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Tilling the landHomesteading was an occupation as well as a way of life. Farming involved not only the whole family, but the whole community as well. The successful development of a homestead relied on teamwork and cooperation within the community. Ploughing 30 acres (12 hectares) of land covered with brush and dense forests was no simple task. For most Black settlers, farming was not a profitable enterprise. In order to afford supplies, men would find seasonal work in the logging industry. Others found menial work in nearby towns and cities and worked as general labourers in Edmonton’s meat-packing industry. Settling the land While the men were away, women and children continued toiling in the fields in an effort to improve the homestead. Women canned vegetables and wild berries to keep their families fed through winter, and they stored root vegetables in cellars. They tended small vegetable gardens and hunted wild animals for food. Most children went to school, but they were always required to do chores on weekends and holidays. For instance, they were often given the task of picking berries.

The Logging Industry

Logging was an important industry in Keystone. With an abundance of trees and a surplus of unskilled labour, local logging companies frequently recruited workers from Keystone and surrounding homesteads. Before the First World War, the Ricker Logging Company employed many Black men from nearby homesteads. These men were responsible for cutting down trees and hauling wood to Leduc or Edmonton by mule. These loggers received $1 to $3 a day, which they used to buy supplies and farm tools for their homesteads.

After the war, three black members of the Keystone community—Ben Bailey, Robert Bailey, and Phyllis Day—decided to build their own sawmill in Keystone. Shortly thereafter, they had to move the mill to Junkins, whose improved access to railroads made it easier to transport wood. The enterprise ran smoothly until Ben Bailey transported all of their wood supplies to Edmonton and lost all of the sawmill’s money during a poker game. When the sawmill was unable to pay them their wages, disgruntled employees vandalized equipment. The Baileys’ sawmill promptly closed, and the Baileys moved to Edmonton.

The logging industry in Keystone reached its peak when railroads were constructed nearby in 1927. The railroads helped the industry develop, and soon sawmills appeared across the countryside. However, after the 1940s, Keystone’s economy became dependent on the nearby oilfields.

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