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Hayes Family

In 1905, Molly and Crawford Hayes, to escape segregation and lynch laws, were among the first Black pioneers to head to the Oklahoma territories from the southern United States.

Unfortunately, upon the creation of the State of Oklahoma in 1907, the Hayes family was subjected to segregationist and disenfranchising laws; these were solely directed at the influx of Blacks arriving in the area.

Looking for a better life and after learning about the economic opportunities in Western Canada, Molly and Crawford Hayes headed for Alberta. In 1911, travelling by train and accompanied by their children and by several nieces and nephews, the couple arrived in Edmonton and moved to Leduc. The men started building a home in Keystone. By 1913, the Hayes family finally settled in Keystone.

In 1922, Molly and Crawford’s son Floyd married Elizabeth Murphy and the couple settled on a homestead near Keystone. In winter, Floyd worked at a local sawmill, while Elizabeth worked on the farm. Floyd and Elizabeth had 10 children: Nelly, Adrean, Elizabeth, Beaty, Luvern, Lloyd, Lugene, Orville, Cleveland, and Vant. The family moved to Rutland, British Columbia in 1938. Floyd passed away two years later, and Elizabeth died in 1973.

In 1959, Floyd and Elizabeth’s son Vant married Ethel Wilson in Edmonton. They moved to Ladysmith, British Columbia, where their daughter Peggy was born. Three years later, the family returned to Keystone, which, by this time, had been renamed Breton. They started farming on a piece of land near Breton. By the 1960s, Vant Hayes, still actively farming, was the last of Breton's Black pioneers to do so.

Members of the Hayes family lived in a simple and modest home. They did not have a heater until Vant broke down and reluctantly purchased one during the unforgettable record-breaking blizzard of 1964. While Vant was working during the brutal storm, Ethel checked on the livestock and chopped wood for the fire. Peggy and Ethel anxiously waited for Vant to come home. Much to their surprise and sheer delight, he returned with a heater.

Years later, in 1975, the Hayes family started a fish farm; they started stocking their lake with rainbow trout, and they were surprised at how quickly the fish grew. As a result, they applied for a commercial fish farm licence and started selling fish, including rainbow trout, brook trout, and arctic char, to nearby farmers. Vant, meanwhile, was promoted to supervisor for Dayton Alaska, overseeing the construction of large oil drilling rigs.

In 1989, Vant replaced his small cabin with a larger house, using wood from his own land and a rented portable sawmill and planer to build it. Vant Hayes has retired, but he still lives on his homestead in Breton.

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††††††††††† For more on Black settlement in Alberta, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.

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