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Black Fur Traders in Canada

The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.

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Ted King

Theodore “Ted” Stanley King, civil rights activist, real estate broker, accountant, railway porter (born 14 July 1925 in Calgary; died 7 July 2001 in Surrey, BC). Ted King was the president of the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Coloured People from 1958 to 1961, where he advocated for the rights of Black Canadians. In 1959, King launched a legal challenge against a Calgary motel’s discriminatory policy, decades before human rights protections existed throughout Canada. The case made it to the Alberta Supreme Court. Though it was not successful, King’s case exposed legal loopholes innkeepers exploited in order to deny lodging to Black patrons.

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Cowboys and Cowgirls in Canada

Cowboys and cowgirls are people employed to tend cattle or horses. The first cowboys to work on the Canadian prairies arrived in the 1870s. The traditional cowboy lifestyle has since given way to a more contained, corporate model of ranching. But the romanticized image of the cowboy on the “open range” lives on as a symbol of the prairies. Today, the terms cowboy and cowgirl can refer to ranch workers or rodeo competitors.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

Article

Mi’k ai’stoowa (Red Crow)

Mi’k ai’stoowa, also known as Red Crow, warrior, peacemaker, Kainai (Blood) leader (born ca. 1830 near the junction of St. Mary’s and Oldman rivers, AB; died 28 August 1900 near the Belly River on the Kainai reserve, AB). Head chief of the Kainai, Mi’k ai’stoowa was a skilled negotiator and passionate advocate for his people. Mi’k ai’stoowa sought improved conditions for the Kainai in the wake of monumental changes amid the decline of the bison in traditional territories in the 1860s and 1870s, the encroachment of European settlers and the disastrous effects of smallpox epidemics.

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Gordon Barnhart

Gordon L. Barnhart, educator, historian, lieutenant-governor of SASKATCHEWAN (b at Saltcoats, Sask). A respected historian, Gordon Barnhart graduated from the UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN (U of S) with a Bachelor of Arts (1967).

Article

Thanadelthur

Thanadelthur (Chipewyan for “marten shake”), peace negotiator, guide, teacher, interpreter (born c. 1697 likely in present-day northern MB; died 5 February 1717 at York Factory, MB). Known as the Ambassadress of Peace, Thanadelthur negotiated peace between the Chipewyan (Denesuline) and Cree peoples during the early fur trade. She was also instrumental in creating ties between the Chipewyan people and the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as expanding the fur trade in today’s Churchill, Manitoba region.

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Peter Bostonais Pangman

Peter (or Pierre) Bostonais Pangman, Métis leader, bison hunter (born 20 October 1791 in the North Saskatchewan River Valley area, present-day AB; died 4 March 1850 in St. François Xavier, present-day MB). Peter Bostonais Pangman was a skilled hunter who helped provide much-needed bison meat to the Red River Colony. He was actively involved in the Pemmican Wars and events surrounding the Battle of Seven Oaks. As part of the Pembina fur trade, Pangman was a key figure who rallied and inspired the Red River Valley Métis to see and express themselves with an identity separate from surrounding Indigenous peoples. The name Bostonais is variously spelled Bastonnais and Bostonnais.

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Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear)

Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear), Plains Cree chief (born near Fort Carlton, SK; died 17 January 1888 on the Little Pine Reserve, SK). Mistahimaskwa is best known for his refusal to sign Treaty 6 in 1876 and for his band’s involvement in violent conflicts associated with the 1885 North-West Rebellion.