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Healthcare and Education

During the pioneering era, Keystone, like other isolated communities, lacked medical professionals or facilities. When a homesteader required medical attention, it was frequently the local women who were responsible for administering treatment and incorporating a concoction of home remedies and natural products. Teas, poultices, and ointments derived from plants such as peppermint, dandelion, and nettle provided temporary relief from pain. Prior to their immigration to Canada, Blacks had learned and acquired these remedies from the Creek Indians of Oklahoma. Midwives delivered babies in Keystone. Clara Flesher, a White woman, served as a midwife in the early days of the community. Phyllis Day was also a midwife in the community until she moved to Junkins to start a sawmill enterprise. If a community member had a more serious illness that required a doctor's attention, a long and arduous journey of some 50 miles (80 kilometres) to the nearest medical facilities in Leduc was required.

As Alberta’s transportation infrastructure improved, the community’s medical needs were met by travelling nurses such as Jesse Fenton and Lillian Baynes, who both worked during the 1930s and 1940s. There was also a doctor in Thorsby, 25 miles (40 kilometres) away, who provided medical expertise to the surrounding communities, including Keystone. By the 1930s, travelling clinics staffed by doctors and nurses were frequently dispatched to small communities lacking adequate medical facilities. In spite of the unsanitary conditions and a lack of proper medical supplies, the doctors and nurses who visited Keystone provided an invaluable service.

Most of the Black pioneers emigrating from the United States had a rudimentary education; the older settlers grew up in a world of servitude, bound to the land they worked and unable to receive a formal education. Education in Keystone, as in other rural communities, was very basic. Funnell School, built in 1912, was Keystone’s only school and consisted of one room and one teacher. Students could only attain a grade nine education. The school was a shoddy log cabin heated by an overworked coal stove. Often, the temperature in the classroom would drop below freezing. When it was too cold to work at their desks, students would gather around the stove to warm up. The children who attended Funnell School travelled considerable distances by foot in order to attend classes.

Victor Nordland was the first teacher at Funnell School and taught for one year, starting in 1913. Charlie King Sr.’s daughter, Odessa, succeed him, followed by the famed track and field star Jesse Jones, who taught from 1922 to 1927. Gwen Hooks started teaching in 1946 and stayed until the school was closed in 1954. Interested in continuing her teaching career, she applied for a position at the Breton School, built in 1927. However, the school board was not particularly interested in hiring a Black teacher.

Educators willing to teach in Alberta’s rural communities were hard to come by. A teacher in Alberta required at least a high school education and most teachers, therefore, were located in Alberta’s larger towns and cities where a high school education was easily attainable. Gwen Hooks, for example, moved to Edmonton temporarily to complete a high school education. Unlike Hooks, many Blacks did not return to their rural communities, opting instead to live and teach in the city.


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