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Day Family

Willis Day, his sister Phyllis, and his aunt Hattie Robinson arrived in Keystone, Alberta in 1911. Originally from Weewoki, Oklahoma, the Day family was encouraged to settle in Keystone by fellow pioneer Richard Funnell.

Phyllis Day developed a reputation as a knowledgeable and caring midwife, and she delivered many infants during Keystone’s early years. Shortly after the First World War, Phyllis opened a sawmill business with her friends, Ben and Robert Bailey. She moved to Junkins, when the trio decided the sawmill would be more prosperous closer to the railways. Unfortunately, their sawmill venture failed in 1920, and Phyllis and the Bailey family moved to Edmonton. 

Willis Day married a widow by the name of Matilda Bailey. Her first husband, Will Bailey, had died during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Matilda gave birth to a daughter named Gwen.

In search of better farmland, Willis and Matilda moved to Radway, Alberta, just north of Fort Saskatchewan. In Radway, they adopted three children: Doreen, Gerald, and Keith. Later, the family moved to Newbrook, Alberta, a bit north of Radway; however, their stay was short lived because, in 1943, devastating crop failure forced them to sell their farm and move to Edmonton. In Edmonton, Willis Day slaughtered cattle and worked at the Burns Packing Plant. He displayed dedication and hard work in an unpleasant job and eventually became a supervisor in the slaughterhouse.

During their retirement, Willis and Matilda returned to Keystone. Matilda died in 1969 and Willis in 1980.

Willis and Matilda’s adopted son, Gerald Day, was a Western Canadian boxing champion. He also enjoyed raising racehorses during his youth.

Gwen, the eldest daughter of Matilda and Willis Day, taught at Funnell School in Keystone, where, in 1947, she met and married Mark Hooks. Gwen Hooks moved on to become a teacher in the County of Leduc. She has now retired and she still lives in the County of Leduc, where she researches and writes about the Black pioneers of Alberta. In 1997, she published The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler about her husband who died in 1994.

Gwen and Mark have two sons, Wayne and Terry. Wayne is married to Gail Hope and they have two children: Karen and Adam. Terry is married to Gail Wetwiski and they have two sons: Tyler and Devon.

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