house known as Obadiah Place burned down. Obadiah Place was believe to have been the oldest structure still remaining in the Amber Valley district associated with Black settlement of Amber Valley. Obadiah Place was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1999.
RETROactive has run a number of blog posts about Amber Valley, including: