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Literature

Alberta’s Black Pioneers and their descendants have made significant contributions to Alberta’s arts community not only through music and theatre, but also through their writing. Many of the descendants of the Black pioneers of Alberta are dedicated to recovering the lost history of Black pioneer communities in western Canada, referred to by Black historian Karina Vernon as the “Black Atlantis.”

Recovering the heritage of the “Black Atlantis” has been a priority for writers within the community of Black pioneer descendants. One pioneer descendant, Velma Carter, who grew up in Junkins, Alberta, did an extensive number of interviews of pioneers and their descendants to create The Window of Our Memories. The two-volume series details the lives of Black pioneers in Alberta and their communities. In cooperation with her son, LeVero Carter, Velma Carter co-wrote a history book for young Canadians entitled Black Canadians: Their History and Contributions. Gwen Hooks, who taught at Funnell School in Keystone, wrote the memoirs of her late husband, Mark Hooks; her book is called The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler.

Recovering the history of the Black pioneers of western Canada is important to Black Canadians because the knowledge that their people have a history in this country creates a sense that they belong here and that they truly are Canadian. Calgarian Esi Edugyan, although not a Black pioneer descendant, feels it is important to remember the history of Alberta's Black pioneers; her novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, is about the fictional town of Aster, based on the town of Amber Valley.

History written about the Black pioneer descendants is very much about the present; it is about fostering community awareness and cultivating a sense of pride within Alberta’s Black community. For that reason, the Black Cultural Research Society (BCRS) was founded in 1973 in Edmonton. The BCRS conceived and published The Window of Our Memories and also set up The Communicant, a monthly Black community newspaper which ran during the 1970s.

Cheryl FoggoThe literary contributions of Black pioneer descendants reflect their talent and strong sense of resilience and community spirit. One of the most prominent writers within the community is Cheryl Foggo, who wrotePourin’ Down Rain, an autobiography about growing up as a Black girl in the predominately White city of Calgary. Foggo also wrote two novels for children, I have been in Danger and One Thing That’s True, and several plays, as well as a documentary film, The Journey of Lesra Martin, about Black lawyer Lesra Martin, who helped released the wrongly convicted boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter from prison.

Poetry is also a valuable form of expression in the Black community; both Cheryl Foggo and Gwen Hooks have written poetry. Hooks’ published a two-volume anthology of her poems called As Time Goes By.

Amber Valley Pine

Overcrowded wagons songs in every mouth
Out of Oklahoma and places in the south
Southern voices singing at northern window sills
Cabins cradled in the pines ‘neath the Athabasca hills

Coal oil lamps to light the way for a hungry man
Headin’ home from dusty fields to biscuits in the pan
Built us a homestead your kinfolk and mine
Put down some roots in the Amber Valley Pine

Chorus

O you  talk to me Amber Valley Pine
Something in your fragrance really soothes my mind
Knowing I once lived here leaves me feelin fine
Lord we made history in the Amber Valley Pine!

Set free from bondage in a southern Egypt land
Headed North to freedom I believe it was God’s plan
Cause cries stormed the Heavens to break the chains that bind
And we gave thanks to Jesus in the Amber Valley Pine

© 1985 AMBER VALLEY PINE  Linda Peko (Jackson) Campbell
Lyrics and Music not to be duplicated or performed without written release of artist


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