Laurie Toth, daughter of Bert Carothers, a farmer and freighter, and the granddaughter of Samuel Carothers, blacksmith, postmaster and store owner in Amber Valley, was marked for entrepreneurial success from the time she was born. Laurie has owned and operated Flowers by La Terre for 25 years. A gifted florist, she embodies the love of beauty, the range of colours and personalities, and the rich textures of Alberta's Black pioneers. She was the featured "Community Voice" in Linda Campbell's book A Little Taste of Soul, a cookbook published to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Black settlement in Alberta. Copies of this cookbook are available for purchase from the Black Pioneer Descendants' Society.
Abandoning Amber Valley
Because Laurie's parents-like many Black pioneers of that time-did not want to give up farming, their children needed to move to the cities to further their education and to earn a living. Laurie left Amber Valley for Edmonton.
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Amber Valley Community Hall
Laurie's parents worked with others such as theMapps and Phippses to build the Amber Valley Community Hall. They worked in the concession stands, sold tickets, and helped with the cooking. The hall still stands today; Romeo Edwards' house has been moved onto the site.
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Laurie shares her reminiscences of playing baseball.
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Laurie discusses the centenary of Amber Valley, attended by many, including some in traditional African costume. In her view, fostering an awareness of Black history and of people's interconnectedness is very important.
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Church and Plants
Laurie shares her memories of church and discusses the importance of God in her life.
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Church Holds the Community Together
Things happening in Black communities also happens in churches. Going to church affords Blacks the opportunity to visit with cousins and other relatives, many of whom are ministers. The church, therefore, is one of the key things holding everyone together.
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Laurie's great-grandparents emigrated from the United States-in particular, from Texas-between 1908 and 1911. They came with eight children, and there were 13 children in total; five were born in Amber Valley. Life in the United States was very difficult: the Jim Crow Laws were in effect and Blacks were not treated equally. Blacks left for Canada, drawn by the promise of land.
Laurie also discusses her grandfather, Samuel Carothers. He and his wife Beulah were raised in Texas and moved to Alberta, where they purchased two quarter sections of land and promised to "prove up" a homestead.
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Laurie's father played the guitar, sang, and loved to dance. He, Laurie's brothers, and their neighbour Raymond Wiliams had a band and provided entertainment at Collington and Boyle. They sometimes played at wakes. These experiences helped Laurie learn about everyday living.
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Family in Ontario
Laurie's family in Ontario seem to be very interested in Black pioneer history and have provided albums with information about Laurie's forebears on her grandmother's side, the Tarons; family ties to royalty; and uncles who served in the Boer War. Laurie shares fond thoughts of other relatives as well.
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Laurie's husband Terry was not particularly fond of her working evening shifts at the lounge. Laurie expressed interest in venturing into the floral business. She returned to school where she enrolled in floral design. Together, they opened Flowers By La Terre and have been operating the successful store for over 25 years in Edmonton, Alberta.
(Running Time: 2:09)
Her Father, the Farmer
Laurie's father was a famer who raised pigs and chickens and farmed for other neighbours. He deemed pigs are smart animals. He grew most of what the family needed: carrots, potatoes, and corn. The only things the family needed from town were common staples such as flour. Neighbours would help each other with cropping, and women would make lunches for all the farmhands. The emphasis was on collective effort and community. In his later years, Laurie's father, Bert Carothers, tapped beer in bars and hotels.
(Running Time: 2:32)
Laurie's mother's family came to Ontario. Her paternal grandfather crossed the border in Manitoba. Her maternal grandmother crossed the border at Barrie, Ontario and moved to Ermineskin. They travelled by covered wagon, accompanied by Black cowboys. Laurie's parents met in Amber Valley, married, and had six children.
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Laurie's mother, a very charitable woman, worked at Macleod's and enjoyed the opportunity to socialize with neighbours and other acquaintances. Often, she cared for other children and took them into her home.
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How her Parents Met
Laurie's parents had come from Saskatchewan to settle in Boyle and Donaldville. Laurie's mother worked in Boyle and would attend the same gatherings as those attended by Bert Carothers and his family.
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Oldest of Siblings
Laurie is the second-oldest of six children. She would care for her younger children when her parents went to town. All the children had to walk-morning and night-to school, a one-room school where Laurie's teacher Mr. Applebee helped guide her creativity and love of nature. Much of what she later learned in high school biology Laurie had already learned from her grandmother.
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Laurie's parents, Bert and Grace Carothers, always opened their home to their children's friends. The veranda was frequently be packed with people; the kitchen was teeming with food; and music often filled the air.
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When Laurie's parents moved, her siblings encountered quite a bit of prejudice. One sister, Elaine, is quite bitter and would never return to Athabasca. Laurie, however, never experienced prejudice on this same level: she remembers a more cooperative, friendly community. Amber Valley was a mixed culture: Laurie learned to speak Ukrainian from her various girlfriends.
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School and Work History
Laurie spent some time working in the oil industry in Drayton Valley. She spent some time in the United States when she married an American. She returned to Edmonton with her son. Laurie worked a variety of jobs at this point but always maintained a keen interest in returning to school. She enrolled in various printing and business courses.
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School in Athabasca
Laurie attended junior high and high school in Athabasca. She and her siblings had more opportunity to learn. The difficult part was having to be bused; in inclement weather, children had to walk to the main road to catch the bus because the snow made the country roads impassable.
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Simple Life in Amber Valley
Laurie could not understand why her father attended school in the summer and not in the winter. This is because he had nothing suitable to put on his feet during the winter; it was too cold to walk without adequate footwear. Because it was too difficult for horses to walk through the muskeg, children walked to school and church. Larger chores such as laundry and baking bread were done on Saturday.
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As a mixed family-her father was Cherokee and Black and her mother was White-Laurie's parents had to combat a high degree of prejudice. They were neverthless strong people and instilled strong values and principles in their children: the importance of perseverance, education, family history, and ancestry. A tight-knit family, they spent evenings playing music and playing checkers.
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