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To most Albertans, the month of Feruary is memorable for two things: Valentine’s Day and the Family Day long weekend. Across Canada and the United States, however, February is also recognized as Black History Month, a time of reflection and celebration of Black heritage and culture.
The seeds of Black History Month were first sown in the United States in 1926. An American historian named Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week, choosing February as the month in which to hold the observance because the birthdays of Abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former President Abraham Lincoln both fell in February. Negro History Week underwent a couple of evolutions in the 1970s. In the early part of the decade, the name of the week was changed from Negro History Week to Black History Week. In 1976, the week-long observance was expanded to the entire month of February.
Almost twenty years passed before Canada officially recognized Black History Month. A motion to establish Black History Month in Canada was introduced to the Canadian Parliament by the Honorable Jean Augustine, who had made her own contribution to Black Canadian history as the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament. In December 1995, Ms. Augustine’s motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons and Black History Month found a new home on the Canadian calendar.
Black Canadians have a remarkable history in Canada. More than escaped slaves, athletes, and entertainers, Black Canadians have been explorers, translators, soldiers, scholars, entrepreneurs, and community leaders starting from the time long before Confederation. Alberta has its own rich Black history, from the Black Americans who established farming communities like Amber Valley and Keystone (later named Breton) to heroic figures like the southern Alberta rancher John Ware and Calgary hockey player Jarome Iginla, who became the first Black player in National Hockey League history to be made team captain.
Each February is a great time for Albertans to consider the valuable contributions Alberta’s Black community has made throughout history. Like Alberta’s many ethnic and racial groups, Black Albertans have carved out their unique place in Alberta history with persistence and courage. The Heritage Community Foundation invites you to celebrate Black History Month by exploring Foundation websites showcasing Black settlement in Alberta.
An educational resource for students, teachers, and all those interested in Black history in Alberta, the Black Heritage Edukit looks at the traditions and culture of Black Canadians who settled in the Province of Alberta. The settlement communities of Amber Valley, Wildwood, and Breton are explored, as are the Black settlers from Oklahoma who made the journey to Alberta. Topics for the instructional plans include human rights, colonialism, geography, and culture and traditions.
Heritage Community Foundation: Black Settlers Come to Alberta
Part of the Alberta: Home, Home on the Plains website, this online resource features personal memoirs, multimedia, and other archival memorabilia about the history of Blacks in Alberta.
Alberta Heritage Alphabet: Amber Valley
This website focuses on historical details about the Black community in Amber Valley. The Alberta Heritage Alphabet website also contains other descriptions of important places and people in Black history.
Fixing Obadiah Place and American Profile: A Farmer from Amber Valley and Clarence “Big” Miller
Both of these web pages are part of the Albertans: Who Do They Think They Are? website and include feature articles and videos about the lives and experiences of some of the Black people who left the United States to settle in Alberta. The Albertans: Who Do They Think They Are? website also includes additional information on Black immigration from areas of the world like the Caribbean and explores some general issues and trends within visible minority communities in Alberta.