Curator on research visit to Amber Valley RegionOctober 19, 2006
Curator from Canadian Museum of Civilization on research visit to Amber Valley RegionGatineau, Quebec, October 19, 2006 Dr. Rhonda Hinther is the Curator of Western Canadian History at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She will be in Athabasca and the Amber Valley area of Alberta next week to do historical research on Toles School for a proposed new exhibition in the Canada Hall, the Museum’s huge and popular walkthrough 1,000 years of Canadian history and settlement.
The Museum plans to re-create the one-room Toles School house in an exhibit that would convey the experiences of many communities in the Prairies in the 1930s, and to provide a snapshot of life in this particular community. Dr. Hinther hopes to speak to people who attended Toles School to gain first-hand accounts of life in the school and the community. She is also looking for objects from the school or the community to help bring the exhibit to life.
Between 1908 and 1911, a number of former Black slaves and their descendants left Oklahoma for the Canadian Prairies. They migrated to escape racism and the Jim Crow laws imposed when Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907. In many ways Canada was also unsympathetic. Influential groups and individuals pressured the federal government to close the border to Black immigration. Canadian immigration agents were sent to Oklahoma to warn potential Black settlers about the harsh climate and poor soil of Alberta.
As a result, only about 1000 Black settlers made their home on the Canadian Prairies. The majority took up homesteads east of Athabasca in Pine Creek, Alberta, later renamed Amber Valley. There, they established a geographically-dispersed community with a church, school, and store. Amber Valley’s largely Black character sheltered its residents from outside hostility to some extent. Though unique, the story of Amber Valley is similar to those of settlers of other racial and ethnic backgrounds who came from distant corners of the world to make a new life in Western Canada near the turn of the twentieth century.
“Toles School is ideal,” says Dr. Hinther, Curator of Western History at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, “for highlighting distinct elements of Prairie Black history while at the same time underscoring student, teacher, and community experiences common to Prairie one-room school houses.”
The Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada’s national museum of human history, located in a unique, curvilinear complex of Manitoba tyndall stone which was designed by Alberta-born architect Douglas Cardinal. With over 1.3 million visitors annually, it is Canada’s largest and most popular Museum. Together with its affiliate the Canadian War Museum, the national history institutions that make up the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation preserve and promote knowledge of Canadian history through exhibitions, programs, research and significant collections of over 3.5 million artifacts.
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