Black History Month 2021

Editor’s note: From the largest student occupation in Canadian history to larger-than-life historical figures, here are handful of laws, events and people that contributed to the Black experience here in Canada. Follow the links below for more in-depth information on these events and people.

Written by: Garnett Glashen

Viola Desmond
Not only was Viola Desmond a successful businesswoman in Nova Scotia, she was an advocate for equal and fair treatment of Black people at a time when they were viewed as lesser peoples in Canada. Many will note that Viola Desmond recently became the first woman of colour to be enshrined on any Canadian currency, however few know the battles that were led by Viola Desmond, to provide an equal opportunity for Black Canadians to acquire skills, enter trades and participate in social activities that were traditionally reserved for people who weren’t Black.

Produced by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this short documentary tells the story of Viola Desmond’s famous act of resistance in a Nova Scotia Theatre.
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Portraiture from the Ernest Brown fonds

Editor’s note: In our continued recognition of Black History Month, the Provincial Archives of Alberta has shared a collection of portraits of Black Albertans from photographer Ernest Brown. The Ernest Brown fonds contain around 50,000 negatives and other materials, predominantly from the years 1880-1960.

One of the earliest professional photographers in Alberta, Ernest Brown moved to Edmonton from England in April 1904. In Edmonton, Brown went to work as an assistant to C.W. Mathers, the city’s first photographer. Three months later, Brown bought the rights to Mathers’ portrait studio and in 1905 the studio expanded into the Ernest Brown Company Ltd.

Little is known about the subjects in the photographs below. Likely, the only records kept from these photo sessions was the name of the person who booked and paid for the session.

Black History at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Editor’s note: In our continuing recognition of Black History Month, RETROactive contributors from the Provincial Archives of Alberta highlight some of the resources available for researchers wanting to know more about the history of Alberta’s Black community.

Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist and Karen Simonson, Reference Archivist

Researching the history of Black communities in Alberta can be challenging.  Sources can be limited and potentially scattered among many institutions within Alberta’s heritage communities.  Much of the access is dependent on knowing a person’s name or having some additional background clues or information.  But the history of Alberta’s Black communities can be teased out of the records preserved by the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA), and all the resources described below are available for researchers to see and consult for themselves during regular opening hours of the reading room.

Unidentified woman with dog, ca. 1920 (Ernest Brown fonds, BP2-15552)

In addition to published books and newspapers providing context to the community, the PAA is fortunate to have received donations of records from private individuals such as Fil Fraser, Selwyn Jacob and Junetta Jamerson.  While these records can only tell part of the story, looking more closely at some familiar holdings at the PAA reveals perhaps some unexplored and unexpected traces of Alberta’s Black history.

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Canada Post commemorates an Alberta community for Black History Month

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.

These stamps – the 13th issue in Canada Post’ Black History Month series – tell the stories of two Black communities nearly one hundred years and thousands of kilometres apart. Both rose from hardship to survive and grow for a time and served as stepping stones for the success of future generations of Black Canadians. Source: Canada Post.

This year, Canada Post turned the spotlight once again to Alberta, this time producing a stamp recognizing the community of Amber Valley.  

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Alberta’s African-American immigrant story

MovieFrame_WeAreTheRoots-1

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2018. To recognize Black History Month, we here at RETROactive are pleased to share this important documentary with you again.

Winner of the 2018 Alberta Historical Resources Foundation 2018 Heritage Awareness awardWe Are the Roots is a documentary that tells the stories of African American immigrants who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.

In the film, you’ll hear stories from 19 descendants of original settlers, as they moved north to escape slavery, persecution and racism in America. Once in Canada, these families would then experience more discrimination, both in Edmonton and in rural communities they settled.

The film was produced and created through a partnership between documentary film production company Bailey and Soda Films along with Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots,

Click the image above to view the full-length documentary.

 

We Are the Roots: Black settlers and their experiences of discrimination on the Canadian prairies

MovieFrame_WeAreTheRoots-1

Winner of the 2018 Alberta Historical Resources Foundation 2018 Heritage Awareness awardWe Are the Roots is a documentary that tells the stories of African American immigrants who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.

In the film, you’ll hear stories from 19 descendants of original settlers, as they moved north to escape slavery, persecution and racism in America. Once in Canada, these families would then experience more discrimination, both in Edmonton and in rural communities they settled.

The film was produced and created through a partnership between documentary film production company Bailey and Soda Films along with Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots,

Click the image above to view the full-length documentary.

 

Finding Lulu: One man’s quest to find himself in his own city

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Yards Magazine in September 2018. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

On May 12, 1922, Lulu Anderson tried to buy a ticket to ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ at the former Metropolitan Theatre on Jasper Avenue. Lulu was 36 and a member of the Black community. She enjoyed the theatre and had visited the Metropolitan many times with her friends. But May 12 was different. The theatre staff denied Lulu entry. Worse, they “assaulted” her, according to a column in the Edmonton Journal.

Lulu decided to stand up.

Few Edmonton residents know Lulu’s story. And to understand what happened to her downtown that night, in 1922, we need to back up a bit. For starters, despite many who still believe the opposite, Alberta was home to anti-black racism. Minstrel shows were extremely common in theatres; indeed, actors of the era routinely performed in blackface. In 1920, a minstrel parade was even held downtown. Segregation was also common across the city. From 1910 to 1950, Black Edmontonians were denied entry into theatres, swimming pools, bars and even hospitals. One more well-known example is from 1938, when a Black nurse was denied entry into nursing training at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

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WOODY STRODE: CALGARY STAMPEDER AND HOLLYWOOD STALWART

Stampeders President Tom Brook holding the Grey Cup with Woody Strode in Toronto, November, 1948. Courtesy of the Calgary Stampeder Football Club.

In conjunction with Black History Month, RETROactive profiles Woody Strode, a pioneering African American player with the Calgary Stampeders who went on to a remarkable career in Hollywood.

The arrival of Herb Trawick to the Montreal Alouettes in 1946 signalled the beginning of African Americans playing in the Canadian Football League (CFL), expanding the talent pool of athletes available for Canada’s professional teams. The first African Americans to play in Alberta were Charles Clay (Chuck) Anderson and Woody Strode who joined the Calgary Stampeders for the 1948 season. Although Strode only played with Calgary for two seasons, he made a lasting contribution to the lore of Grey Cup festivities that are now considered to be Canada’s premier sporting event.

Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode, whose ancestors had intermarried with Creek (Muscogee), Cherokee and Blackfoot Native Americans, was born 25 July 1914 in Los Angeles. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles where he had a stellar record as a decathlete and football player. Part time jobs with Hollywood film studios led to several uncredited film appearances and foreshadowed his future career. During the Second World War, Strode served with the Fourth Air Read more

Obadiah Place, Amber Valley: Commemorating African American Settlement in Alberta

Willis and Jeanie Bowen at Amber Valley, courtesy of the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society.
Willis and Jeanie Bowen at Amber Valley, courtesy of the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society.

In January of 2017 the Government of Alberta officially proclaimed February as Black History Month, recognizing the contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made to the province. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Black History Month in Canada, a time to celebrate the history and achievements of black Canadians within Canada.

In the spirit of that announcement, RETROactive would like to feature one of Alberta’s historic places, which commemorates African American settlement. The Obadiah Place at Amber Valley was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1990. The following information is adapted from the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

In 1911, a party of black Americans made their way from Oklahoma to seek a new life on lands north of Edmonton. Recent statehood for Oklahoma had brought with it restrictive ‘Jim Crow’ laws and many black Read more