CMC’s Prairie schoolhouse exhibit to honour unique episode of Black history

January 29, 2007

CMC’s Prairie schoolhouse exhibit to honour unique episode of Black history

Gatineau, Quebec, January 29, 2007 — The Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) is adding an important instalment of Black history to its permanent exhibitions by showcasing a one-room Prairie schoolhouse founded by former slaves and their descendants in Amber Valley, Alberta.

Toles School will be re-created in the Museum’s popular Canada Hall, which takes visitors on a 1,000-year tour of our country’s history and settlement.

“The Toles School will be a wonderful addition to Canada Hall because it represents the struggles and successes not only of Black settlers, but of all settlers on the Prairies,” says Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “Though unique, the story of Amber Valley will resonate with people of many other racial and ethnic backgrounds who came to Canada to make a new life for themselves, and who established their own distinctive communities.”

Many former slaves and their families migrated from Oklahoma to the Canadian Prairies between 1908 and 1911 to escape racism. Despite facing problems in Canada as well, about 1,000 Black settlers established homesteads east of Athabasca in Pine Creek, Alberta, later renamed Amber Valley. There, they founded a geographically dispersed community with a church, school and store, where residents were to some extent sheltered from outside hostility.

The Museum’s schoolhouse exhibit will feature authentic artifacts such as lunch pails, desks, books, maps and chalkboards, along with firsthand accounts of life in Amber Valley. Toles School was torn down about 20 years ago. It will be partly reconstructed inside the Museum using information from photographs, archival research and oral history.

While the new exhibit isn’t set to open until December 2008, the CMC is currently mounting a temporary exhibition featuring photographs, maps, and some of the artifacts from the school and community.

“The Toles School exhibit will provide a snapshot of Prairies communities in the 1930s, and of life in one particular community,” says Dr. Rhonda Hinther, Curator of Western Canadian History at the CMC. She has been busy in Athabasca and Amber Valley, interviewing people who attended Toles School, tracking down objects from the school and the community, and doing archival research.

Dr. Hinther returns to Alberta in February to continue her research, to announce some important partnerships between the CMC and local organizations, and to attend the Black Pioneer Descendants’ Society’s Annual Soul Food Dinner on February 3, and the Prairie Black History Workshop on February 5, both in Edmonton.

Dr. Hinther would like to hear from current and former Amber Valley residents who have artifacts, photos or stories to share. She can be reached at 819 776-7028 or

The 6th Annual Soul Food Dinner, presented by the Black Pioneer Descendants’ Society, will be held on Saturday, February 3, at Londonderry Community Hall (14224-74 St., Edmonton). The event will feature entertainment by the Black Pioneer Heritage Singers and others. For more information, contact Cherya at 780 472-2254, Rick at 780 466-6520, or email

A Prairie Black History Workshop, sponsored in part by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, will be held at 9 a.m. on Monday, February 5, at the Stanley A. Milner Library (7 Sir Winston Churchill Square, Edmonton). The work