Celebrating Alberta’s Black History: ‘The Black One Thousand’

‘The Black One Thousand’ – The Black Settlers of the Prairies

To close out Black history month, RDAR would like to share a story from Alberta’s history books. Black Canadians have transcended great adversity to achieve many accomplishments that have contributed to the richness of our province and country.

Between 1905 and 1912, more than 1,000 African Americans crossed the border to settle in small communities around Edmonton to create a better life for themselves and their children. Most came from Oklahoma, fleeing the discriminatory Jim Crow laws which stripped them of their voting and land rights when Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

Early Black settlers to Canada’s prairies faced discrimination because the Canadian government had not intended for their land advertisements to attract Black immigrants. These early Black settlers faced additional government fees, medical tests, and opposition from established citizens.

It is well known that farming the Alberta landscape at the turn of the 20th Century was grueling. The land had to be cleared every year to keep up with immigration and homesteading requirements, meaning the work was constant and difficult. Horses and Oxen were used to clear land and haul lumber. The harsh climates and growing conditions were particularly challenging for anyone coming from the America’s southern states.

Black settlers banded together and built numerous settlements across Alberta. Amber Valley, one of the largest black settlements in Western Canada, was located about 170 kms north of Edmonton. It had its own church, school, post office, eateries, and even a baseball team! Other notable settlements located in Breton, Wildwood, and Campsie were established by some of Alberta’s most resourceful pioneers.

Today many black Canadians are able to trace their roots, culture and food back to that original period of migration from the American south. The culture and history of the Canadian prairies is forever changed because of the ‘Black One Thousand’.

Canadian Black History resources:

23 historical black Canadians you should know – A CBC learning resource

Black History Month – A Government of Canada resource

Dinosaur Provincial Park – A history of Black Alberta Rancher John Ware

Secret Alberta: The Former life of Amber Valley – a video about one of the first all-Black settlements in Alberta

Written by Janada Hawthorne