The Edwards came to Alberta
in 1910, attracted by the prospects of owning their own land and escaping
the poverty and prejudice that held them back in their native country.
They imagined a vast territory with acres of fruit trees and crops, but
what they found was a barren land. With no farming experience they had
to clear the land around their homestead in Cold Lake, Alberta; build
a house and plant the crops all on their own. For these early settlers
there was no government support, they had to make it on their own. The
only support homesteaders could expect came from their own family. Even
neighbours didn't automatically pitch in. One of J.D. Edwards' sons said
"Our neighbours made us work for their friendship. Fortunately, they
made it easy for us."
Many who came to Canada were broken by the pioneer hardships. Twenty years
after the Richards came to Canada, the stock market crashed; world prices
fell, including the price of wheat. Many of the homesteaders who had fought
to establish themselves over the past decades found their crops and land
worthless. The financial devastation combined with dust storms and plagues
Though the Edwards family earned the respect of their neighbours, living
amongst white people had generally been difficult for early black settlers.
Prejudice had been deeply rooted in Europe and in the United States where
the first blacks were brought as slaves. Though slavery was mostly situated
in the southern United States, there were already about 1100 Black slaves
in New France by 1759. Despite the fact that loyal United Empire Loyalists
were themselves free blacks, white Loyalists arrived in Canada with 2000
slaves. And while it was the town of York, known now as Toronto that led
the world in abolishing slavery in 1834, it still existed in the U.S.
Many desperate and escaped slaves fled to Canada via a secret route called
the Underground Railroad.
Once here, many white immigrants considered blacks backward. Though there
are many examples of blacks undertaking entrepreneurial enterprises, particularly
in Toronto, generally only the most menial jobs were open to them. Most
lived in areas isolated from whites. They were refused admittance to white
churches, hotels, restaurants, theatres, and swimming pools. They received
poor education, often in segregated schools. And even at the time of the
First World War, black servicemen were forced to serve in segregated units.
Today, blacks have entered all levels of Canadian society, and as a whole,
have a higher level of education than whites.