“On behalf of the Premier’s office, the Government of Alberta, and myself, good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to this celebration and allowing me to speak on the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation it is today.
The commemoration of Black History Month dates back to 1926, when Harvard-educated African American historian Carter G. Woodson proposed setting aside a time devoted to honour the accomplishments of African Americans and to heighten awareness of Black History in the United States. This led to the establishment of Black History Week in 1926. Shortly after Carter G. Woodson’s proposal, celebrations of Black history began in Canada.
In 1976, Black History Week expanded into Black History Month in the United States. Following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine; the Canadian House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in December 1995.
In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first black Canadian appointed to the Senate, introduced the “Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians” during Black History Month in February. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008. The adoption completed Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month.
Alberta officially recognized Black History Month for the first time in 2017. It was proclaimed by Order in Council, making us the fourth province in Canada to proclaim February as Black History Month.
As I prepared for this speech, I was humbled at the shear determination and perseverance of the early Black settlers in our province.
John Ware, for instance, was a former slave who settled in Alberta, establishing two ranches before his death in 1905. He gained recognition for his skill as a cowboy and is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength and horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled near Calgary and Brooks. He was widely admired as one of the best cowboys in the West, even at a time of widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination.
From 1908 to 1911, about 1,000 African Americans settled in Alberta to homestead.
Amber Valley, (originally Pine Creek), was among several Alberta communities settled in the early 20th century by early black immigrants from Oklahoma and the Deep South of the United States. It was the homestead of Willis Reese Bowen and later the home of his son Obadiah Bowen, a pastor for the town. Willis Reese Bowen brought his family and four other black Oklahoman families to Amber Valley in 1911.
Amber Valley is the location of the Obadiah Place provincial heritage site, a homestead of one of the first African-American settler families.
Other primarily American black settlements formed at this time were Junkins (now Wildwood), near Chip Lake; Keystone (now Breton), southwest of Edmonton; and Campsie, near Barrhead.
Beginning in the 1950s, many descendants of the original settlers began moving to near cities such as Edmonton to escape the rigors of rural life and have more economic opportunity. In Edmonton, Amber Valley descendants founded the Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the few black churches in Western Canada.
Today, Alberta’s black community is comprised of a multitude of histories and the heritages of many nations, which all add to the cultural mosaic of our province and country. Black History Month provides an opportunity for people of all cultures to gain insight into the experiences of black Canadians and Albertans, and the vital role they have played throughout our shared history and continue to play today.
On behalf of the Premiers Office, the Government of Alberta and myself, enjoy the festivities.”