A number of African-Canadians lived on the prairies, including Alberta, early in the 19th century. John Ware is one of the best-known; arriving in 1882 from Texas, he was among the first cowboys in Alberta. He is credited with introducing longhorn cattle to Alberta. His knowledge and skill with livestock have been commemorated by the preservation of his homestead near Brooks, 185 km southeast of Calgary, and several natural sites being named after him.
The first significant Black migration into Alberta took place with the arrival of the “Exodusters.” They were Blacks who fled the southern States in 1879, heading for homesteading lands in Kansas; they were familiar with farming in dry or dusty conditions. Oklahoma Blacks were increasingly finding that the laws made it impossible to live as equals.
A small group came to Alberta to investigate the potential for a good home and sent back favourable reports in 1910. Black Oklahomans, increasingly alarmed by 1911 following a series of Ku Klux Klan lynchings, felt they had to seek a more tolerant area in which to live. A Canadian government invitation to mid-western American settlers to come to Alberta and to accept inexpensive land was noted by the African-Americans, but it was clearly not meant for them. In fact everything short of passing laws to exclude Black immigration to Canada was carried out, but the Exodusters were determined, in excellent health, and possessed the basic funds required by law so they eventually settled in communities stretching from western Alberta to the Thunder Bay area.
Alberta's Black Pioneer Heritage - People
Profiles of Black Canadian pioneers who settled in the Province of Alberta. From the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
Blacks in deep snow: black pioneers in Canada
The full text of an informative book about the challenges faced by Black pioneers in Canada. Click on "Dark Spots in Alberta." Note: text includes outdated references to African Canadian people. From the Our Roots website.
Deemed Unsuitable: Black Pioneers in Western Canada
About the harsh challenges that faced many Black pioneers in Canada. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Plains Folk: Prairie Prejudice
An article about the prejudicial intolerance encountered by "exodusters" from Kansas who settled in Alberta in the early 20th century. From the website for North Dakota State University.
The Settlement of Oklahoma Blacks in Western Canada
An article about the difficulties faced by Black settlers who migrated from the US to western Canada before World War I. From the Albertasource.ca website.
How they kept Canada almost lily white
An article about Canadian immigration policies aimed at stopping African Americans from migrating to Canada. Includes digitized copies of related archival documents. From the Some Missing Pages website.
The Exodus to Freedom
Scroll down the page for a brief comment by Frederick Douglass who laments the exodus of African Americans from the US South to the "promised land" of Kansas. From the National Park Service in the US.
The Quest for Land and Freedom on Canada
This article chronicles the migration of African Americans from Oklahoma to Alberta and Saskatchewan. From the website BlackPast.org.
An action-packed multimedia exploration of Alberta’s Black heritage. Includes activities for students and teachers. From Alberta’s Heritage Community Foundation.
Breton and District Historical Museum
Brief details about the only Black history museum in Alberta. A Government of Alberta website.
A brief profile of John Ware, a freed US slave who became a legendary cowboy and ranch owner in Alberta. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.
The Legend of John Ware
A brief bio of legendary Albertan rancher John Ware. Also provides a link to a profile of his wife, Mildred Lewis Ware. A Government of Alberta website.
A photo of John Ware’s grave located in Calgary's historic Union Cemetery.