In February of this year, thanks in great part to the work of my colleague the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre, Alberta celebrated its very first Black History Month, and Amber Valley has always been a big part of that history.
This past weekend I had the good fortune to bring greetings on behalf of our Premier to Amber Valley and share in the celebration of their official designation as a national historic site. This designation is in recognition of the arrival of over a thousand African-American settlers to Canada between 1908 and 1911, seeking to escape discrimination and in hope of a better future.
Amber Valley itself was home to over 150 of these individuals and is unique in having some of their descendants still living on their original homesteads. Growing up, my grandfather used to tell me stories about Amber Valley. Their baseball team was legendary across northeastern Alberta, as were their annual three-day picnics. These courageous settlers established their own institutions, created a rich social life, and forged vibrant farming communities. The arrival of these black pioneers to our province has been and will forever be an integral part of our western heritage.
Sadly, the initial rush of black settlers caused a racist backlash by our governments of the time, and the door was then shut to black immigrants until the early ’60s, to our collective shame and also our collective loss. Those who did come have enriched our diversity and our society well out of proportion to their numbers, playing a vital role in battling discrimination and advocating for equality, tolerance, and justice for all.
Today the Amber Valley community centre, museum, and historic pioneer cabin is largely maintained by the Amber Valley historical society, dedicated volunteers who rely on their own hard work and by raising funds through hosting music jams and, of course, their famous chicken dinners. I wish to commend their community spirit and their dedication to preserving this truly unique piece of Alberta’s heritage.