In the early 1900s, Black pioneers in Alberta often saw themselves as proud Canadian citizens and British subjects. However, they faced and fought exclusion from several aspects of Canadian life ranging from serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to local theatres to swimming pools and access to housing.
Sustained Opposition to Black Immigration
Newspapers frequently reported negatively on the arrivals of Black immigrants from the United States, including the Edmonton Bulletin, Edmonton Journal, and Calgary Eye Opener. The first group of Blacks to arrive were noted rather disparagingly by one newspaper, “It was in 1908 that the first party arrived from the cotton fields of Oklahoma and settled along the Grand Trunk Pacific, the largest settlement being at Chip Lake.”
Alberta’s Early Black Settlements
Many Black immigrants who came to Alberta as family groups in the early 1900s had previously lived in Oklahoma Territory alongside the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw). Following the creation of the state in 1907, Black residents faced increased levels of discrimination through segregation laws and voter disenfranchisement.
Initially, African-Canadians made their way to the North-West Territories as individual pioneers or accompanying traders. Most were attempting to make a living from the fur trade and found employment with companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company.