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The Quest for Land and Freedom on Canada's Western Prairies: Black Oklahomans in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905-1912

Many Canadians feel pride about their country’s role in the operation of the Underground Railroad, a well known part of racial history in North America. The secret anti-slavery network helped nearly fifteen thousand African Americans flee their bondage in the United States for freedom in Eastern Canada.

A lesser known African American migration occurred in the early decades of the 20th century, from Oklahoma to the Canadian prairies. During this period of time approximately one thousand black men, women and children attempted to build new lives for themselves in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Although black settlers actually came to Alberta and Saskatchewan in relatively small numbers, their history in the provinces is a unique and courageous one.

Between 1897 and 1911, Clifford Sifton, Canadian Minister of the Interior, actively promoted immigration to Western Canada. When he offered land to prospective immigrants from Europe and the United States, African Americans from Oklahoma enthusiastically responded. Sifton advertised that an immigrant farmer would be given title to a quarter section of land (160 acres) for just $10, if he stayed on the land for three years and improved it by clearing, planting and building a house. This offer was a powerful incentive for the Oklahoma blacks, who at the time were suffering racial discriminatory policies in Oklahoma and were often unable to purchase farms.

This chronicle of migration to Western Canada begins in the years following the Civil War, when Southern whites stepped up their campaign of brutality against newly freed blacks. Desperate to flee the south many African Americans headed west to the new Indian Territory, an area that would later become the State of Oklahoma. All Black towns grew in Indian Territory when the former slaves settled together to live free from the prejudices and brutality they had suffered in the South. All-black settlements also offered the advantage of being able to depend on neighbours for assistance and the beginning of economic advancement,

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