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1907–1912

History Undated PictureDuring this time, two principal events that precipitated the migration of many more Black people to Alberta. The 1907 merging of the Indian and Western Territories to create the state of Oklahoma was marred by racial discrimination in the new state. This, in turn, compelled over 1,000 Black Americans to immigrate to Canada. Their migration northward was encouraged by a barrage of advertisements issued by the Government of Canada. In Oklahoma, much of this advertising, encouraging American farmers to choose the largely unsettled lands of western Canada as their future home, inadvertently reached newspapers read by Oklahoma’s Black community and, as a result, the Canadian government's campaign was reaching an unintended audience.

The Canadian government was solely interested in attracting White farmers, although government officials would never have openly admitted this. In addition, some Oklahoman newspapers printed deliberate advertisements aimed at the Black community. Black community newspapers printed the advertisements to raise awareness about opportunities to escape the prejudice Blacks endured in the United States, while White-owned newspapers took advantage of the advertisements as an opportunity to rid their state of Blacks. A local newspaper in Clearwater, Oklahoma ran an article with the following headline: “Alberta, home for the colored people.”

By the early 1900s, the campaigns promoting western Canada as the “Last Best West” began to have considerable success in the United States. Between 1898 and 1914, over 600,000 Americans came to the Canadian West. By 1908, small groups began to settle in Alberta, and over the next three years, over 1,000 Black Americans would travel from Oklahoma to Western Canada.

It was a difficult decision for Oklahoma’s Black residents to head north but many felt it was necessary. During this tumultuous time, some families were split up. Though little has been documented about the Saunders family, they provide just one example of how some families were split up. The wife stayed behind in Oklahoma while her husband migrated north. For those who did make the trip, they found it to be a a long and exhausting journey. The route required that they travel from Oklahoma to St. Paul–Minneapolis, Minnesota and on to Winnipeg, Manitoba before eventually arriving in Edmonton. For those who could afford to travel by rail, the train was a quicker mode of transportation. Those who could not afford to travel by rail used wagons.

Horses and WagonOxen and/or mules were used to haul the wagons. Although quicker than oxen, mules were ornery creatures, often stopping for hours whenever they were tired. In spite of the oxen’s slower pace, they were reliable and could pull heavier loads. Moreover, they fed off the land, ingesting grasses and shrubs. This meant that they did not require feeding.

Typically, wagons carried 200 pounds (90.72 kilograms) of flour, 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of bacon, and the essential supply of coffee and sugar. The wagons also transported cooking supplies, tools, children, and the elderly. Aside from the food each family packed into its respective wagon, its members would rely on whatever nutrients they could scrounge along the trip, including nuts, fruits, and grains.

Religion played a key role in uniting, and lifting the spirits of, those making the journey north. Spiritual songs were heard at various points during the day, Bible readings were shared and, at the end of each day, a prayer was recited whereby the weary travelers would ask the Lord to grant them a safe and sound journey.

The journey north was an effort on the part of Black Americans to escape the racism prevalent in their former towns and communities. However, upon arrival at the border in Emerson, Manitoba, they were subjected to similar forms of discrimination. The Emerson Journal, for example, published an article stating its town had become "decorated with coons.” Rules regarding entry into Canada changed during the wave of Black immigration, making entry a difficult and arduous process. Some families remained in Emerson for weeks. Border officials extensively questioned each individual, and if someone could not reply satisfactorily, he or she was turned away. Furthermore, everyone crossing into Canada was subject to rigorous medical examinations devised to try to find any health problems and abnormalities—reason again to turn Blacks away. To further dissuade Blacks from entering Canada, a charge of $50 per person was imposed for the privilege of entering the country. Eager to begin a new life, most families grudgingly paid the fee. A train would transport them from Winnipeg to Edmonton, thus ending the lengthy journey.


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