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Edmonton

In the 1910s, Edmonton was home to a large working-class community. Economic opportunities were limited; mills, lumberyards, brickyards, and coal mines lined the North Saskatchewan River valley and employed much of the male population. Women encountered even fewer employment opportunities, and those who arrived alone often ended up working as prostitutes. Jasper Avenue, the main street in city's downtown, was a centre for gambling, drinking, and prostitution.

More Negroes to be Brought to AlbertaIn 1910, Edmontonians were not overly concerned about diversifying their economy or in cleaning up the downtown; rather, their concerns focused on the arrival of Black immigrants from Oklahoma and other southern states. These immigrants were not well received, and several organizations protested their arrival. Frank Oliver, federal Minister of the Interior, was also Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for the constituency of Edmonton and publisher of the Edmonton Bulletin. He was extremely vocal in his opposition to Black immigration, as reflected by the editorials published in his newspaper condemning Black presence in his community. "Increased Negro immigration," he warned, "could serve potentially as an incitement to racial violence as yet unknown in Canada."

An Invasion of NegroesIn 1911, hoping to outlaw Black immigration, the Edmonton Board of Trade filed a petition. Many prominent businesses, including the Union Bank, the Merchants’ Bank, the Windsor Hotel, and the King Edward Hotel, endorsed this petition by placing copies in their storefront windows. The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) and the Edmonton Trades and Labour Council were especially vocal in supporting the petition.

Blacks living in Edmonton relied on each other and the establishment of community-driven initiatives to combat the prejudice plaguing the city of Edmonton. The Shiloh Baptist Church (founded in 1910), and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (founded in 1921) played key roles in developing Edmonton’s Black community. The Shiloh Baptist Church, located at 10727 114 Street, maintained close connections with the Masonic Lodge, a popular secular organization that helped many Oklahoman families immigrate to Canada. During the 1910s and early 1920s, members of the Shiloh Baptist Church congregated in living rooms and basements. Eventually, an actual church was built in what, today, is known as Edmonton's Oliver neighbourhood, and it quickly became the cultural centre for Edmonton’s Black community up until the 1950s.

The Shiloh Baptist Church sponsored community events including the Shiloh Baptist baseball team, a talented and competitive club respected by other teams across northern Alberta. The church started an annual Christmas concert in which each child would receive a toy, donated by department stores and Jewish merchants at the request of the church women’s group.

Geographically, Edmonton’s Black community was largely concentrated in an area around 97 Street and 111 Avenue. Many Black children went to either Queen’s Avenue School or McCauley School. Black families, like most urban families, enjoyed the prospect of using the city’s public facilities, which included various restaurants, cinemas, theatres, swimming pools, and parks. Of these, parks were especially popular with Black families because they could accommodate large picnics. However, Blacks' use of Edmonton’s public facilities created conflict and tension within the community. Although, in Alberta, there were no formal segregation laws similar to the United States' Jim Crow Laws, many businesses refused to serve Blacks. In 1924, Edmonton’s City Commissioner tried to deny Black people access to public parks and swimming pools but City Council rejected his proposal. Instead, civic authorities left individual business owners to decide for themselves whether to accept Black patrons.

Fed up with relentless discriminatory practices and a lack of employment opportunities, several Black families decided to leave Canada and return to the United States. However, Edmonton's Black population did not decline as Blacks from surrounding rural communities such as Amber Valley, Keystone (now known as Breton), Junkins (now known as Wildwood), and Campsie started to move out to the cities; this trend continued throughout the 20th century. The Great Depression of the 1930s exacerbated racial tensions with, and unemployment among, the Black community.


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