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Junkins

Out at Junkins, 1936Junkins, 80 miles (130 kilometres) west of Edmonton, was the first rural Black community in Alberta. Later known as Wildwood, the settlement emerged in 1908 when Tony Payne recruited a group of 20 Black settlers to the area.

Junkins picnic, 1915Like other rural Black settlements, Junkins was remote, heavily wooded, and swampy, causing the settlers considerable anguish in their efforts to clear the land. They initially tried to grow wheat, barley, and oats but experienced frequent crop failure because of the late springs and early winters. To survive, settlers consumed wild game, fish, berries, and vegetables produced from small gardens. In 1910, to afford supplies and farm tools, the men living in Junkins found railway construction jobs with Canadian Northern Railways and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The Black community at Junkins was based on solidarity and community-based initiatives. For example, Blacks built a local Baptist church and hosted an annual picnic in July which featured dances, sing-alongs, sports, and plays.

Frank and Georgia Leffler at haytime, 1930’sDuring the First World War, as new employment opportunities became available, many of the younger settlers left for the cities. It was common for Alberta's rural Black population to enlist in the army. In fact, several young men from Junkins joined the all-Black No. 2 Construction Battalion based out of Pictou, Nova Scotia. Hoping to find employment and improved living conditions in the city, more families left during the agricultural depression of the 1920s. By the end of the decade, the Black community of Junkins was in considerable decline.

Junkins was renamed Wildwood in 1928 and, today, a few Black settlers still remain in the area formerly known as Junkins.


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