Arrival of Exodusters

Image: "Negro Exodusters en route to Kansas, fleeing from the yellow fever," Photomural from engraving. Harpers Weekly, 1870 (courtesy Historic American Building Survey Field Records, HABS FN-6, #KS-49-11 Prints and Photographs Division)

When the Civil War ended in the United States, Blacks in the South experienced renewed racial oppression after the last Federal troops left in 1877. A former slave named Benjamin "Pap" Singleton urged Blacks to leave the South to form their own independent communities in the West. Many saw Kansas as the ideal destination and others moved farther north all the way into Canada. They called themselves "Exodusters," because they saw the West as the promised land of the Bible.

A number of African Canadians lived on the Prairies, including Alberta, early in the 19th century. John Ware is one of the best known; arriving in 1882 from Texas, he was among the first cowboys in Alberta. He is credited with introducing longhorn cattle to the province. His knowledge and skill with livestock have been commemorated by the preservation of his homestead near Brooks, 185 km southeast of Calgary, and several natural sites being named after him.

The first significant Black migration into Alberta took place with the arrival of the "Exodusters." They had fled the Southern States in 1879, heading for homesteading lands in Kansas; they were familiar with farming in dry or dusty conditions. In the neighbouring state of Oklahoma, Blacks were increasingly finding that the laws made it impossible to live as equals.

A small group came to Alberta to investigate the potential for a good home and sent back favourable reports in 1910. Black Oklahomans, increasingly alarmed following a series of Ku Klux Klan lynchings, by 1911 felt they had to seek a more tolerant area in which to live. They had noticed a Canadian government invitation to mid-western American settlers to come to Alberta and to accept inexpensive land. However, the invitation was clearly not meant for them. In fact everything short of passing laws to exclude Black immigration to Canada was carried out, but the Exodusters were determined, in excellent health, and possessed the basic funds required by law. They eventually settled in communities stretching from western Alberta to the Thunder Bay area.

Blacks in deep snow: black pioneers in Canada
The full text of an informative book about the challenges faced by Black pioneers in Canada. Click on "Dark Spots in Alberta." Note: text includes outdated references to African Canadian people. From the Our Roots website.

Deemed Unsuitable: Black Pioneers in Western Canada
About the harsh challenges that faced many Black pioneers in Canada. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Plains Folk: Prairie Prejudice
An article about the prejudicial intolerance encountered by "exodusters" from Kansas who settled in Alberta in the early 20th century. From the website for North Dakota State University.

The Settlement of Oklahoma Blacks in Western Canada
An article about the difficulties faced by Black settlers who migrated from the US to western Canada before World War I. From the website.

Blacks: Early Settlements
An article about Blacks who made their way to Canada to escape racial injustice in the US. From The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.

How they kept Canada almost lily white
An article about Canadian immigration policies aimed at stopping African Americans from migrating to Canada. Includes digitized copies of related archival documents. From the Some Missing Pages website.

The Exodus to Freedom
Scroll down the page for a brief comment by Frederick Douglass who laments the exodus of African Americans from the US South to the "promised land" of Kansas. From the National Park Service in the US.

The Quest for Land and Freedom on Canada
This article chronicles the migration of African Americans from Oklahoma to Alberta and Saskatchewan. From the website

Black History Month
This site is devoted to the annual celebration of Canada’s Black History Month. See profiles of notable Black Canadians and videos that highlight many of the Black community's outstanding contributions to our shared history and heritage. From Citizenship and Immigration Canada.