The Black History of Alberta that you weren’t taught in School
Alberta’s legislature recently decided to recognize Black History Month for the first time, making Alberta the fourth province in Canada to officially observe this celebration. This is pretty huge considering Alberta is basically synonymous with the American south, and WE ALL KNOW that people are going to complain like hell over this.
But for the rest of us that aren’t trying to make this place pro-white…this is pretty dope!
As a Canadian (or an Albertan), what exactly is Black History Month to us?
When we think of the Pioneers of Black History Month we immediately think of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and maybbeee a few folks out East (i.e. Harriet Tubman) if we’re somewhat woke about Black History in Canada. But contrary to what we learned in school, the early settlers in Alberta weren’t just Aboriginals and Europeans.
Did you know about the Great Exodus?
During the 1870s, there were about a thousand black migrants aka “exodusters” that occupied communities between Alberta and Saskatchewan. These migrants were former slaves from Oklahoma and Kansas that fled to Canada to escape the inequality of the Jim Crow South.
or about “No Dark Spots?”
With the influx of Black migrants into Alberta, there came opposition both by some white American settlers and the government. The term “no dark spots in Canada” was originally coined by C.E. Simmons (an MP from Lethbridge) as a call to restrict Blacks from entering the province.
But you probably didn’t know that there were KKK Cross burnings in Edmonton?
Alberta was the only province to legally recognize The Ku Klux Klan, and they had a pretty powerful voice in the 1930’s. Can’t say I’m too surprised about this one.
If you love the Calgary Stampede, then you must know about John Ware
You probably know about John Ware (I’m really hoping), a former slave and cowboy who found his way to Calgary in the early 1900’s. He brought the first cattle to Alberta and helped create its notable ranching industry; he also popularized and dominated in steer wrestling, which has become a highlight of the Calgary Stampede.
Violet King ring a bell?
She was the first black female Lawyer ever in Canada, and she graduated from the University of Alberta.
Hmmm, maybe Virnetta Nelson Anderson?
She was the first black person elected to Calgary city council from 1974 to 1977, and she sat on several important boards.
You definitely know Jerome Iginla!
Yeah I know that’s not him, but before “Iggy” there was former Edmonton Oiler Grant Fuhr. He was the first black goalie in the NHL, the first black player to win the Stanley Cup AND the first black player in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So why is this important?
Firstly, the point of Black History Month is to strengthen the future of a community by recognizing its past. We Canadians have always had a very misconstrued understanding of our own history and nationality, because to be honest, we don’t really know much about our history. As a result of the “mosaic identity” of Canada, white people feel like immigrants are taking over (stealing what is owed to them), because a large portion of history gets swept under the rug. We saw examples of this when a handful of Canadians publicly expressed racist attitudes towards the arrival of Syrian refugees.
Secondly as a person of colour in Alberta, you call this place home but you have no real desire to pride yourself as an ‘Albertan’. This is because our cultural identity has always been super white and Aboriginal, so where do you fit in if you’re different? Would the response to immigrants/ refugees be different if we had a more diverse cultural identity?
It’s time to spark those conversations that no one wants to have about creating a more inclusive Albertan culture. This of course can only happen when Albertan’s as a whole stop behaving like rednecks *wink wink*
Happy first day of Black History Month Ya’ll!