Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer
Violet King Henry was one of the most significant figures in Alberta’s legal history. She became a lawyer at a time when it was very rare to find either a woman or a person of colour in the legal profession. When she entered the University of Alberta’s Law School in 1950, she was one of only three women in the program (a fourth had enrolled in the faculty by the time she graduated in 1953). She was the first Black Canadian to earn a law degree in Alberta and would become the first Black woman to practice law in Canada when she was called to the Alberta Bar in June 1954. It was the start of a remarkable and varied career that took King Henry across Canada and the United States.
Violet King Henry was born in Calgary on October 18, 1929. Her grandparents had arrived in Canada in 1911 as part of a large group of Black settlers fleeing racist violence and discrimination in Oklahoma. At that time, the Canadian government was aggressively promoting the Canadian Prairie West as an ideal field of settlement for land-hungry American farmers. The arrival of hundreds of Black settlers from Oklahoma starting in 1908, however, quickly exposed the racist foundations of Canada’s immigration policy. The Government of Canada considered multiple strategies to discourage Black immigration from the United States to Canada, including legislation to ban Black immigration from the United States altogether (the legislation was never passed into law). Despite this hostile reception, approximately 1,000 Black settlers came from the United States to Alberta between 1908 and 1911 and established vibrant communities such as Amber Valley and Keystone (now Breton).Read more