We Are the Roots: Black settlers and their experiences of discrimination on the Canadian prairies

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Winner of the 2018 Alberta Historical Resources Foundation 2018 Heritage Awareness awardWe Are the Roots is a documentary that tells the stories of African American immigrants who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.

In the film, you’ll hear stories from 19 descendants of original settlers, as they moved north to escape slavery, persecution and racism in America. Once in Canada, these families would then experience more discrimination, both in Edmonton and in rural communities they settled.

The film was produced and created through a partnership between documentary film production company Bailey and Soda Films along with Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots,

Click the image above to view the full-length documentary.

 

Finding Lulu: One man’s quest to find himself in his own city

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Yards Magazine in September 2018. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

On May 12, 1922, Lulu Anderson tried to buy a ticket to ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ at the former Metropolitan Theatre on Jasper Avenue. Lulu was 36 and a member of the Black community. She enjoyed the theatre and had visited the Metropolitan many times with her friends. But May 12 was different. The theatre staff denied Lulu entry. Worse, they “assaulted” her, according to a column in the Edmonton Journal.

Lulu decided to stand up.

Few Edmonton residents know Lulu’s story. And to understand what happened to her downtown that night, in 1922, we need to back up a bit. For starters, despite many who still believe the opposite, Alberta was home to anti-black racism. Minstrel shows were extremely common in theatres; indeed, actors of the era routinely performed in blackface. In 1920, a minstrel parade was even held downtown. Segregation was also common across the city. From 1910 to 1950, Black Edmontonians were denied entry into theatres, swimming pools, bars and even hospitals. One more well-known example is from 1938, when a Black nurse was denied entry into nursing training at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

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WOODY STRODE: CALGARY STAMPEDER AND HOLLYWOOD STALWART

Stampeders President Tom Brook holding the Grey Cup with Woody Strode in Toronto, November, 1948. Courtesy of the Calgary Stampeder Football Club.

In conjunction with Black History Month, RETROactive profiles Woody Strode, a pioneering African American player with the Calgary Stampeders who went on to a remarkable career in Hollywood.

The arrival of Herb Trawick to the Montreal Alouettes in 1946 signalled the beginning of African Americans playing in the Canadian Football League (CFL), expanding the talent pool of athletes available for Canada’s professional teams. The first African Americans to play in Alberta were Charles Clay (Chuck) Anderson and Woody Strode who joined the Calgary Stampeders for the 1948 season. Although Strode only played with Calgary for two seasons, he made a lasting contribution to the lore of Grey Cup festivities that are now considered to be Canada’s premier sporting event.

Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode, whose ancestors had intermarried with Creek (Muscogee), Cherokee and Blackfoot Native Americans, was born 25 July 1914 in Los Angeles. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles where he had a stellar record as a decathlete and football player. Part time jobs with Hollywood film studios led to several uncredited film appearances and foreshadowed his future career. During the Second World War, Strode served with the Fourth Air Read more

Obadiah Place, Amber Valley: Commemorating African American Settlement in Alberta

Willis and Jeanie Bowen at Amber Valley, courtesy of the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society.
Willis and Jeanie Bowen at Amber Valley, courtesy of the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society.

In January of 2017 the Government of Alberta officially proclaimed February as Black History Month, recognizing the contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made to the province. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Black History Month in Canada, a time to celebrate the history and achievements of black Canadians within Canada.

In the spirit of that announcement, RETROactive would like to feature one of Alberta’s historic places, which commemorates African American settlement. The Obadiah Place at Amber Valley was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1990. The following information is adapted from the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

In 1911, a party of black Americans made their way from Oklahoma to seek a new life on lands north of Edmonton. Recent statehood for Oklahoma had brought with it restrictive ‘Jim Crow’ laws and many black Read more