Many Black Pioneers came from the Oklahoma area, which was then considered "Indian/Free Territory".
This title allowed a modicum of freedom to both Native Americans and Blacks to co-exist within the state.
The state then enacted "Jim Crow" laws, (which upheld discrimination) so the Blacks looked North to Canada for
refuge. The pioneering families believed that life in Canada would be a better life; they were spurred onward
to the underdeveloped Prairies of the West by the enticement of cheap land. In approximately 1898, the Government
of Canada changed its immigration policies to encourage settlement on the prairies and forests of Alberta,
Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Many Nationalities answered the call, African-Americans included. Although reasons for leaving the United States
were many, injustice and discrimination were the reasons that Blacks moved to Western Canada. The Pioneers originated
from different states such as Texas, California, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Illinois before gathering
in Oklahoma. As their hopes for better treatment in Oklahoma disappeared, they moved to Canada.
Black Pioneers Arrive in Canada
When the Canadian Government advertised for settlers, they were unprepared for the influx of African-Americans to the
Prairies. Unfortunately, once the Black Pioneers arrived in Canada, they were not welcomed with open arms by the white
society. The immigration policy offering cheap land was targeted to White Americans and their settlement in Canada.
When large numbers of Blacks began populating the Prairies, resentment against the minority grew. For the Black Pioneers,
it was a sad repeat of the same discrimination found in America. Although Canadians were perceived as the kinder, gentler
European, their ignorance of minority cultures was matched only by their covert and overt discriminative practices of law,
which stemmed from this ignorance. An example of this was the restrictions placed on the number of Blacks allowed into
Between 1905-1912 the Canadian borders were open for immigrants and during this period many of the Black Pioneer families
journeyed North. These laws restricting Blacks effectively halted the exodus from the United States to Western Canada.
Most immigrants arrived in those early days by train or horse-and-wagon while entering through Saskatchean and Manitoba.
Many settled in Saskatchewan in the Maidstone-Eldon districts, while others traveled to Alberta and established Amber
Valley (NorthEast of Edmonton), Campsie (in the Barrhead area), Junkins (now Wildwood), and Keystone (now Breton).
These were primarily Black communities established by our Pioneers. They left the United States as a multi-skilled, educated group.
These skills ranged from farmers to teachers, doctors, nurses, ministers and businessmen. The families began farming in order to
stake claim and to meet government requirements for landownership. In the beginning, the Black farmers owned huge parcels of land
in Alberta, however a down turn in the Canadian economy caused many Blacks to lose the land they settled. After a few generations
later, Black families started leaving the Black settlements and moving into the cities in search of employment.
Blacks found job opportunities in limited supply. Some went into business for themselves with cafes, hotels, rooming houses, or
barbershops. Some men found work with the railroad companies as porters and some women accepted domestic position. Many Blacks
spread to the other urban centers in Western Canada. We are now in our fifth and sixth generations as Canadians. The Black families
who descended from those first early Pioneers are still here today. We are growing, thriving and prospering. We will continue to
proudly carry on the legacy our great-grandparents started -- striving for higher ground, never forgetting.
[Written by: Alison Crawford]