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Alberta Online Encyclopedia


Jack and Dwain Saunders

Dwain Saunders and his father Jack Saunders were asked to share their experiences from the perspectives of third-, fourth- and fifth-generation of Black Pioneer settlers and as descendants of those who settled in Amber Valley.

Dwain Saunders

Dwain Saunders, alongside Marlene Brown, is a pastor at Eagle Vision Church. He shares unique perspectives on the spiritual evolution of Black people in the prairies and its impact on his own life.

Becoming a Pastor
When Dwain came back to Edmonton, he was looking for a church. One of his dear friends went with him to explore various churches and found one whose pastor spoke with such evangelistic fervor that Dwain was drawn in. He attended this church in the afternoon and attended the church at which his wife's uncle was a pastor in the morning. Although he never attended Bible college, Dwain knew from the moment he accepted the Lord into his life that he wanted to preach. He did active ministry for seven years and became a pastor, preaching to a cross-cultural and multiracial congregation.
(Running Time: 2:50)

Black in Calgary in the 1960s
Calgary was not a huge city in the 1960s. There were few Blacks, nor was there a well-established Black community. Before the arrival of Blacks from Nova Scotia and Africa, most Blacks in Calgary were from Amber Valley and similar small rural Black communities integrated and in some way related.
(Running Time: 1:56)

Blacks in the USA
After having travelled in Canada, Dwain spent time in California, Chicago, Detroit, Texas, and Florida to find out what life was like in the United States. He and some cousins started a small recording business and stayed in Los Angeles for five years. He made grave errors, forgetting he was in the United States. He avoided Black communities and avoided ghetto parties. His stay in the United States left him with a renewed appreciation of Canada.
(Running Time: 2:11)

Grandma Brown
When Dwain was 12 years old, he went to spend a year with his maternal grandparents. His Grandma Brown was a very devout Christian, and this had a very profound influence on Dwain. He made sure his own children got to know her, and he had the privilege of delivering her funeral address.
(Running Time: 1:56)

High School Dropout
Dwain's parents had separated, and many of the things he enjoyed doing while in Whitehorse, he no longer did when he got to Calgary. He was never one for outdoor sports such as hockey. Instead, he got involved with school friends, knowing at the age of 14 that he wanted to leave school at 16.
(Running Time: 1:07)

Ministry in the Community
Dwain has not become involved with the Black community. Instead, his involvement is through ministry, and he embraces things consistent with his own personal vision and mission. He is concerned with Blacks and about such things as drugs, gangs, and alcohol: he was involved in the conversion of an old hospital to a treatment centre that helps teens free themselves of the bondage of substance abuse.
(Running Time: 1:55)

Pool Hustler
Dwain used to be a very good pool player, having learned from and played with the likes of such Canadian greats as Joe Plumtree, Cliff Thorburn, and others. Until he accepted the Lord into his life and decided it was time to do something more significant, Dwain hustled pool across Alberta and well into British Columbia.
(Running Time: 1:49)

Prejudice in School
Dwain fought lots while in school. During school assemblies, he would turn around to try to determine who was sniggering during the singing of Old Black Joe often picking fights with those who provoked him by doing so or by calling him “Midnight”.
(Running Time: 1:30)

Racism in Canada
Although it may not be as overt as it is in the United States, there is racism in Canada. Dwain was denied housing because of his colour and the object of racial profiling during a physical assault on a Burnaby woman.
(Running Time: 1:49)

Whitehorse
Dwain was born in Athabasca and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon. His was the only Black family in Whitehorse at that time. After his parents separated, he was raised in Calgary and left home at 16 or 17. During the 1960s, it was common for people to have a nomadic lifestyle, and Dwain travelled across Canada and into parts of the United States.
(Running Time: 1:55)

Jack Saunders

Jack Saunders is quite an outdoorsman, skilled at hunting and fishing. He is also an entertaining storyteller. His parents David and Alvida Saunders raised 17 children through the Great Depression; as such, Jack's reminiscences really provide some insight into those difficult times.

Baseball
Jack Saunders talks about the Amber Valley Baseball Team, which reached its peak during the 1940s and played against teams from communities within a hundred-mile radius of Amber Valley.
(Running Time: 0:30)

Family Reunions
Jack shares his reminiscences of reunions with his brother and two sisters. One of these took place in Oklahoma in 1980 and another in Calgary in 1990.
(Running Time: 2:29)

First Wife
Jack and his wife had seven children during 10 years of marriage.
(Running Time: 3:16)

Grandpa
Jack's grandfather, three aunts, two uncles, and father came to Alberta from Oklahoma. Jack's father was eight years old when the family made the trip from Oklahoma to Amber Valley in 1908; his mother's family, meanwhile, came from Kansas. The pair married in 1919. One hundred sixty acres of land could be bought, in the 1900s, for ten dollars. Jack helped clear the land by hand. There were no roads, and the family farmed 40 years without horses.
(Running Time: 2:17)

Heavy Equipment Operator
For fifty years, Jack ran heavy equipment all over Canada and South America. He was involved in shore logging and helped load sloops. The ability to run several machines guaranteed steady employment: Jack helped maintain the Alaska Highway, a road spanning 1,543 miles (2,483 kilometres) from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, Alaska. He also worked in construction and helped build dams and roads in British Columbia, and in particular, pipeline roads through the Rocky Mountains.
(Running Time: 4:29)

Religion
Jack did not attend church, but like many Blacks of his generation, he had his own religion. His beliefs centred around a strong work ethic, honesty, and integrity.
(Running Time: 0:41)

Retirement
Jack worked with a union until the age of 55, when he pulled a nerve in his arm while moving a piano. He retired with a disability pension and worked under the table for many years thereafter. Jack also describes the treatment of his arm and back.
(Running Time: 5:57)

Tough Times
Jack is the youngest of eight children: there were three boys, three girls, a brother, then Jack. Beginning at the age of six, he walked three miles to school and three miles home again. His father did not have a horse and therefore had to borrow one from the neighbours. His family could not borrow money from the bank and had to rely on discarded farming equipment Whites no longer wanted. Jack and his siblings had to clear the land by hand. Times were indeed tough in the beginning, but they did eventually get better.
(Running Time: 2:44)

Uncle John and the Sawmill
Jack and his family lived in Amber Valley. Jack went to work at Edgar Junk's sawmill in Athabasca, west of Baptiste Lake. Working three days a week for six months, Jack earned enough to buy Edgar's Model A Ford. Jack worked in a number of sawmills in Alberta before ending up in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Jack's great uncle John, a Cherokee Indian in the Oklahoma oil business, was not close at all with Jack's father's family. There was no communication at all between the two.
(Running Time: 2:44)


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