Alberta pioneer, John Ware, and his wife Mildred in front of their house

Former slave John Ware arrived in Alberta some 23 years before the territory became a province and before there was any Black population to speak of. He was a skilled horseman and could wrestle a steer to the ground. In fact, he became a noted rodeo competitor. He also won the admiration of his pioneer neighbours for his gentleness and honesty. He established a ranch near Millarville in southern Alberta.

Glenbow Archives
c. 1896
Photograph
NA-263-1
© 2008, Glenbow Archives. All Rights Reserved.


John Ware was courting a young teacher, Mildred Lewis, by taking her – in approved Alberta style – for a horse-and-buggy ride. When lightning struck the horse, Ware simply unhitched the buggy and pulled his lady home. Mildred must have been grateful, for they married shortly afterwards.

It was this combination of strength and practicality that people admired in John Ware. He was a big man and, on the South Carolina plantation of his youth, he was renowned as a fighter. He was also brave. When freedom came in 1865, 20-year-old Ware headed west to work as a cowboy. Hired to drive cattle north to Canada in 1882, he looked round and decided to stay, one of very few Black settlers in Canada’s West at the time. Ware worked for other ranchers at first and, in 1891, bought land and cattle of his own. He was an exceptional horseman. He was also a man of great gentleness and integrity.

Mildred and John Ware had five children by 1905, and they were happy. Then tragedy struck. Mildred died of pneumonia. Not long afterwards, Ware’s horse stepped in badger hole and threw its rider to the ground. Ware died instantly, just Read More

John Ware was courting a young teacher, Mildred Lewis, by taking her – in approved Alberta style – for a horse-and-buggy ride. When lightning struck the horse, Ware simply unhitched the buggy and pulled his lady home. Mildred must have been grateful, for they married shortly afterwards.

It was this combination of strength and practicality that people admired in John Ware. He was a big man and, on the South Carolina plantation of his youth, he was renowned as a fighter. He was also brave. When freedom came in 1865, 20-year-old Ware headed west to work as a cowboy. Hired to drive cattle north to Canada in 1882, he looked round and decided to stay, one of very few Black settlers in Canada’s West at the time. Ware worked for other ranchers at first and, in 1891, bought land and cattle of his own. He was an exceptional horseman. He was also a man of great gentleness and integrity.

Mildred and John Ware had five children by 1905, and they were happy. Then tragedy struck. Mildred died of pneumonia. Not long afterwards, Ware’s horse stepped in badger hole and threw its rider to the ground. Ware died instantly, just 12 days after Alberta became a province of Canada. During his life, John Ware had gained everything that intelligence, character and skill could win. He had been the ideal pioneer. In 1905, however, the pioneer days were over.

BLACK PIONEER IMMIGRATION TO ALBERTA AND SASKATCHEWAN – NATIONAL HISTORIC EVENT OF CANADA. DESIGNATION: PENDING
© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

An Order-in-Council, dated August 12, 1911, putting an end to Black immigration in Canada's West

A typewritten Order-in-Council (a Cabinet document) expresses the Government of Canada’s determination to stop the steady flow of Black immigration into the West at the beginning of the 20th century.

Cabinet document
Library and Archives Canada
August 12, 1911
Paper
C-117932
© 2008, Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


J.D. Edwards, one of the Amber Valley settlers, leans on a fence overlooking his property.

J.D. Edwards, who left Oklahoma in the early 20th century to take up land in Amber Valley, Alberta, did well in Canada. But like many Blacks, he preferred to settle at a safe distance from white communities.

Glenbow Archives
c. 1947
Photograph
NA 704-2
© 2008, Glenbow Archives. All Rights Reserved.


They are shocking words on the Order-in-Council, dated April 12, 1911. The Cabinet had decided to block Black immigration to the West, saying that the Black race was “deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.”

From 1908 to 1911, some 1,300 Black Americans – mostly from Oklahoma – came north to settle in scattered communities across Saskatchewan and Alberta. They were escaping not from slavery but from the violent racial politics that came afterwards. Most of these immigrants wanted to settle in isolated areas, where they hoped to build communities of their own, far from white people. The largest group settled in Amber Valley, 160 kilometres north of Edmonton.

The arrival of so many Black settlers at once provoked a backlash. “Keep the Negro Across the Line,” said a typical headline. Petitions flooded in to government, and the government responded. In fact, the Order-in-Council was never acted upon. Instead, medical examiners met Blacks at the border and declared them unfit. Canadian Pacific Railway refused to sell tickets to Blacks. Lecturers were sent into the States to talk about hardships in Canada. By Read More

They are shocking words on the Order-in-Council, dated April 12, 1911. The Cabinet had decided to block Black immigration to the West, saying that the Black race was “deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.”

From 1908 to 1911, some 1,300 Black Americans – mostly from Oklahoma – came north to settle in scattered communities across Saskatchewan and Alberta. They were escaping not from slavery but from the violent racial politics that came afterwards. Most of these immigrants wanted to settle in isolated areas, where they hoped to build communities of their own, far from white people. The largest group settled in Amber Valley, 160 kilometres north of Edmonton.

The arrival of so many Black settlers at once provoked a backlash. “Keep the Negro Across the Line,” said a typical headline. Petitions flooded in to government, and the government responded. In fact, the Order-in-Council was never acted upon. Instead, medical examiners met Blacks at the border and declared them unfit. Canadian Pacific Railway refused to sell tickets to Blacks. Lecturers were sent into the States to talk about hardships in Canada. By 1912, the Blacks had simply stopped coming.

In fact, it was true that Canada’s West was a difficult land, but no more for Blacks than any other group – though for Blacks discrimination added to the hardship. Nevertheless, the Black Canadian settlers survived the difficulties of climate, drought and Depression and built strong communities in the West.


© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Mattie Hayes, who left Oklahoma to settle near Maidstone, Saskatchewan

Mattie Hayes was not a young woman when she came to Canada. She began her life as a slave on a Georgia plantation, faced violent racial discrimination in Oklahoma in the early years of the 20th century and finally moved north with several generations of her family to end her life in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan Archives

Photograph
© 2008, Saskatchewan Archives. All Rights Reserved.


Mattie Hayes was close to 60 years old in 1909, when she decided to leave Oklahoma and go north to Canada with her husband, children and grandchildren. The frontier territory of Oklahoma had attracted a lot of former slaves after the Civil War. Mattie Hayes, born on a Georgia plantation, was one of them. In 1907, however, when Oklahoma gained statehood, the government brought in new laws to segregate stores and restaurants (meaning that Blacks had to keep to areas of their own). It also took the vote away from Blacks and turned a blind eye to lynchings. Mattie Hayes decided to travel on.

As Black immigrants filtered north across the Canadian border in 1909, they turned in various directions. Some headed east to Manitoba and Ontario. Others split away westward to Alberta. Twelve families chose to settle near Eldon in Saskatchewan, the Hayes among them. For $10, the government gave 160 acres to every settler, but there were conditions. Each farmer had to live on the land, build a house, clear at least 30 acres in the first three years and fence it. In fact, the Black settlers did better than that, and they also built a church and sent their Read More

Mattie Hayes was close to 60 years old in 1909, when she decided to leave Oklahoma and go north to Canada with her husband, children and grandchildren. The frontier territory of Oklahoma had attracted a lot of former slaves after the Civil War. Mattie Hayes, born on a Georgia plantation, was one of them. In 1907, however, when Oklahoma gained statehood, the government brought in new laws to segregate stores and restaurants (meaning that Blacks had to keep to areas of their own). It also took the vote away from Blacks and turned a blind eye to lynchings. Mattie Hayes decided to travel on.

As Black immigrants filtered north across the Canadian border in 1909, they turned in various directions. Some headed east to Manitoba and Ontario. Others split away westward to Alberta. Twelve families chose to settle near Eldon in Saskatchewan, the Hayes among them. For $10, the government gave 160 acres to every settler, but there were conditions. Each farmer had to live on the land, build a house, clear at least 30 acres in the first three years and fence it. In fact, the Black settlers did better than that, and they also built a church and sent their children to local schools. In winter, the men worked as teamsters. In spring, they returned to the land. It was a good enough life. Mattie Hayes was content to live the rest of her life in the little community at Maidstone and, when she died at a ripe old age in 1953, she was buried there. Her travelling days were over.


© 2008, Virtual Museum of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

After reading, viewing and listening to the media files in the Learning Object, students will be able to:

• assess the strengths and attributes of John Ware, a successful Black pioneer, in Canada’s West;

• critique or criticize the Cabinet’s decision to block Black immigration to the West;

• contrast the need for settlers in the West and the discrimination Blacks faced from the government, public and businesses in the 1900s;

• show how determined Blacks were to thrive in Saskatchewan, when given an opportunity; and

• compare Canadian and American attitudes towards Blacks in the late 1800s and the early 1900s.


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