Black History Month in Alberta—The first settlers

ware-and-cowboys

February has officially been proclaimed as Black History Month in the province of Alberta. To mark this event, we acknowledge some remarkable people who helped shape our province’s history.  In the first of a three part series, we look at some of the first black people to call this land home.

Did you know that…

Gérard Dicks Pellerin a-1640xl pc065135 10-02-04

Photo: Gérard Dicks Pellerin

John and Mildred Ware were among the first black settlers in the territory we now know as Alberta?

  • John Ware arrived from Texas in 1882, along with a herd of 3,000 longhorn cattle heading to the Bar U Ranch south of Calgary. This makes him one of the first cowboys in Alberta.
  • His talent for ranching turned him into something of a legend. For example, stories indicated that he could walk over the backs of penned steers and even stop one in its tracks before wrestling it to the ground.
  • Mildred Ware travelled to Alberta from Toronto in her late teens. She and John were married 1892, and had five children together.
  • Life was challenging for the farming couple, but they persevered through many hardships like the flooding of the Red Deer River that destroyed their first home in 1902.
  • Mildred died in the spring of 1905 from pneumonia; John was killed in an accident in September of 1905 when his horse tripped in a badger hole, crushing John and breaking his neck.

The Ware’s Rosebud log house now stands at Dinosaur Provincial Park, preserved in tribute to this remarkable ranching family. John Ware’s legacy as a skilled and well-respected rancher is also commemorated through the several natural sites and buildings that bear his name. His image also graced Canada Post’s commemorative stamp for Black History Month in 2012.

Did you know that…

jdedwards_whitpineJefferson Davis Edwards, along with his father in law, was one of the first people to help establish the black community in Amber Valley?

  • Jefferson Davis Edwards was among the first “exodusters” from Oklahoma. “Exodusters” was the name given to African Americans who migrated north to escape the racial violence in the south following the American Civil War.
  • Jefferson Davis Edwards was among the African American families who came to settle in Canada. Their arrival was not welcome, and Canadian government immigration officials did everything they could short of passing laws to stop the migration.
  • He arrived in Edmonton in July of 1910 but did not stay long. Shortly after, he walked from Edmonton to Athabasca…in just three days!
  • Along with this father-in-law, he was one of the first to make a home east of Athabasca in Amber Valley. There, settlers farmed, hauled freight and did other odd jobs to make a living.
  • Edwards is also credited for creating the first all-black baseball team in Amber Valley, known for many years afterwards for crushing its northern Alberta rivals, and helping to dissolve racial tensions.

Read more about John Ware and Jefferson Davis Edwards.

Bonus fun fact:

fields_mary“Stagecoach Mary” Fields was a cigar-smoking, whiskey drinking, notorious brawler and entrepreneur who reportedly owned restaurants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana and Wyoming. While not much is known about her time in Alberta, her legacy lives on in the form of a character that appeared on five episodes of Hell on Wheels… filmed here in Alberta!

Mary Fields was born a slave in Tennessee in 1832, and later came west with a group of nuns after she was freed in 1865. At age 60, she was contracted to drive a U.S. Mail coach, becoming the first black woman and only second woman in history to do so. Her reliability earned her the nickname “Stagecoach Mary.”

 

That’s it for part one in our series. Stay tuned for the next post where we look at a few of Alberta’s trail blazers in politics and law.

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