Amber Valley, Alberta

Unearth Uncover #BlackedOutHistory: Amber Valley, Alberta

Between 1908 and 1911, approximately 1,000 Black settlers arrived in Alberta from Oklahoma. Many had been forced to sell their land in the United States (U.S.) because of racist policies, and these immigrants looked to Canada as a land of tolerance and opportunity. Many of their new white neighbours in Canada were as racist as the American ones had been. Thus, Black immigrants often chose to settle together in relatively isolated locations. This is how the close-knit farming community of Amber Valley came to be. Situated 170 km north of Edmonton, the Amber Valley homesteader families built their own farms, businesses, post office, and a school.

As immigration from the U.S. peaked, white Canadians began pressuring the government to “bar the negro out.” The Boards of Trade in Strathcona, Calgary, Fort Saskatchewan, and Morinville sent a petition containing over 3000 signatures to Prime Minister Laurier, opposing the entry of any more Black settlers. The government began to use systemically racist strategies to discourage further immigration of Black people into the prairie provinces. Racist tests were implemented for Black applicants that evaluated literacy, financial standing, and the health of applicants (which most Black applicants passed). Next, agents hired by the Canadian government were sent to Oklahoma to persuade potential Black settlers that Albertan soil was poor and that they would have difficulty crossing the border. As a result, immigration of Black Americans to Alberta essentially ended by 1911.

Members of the community of Amber Valley eventually dispersed, but the legacy of its descendants contributed greatly to building the province of Alberta: Oliver Bowen managed the construction of Calgary’s first light rail transit system; Violet King became the first Black woman to pass the bar in Canada; and Eleanor Collins became the first Black person in North America to host a television show.

“Since much of the Black past has been deliberately buried, covered over, and demolished, it is our task to unearth, uncover, and piece it together again.” – Dr. Afua Cooper