Canada Post’s 2021 Black History month honours two black communities who carved out lives in Canada, Amber Valley, Alberta and Willow Grove, New Brunswick. I started drafting a single article but became engrossed in the histories of these communities and realised they deserved separate recognition. The first of two posts starts with Amber Valley.
2021 Black History Month – Amber Valley Alberta
Amber Valley is located 170 kilometres north of Edmonton. If you are familiar with northern Alberta, then you understand how cold and remote the Athabasca region is. The people who settled Amber Valley took a difficult and at times dangerous trek from Alabama and Oklahoma, determined to create a better life in Canada, far away, hopefully, from the Jim Crow south.
The influx was sparked by a Canadian Immigration Dept, campaign to bring new settlers to the prairie provinces with promises of free land. Over a 2 year span, approx. 1,000 Black-Americans responded to the ads and settled in Pine Creek, Alberta (later renamed Amber Valley), Junkins, Alberta (renamed Wildwood), Keystone, Alberta (renamed Breton) and Campsie and Maidstone, Saskatchewan. A group of 100, headed for Amber Valley in 1909. They were joining Reverend Harrison (Henry) Sneed, who made the first trip to the Athabasca valley to survey the area in 1905.
Frustrated by their disfranchisement and fearful of escalating white violence, black Oklahomans proved receptive to the appeals of Canadian officials and looked to Canada as their new hope for a promised land of equality and opportunity. Between 1905 and 1912, over 1,000
African Americans made the trek to Canada and most of them came from Oklahoma. Many of these Canadian immigrants had been migrants to Oklahoma, who had hoped for an all-black state but instead encountered white violence and Jim Crowism. They believed they had been abandoned by America and hoped to lead freer lives in Canada, where they were told prosperity awaited. Although part of the larger white migration, African Americans regarded their move to Canada in very different ways from white Americans.
“We Heard Canada Was a Free Country”: African American Migration in the Great Plains, 1890-1911 (siu.edu)
First Day Cover celebrating Amber Valley, Alberta, settled by black immigrants from Oklahoma USA in 1909. Designed by Lara Minja of Lime Design Inc
Racism in Canada – “campaign of diplomatic racism”
Various records offer up different numbers of people who followed Rev Sneed. Most indicate approx. 100 people made up the first trip. More followed, but by 1911, a group of 200 blacks, heading to Amber Valley encountered racist issues at the border. It’s easy to gloss over the success of the community and pretend they were welcome to the North, but the Black Americans succeeded because they persevered, not because a welcome mat was rolled out.
Old racist tropes were resurrected to prevent blacks from settling Canada, ranging from the hysteria claiming black communities were dangerous to white homes, to black homesteads would drive the price of land down. The Federal government was petitioned to halt all non-white immigration to the country.
Once black settlers started arriving in larger numbers, however, they did rely upon indirect methods to discourage these “undesirables” from undertaking the journey up north. While simultaneously advertised as hospitable and inviting to the American whites, the climate of the Canadian west was presented as much too cold and severe for any blacks. Strict economic and physical standards aimed at restricting newcomers, but most blacks passed the tests. Finally, agents hired by the Canadian government were sent Oklahoma to persuade these potential immigrants that Albertan soil was poor and that they would, in any case, have difficulty crossing the border. These informal policies were effective, and by 1912, black immigration to Alberta had all but ended.
Land of Opportunity – The Great Migration – Black Communities in Alberta (collectionscanada.gc.ca)
Actions by the Canadian government killed off the movement north. By 1911, white communities were pressuring the government to act. On August 12, 1911, Order-in-Council 1324 was drafted to stop all black immigration for up to a year.
“the serious menace to the future welfare of a large portion of western Canada, by reason of the alarming influx of Negro settlers.”
Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver MP Edmonton in letter to PM Laurier
Although Order 1324 failed to become official policy, other methods were instituted. 1324 failed, not because of a sense of anti-racist sentiment on behalf of the Canadian cabinet, but because the Laurier government was facing an election year and they didn’t want to stir up any controversies or start a political row with the US.
Instead, Canada began what has been described as a “campaign of diplomatic racism.” A polite way of saying Canada instituted racist rules but did it in a way that didn’t draw attention. If there’s one thing Canada excels at, it’s being polite and hiding our racism behind a cloak of respectability. Medical exams were made harder to pass for blacks, doctors were bribed to fail applicants, head taxes of up to $50 per person instituted, certificates proving suitability as farmers refused were among the tactics used. The government finally resorted to sending officials to Oklahoma to discourage blacks directly. Only then did black immigration fall off.
Photos of black citizens from Amber Valley
Searching through various archives rewarded me with many photos of the citizens of Amber Valley. Too many to post here, but a wonderful look at a flourishing black community.
Mr. and Mrs. Spriggs of Begg, Oklahoma. Photo taken at Amber Valley, Alberta. Image courtesy Archives Society of Alberta
Jesse Bowen and Frank Jamerson 1920. Archives society of Alberta
The photos from Archives society of Alberta provide a slice of life in rural Alberta and highlight a much-ignored part of Canadian history – the contributions blacks made in all walks of life. Black History Month offers a small correction into this unbalanced view of our history, but we still have a long way to go to appreciate who helped build Canada.
Young farmer with horse. Amber Valley around 1920s Archives society of Alberta
Unknown woman milking a cow in 1920.s Archives society of Alberta
Like many rural communities, people gradually drifted away to larger cities for better economic opportunities. Farming is arduous work; farming in a northern community can be harsh and unforgiving. Over the decades, Amber Valley’s population declined until it was nothing more but a memory. The school closed in 1950s and the post office in 1968. As the remaining population began to age and die, their original homesteads were either sold, demolished, or left to disintegrate into the soil.
Some of the descendants of Amber Valley’s immigrants were Violet King Henry, Canada’s first black, female attorney, Cheryl Foggo, award winning author and playwright, and Oliver Bowen, engineer behind Calgary’s first light rail. The Oklahomans who settled in Alberta left a hell of a legacy.
Amber Valley stamp for 2021 Black History Month
Amber Valley Stamp – Black History Month 2021 Canada
Lime Design’s Lara Minja created both stamps for Black History Month. The First Day Cover bears a cancelation from Athabasca, AB (where Amber Valley is).
Athabasca 2021 postal cancel
If you find these stamps & their histories interesting, check out Lime Design’s previous Black History Month stamps. Designer Lara Minja has created 4 previous series and they are equally outstanding. Minja is talented and imaginative in her designs. If you collect Canadian, history or Black History stamps, these should be in your collection.
I’ll post about the second stamp in this series later and pop a link here when it’s done. In the Meantime, check out other upcoming issues for Canada
Awesome 2021 Canadian stamps announced
Canada’s beloved Bluenose is 100 years old this March and of course, we’ll celebrate with a new stamp. The Bluenose issue will likely be unveiled in Feb, with a release date in March.
Designed to be both a fishing boat and a racing schooner, the Bluenose excelled in both roles. It was the first boat designed by Halifax born W. J. Roué who became known as Canada’s premier naval architect. He designed over 200 vessels, including yachts, barges, ferries, freighters, and schooners.
The Bluenose, manned by its fishing crew and captained by Angus J. Walters, raced the best in the world. In its 17 years, the “queen of the North Atlantic” was beaten just once.
Bluenose Schooner in full sail. Photo 1921 Photographer: MacAskill, Wallace R., 1893-1956 courtesy Archives / Collections and Fonds
The original stamp 1929This stamp is instantly recognizable around the world. I remember when I acquired mine nearly 20 years ago. I still get excited every time I think back to that day. The ’29 Bluenose is one of those stamps every young Canadian collector dreams of owning. It’s a thing of beauty, in both subject and design. The level of detail in this small rectangle is staggering. Engraved by American Bank Note Company, New York City, the stamp was based on photos by Nova Scotian photographer Wallace R. MacAskill.
The stamp above is a high-quality photograph that will allow you zoom in and see the stunning detailed work. From a design standpoint, this is as close to perfect as you can get.
Bluenose specimen stamp 1928
Buried in the Canadian archives was this specimen. I have to say, I’m not sure which I prefer. The contrast of the deep blue and grey/black engraving is breathtaking. The use of grey/black gives the stamp a sense of photo-realism. It would be interesting to know why all blue was picked.
Bluenose stamp 1982
Stamp on a stamp
The International Philatelic Youth Exhibition in 1982 featured this stamp-on-stamp commemorative. This issue, part of a set showing classic Canadian stamps, was designed by Stuart Bradley Ash of the design firm Gottschalk+Ash . Ash was a legend in the design industry and was the man behind Canada’s centennial logo in 1967.
Designed by Stuart Bradley Ash
1988 Bluenose and Captain Walters
1988 Bluenose and Captain Walters
1988 finally saw Captain Walters honoured with a stamp. This one, designed by Roger Hill, doesn’t excite me; I find it bland. Given the thrill of captaining the schooner, I had hoped for a more vibrant addition to the Bluenose family. I confess, I still haven’t picked it up for my collection. It’s a sound design, just lacks a sense of vigour.
1998 Roué and Bluenose stamp
Roue and Bluenose 1998
The original stamp made a return in 1998 to honour Roué. Graphic designer Louis C. Hébert did an excellent job blending the classic engraving with a lithograph portrait of Roué.
Bluenose is 100 – the latest
This space is reserved for the new issue. As yet, it’s unknown who the designer is, or what the stamp will look like. I’m a bit torn. I’m fond of the 1929 version but after seeing it in 3 stamps to date, I’m hoping for something fresh. We’ll know soon.
Stamp design TBA
Did you enjoy this article? Consider supporting Bitter Grounds Magazine. You can buy merch at my Red Bubble store. There are a number of stamp related designs to choose from and more on the way. Or, click the small cup down at the left corner and buy me an espresso.
Find out more about Canada’s 2021 stamp issues:
Awesome 2021 Canadian stamps announced
Canada’s 2021 Lunar New Year stamps will wrap up the New Year’s series that started in 2009. This last issue in the cycle goes on sale January 15, 2021 and is available for pre-sale orders now at Canada Post’s online store Latest stamps | New in store | Canada Post. This set beautifully ties the complete collection together. In one souvenir sheet, the collector can see 12 years’ worth of stamp designs.
Canada’s 2021 Lunar New Year stamps
All years are displayed – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. It’s a terrific way to end a long running series.
Canada 2021 Lunar New Year Stamps souvenir sheet
Booklet format and single permanent stamps.
Lunar New Year cycle wraps up
Canada’s 2021 Lunar New Year stamps designed by Paprika Design
Paprika Design created this retrospective issue. Their work should be familiar to Canadian stamp collectors. They are behind 9 previous designs including the 2018 QEII 65th anniversary stamps, the 2017 Year of the Rooster and 2014 Year of the Horse.
The Lunar New Year stamp series uses artwork from by Albert Ng and Associates (rat, monkey, pig), Helene L’Heureux (ram), HM&E Design (rabbit), Louis Fishauf (dragon), MIX Design Group (snake), Paprika (horse, rooster), Subplot Design Inc. (dog), Taylor/Sprules Corp. (ox), and Wilco Design (tiger).
Are you interested in seeing all Canada’s upcoming stamps for 2021? Check out the post below for more information.
Awesome 2021 Canadian stamps announced
Canada Post has released topics for their 2021 Canadian stamps, with some exciting 100th anniversary celebrations in the mix. The list is an interesting selection of Canadian achievements and multicultural events.
List of 2021 Canadian stamp issues
- the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.
- five mammals that turn white in winter.
- two legends of Canadian ballet.
- the 100th anniversary of the launch of the legendary schooner Bluenose.
- the three First World War heroes from Winnipeg’s Valour Road.
UPDATED Jan. 07, 2021. Canada Post has started issuing the 2021 stamps. The original article on the topics starts below the list. Purchase stamps here: Latest stamps | New in store | Canada Post
2021 Canadian stamps January
Lunar New Year cycle wraps up
|Lunar New Year Cycle|
12 Lunar New Year stamps.
Booklets, uncut press sheets, souvenir sheet, framed pane.
Completion of current Lunar New Year series that started in 2009. Each design is based on a previously released stamp.
Designer: Paprika Design
Previously designed stamps include 2018 QEII, and 2017 Formula 1 Drivers.
Release date: January 15, 2021
Canada 2021 Lunar New Year Stamps
|Full souvenir sheet|
Celebrating black settlements in Willow Grove NB and Amber Valley, Alberta
|Black History Month|
Two stamps celebrating two communities settled by Black Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Amber Valley, Alberta & Willow Grove, NB.
The residents of Willow Grove and Amber Valley faced the challenges of poor farming land and harsh weather conditions. They also faced continued prejudice and discrimination, including from local and federal governments. Despite the hostility of their environments, these communities grew, and their descendants have enriched Canadian society and culture. Black History Month | Canada Post
Two stamps in this series
Permanent stamps, souvenir sheets, FDC
Special cancels from Athabasca AB
Designer: Lime Design
Previously designed includes 2018 Canadian Illustrators, 2012 Guardian of English Bay Joe Fortes, 2011 Black History Month featuring Fergie Jenkins,
Release date: January 22, 2021
2 booklets to be issued
|Two separate booklets issued|
|FDC Amber Valley was founded around 1910|
FDC Willow Grove was founded in 1817 by a group of Black refugees from the War of 1812 (most formerly enslaved in the United States).
2021 Canadian stamps February
What are your picks?
I’m not sure which of Canada’s ballet legends will be honoured but I’m betting it’ll be Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart. I’m not a major fan of ballet, so I’m likely off on these picks, but with Canada’s rich ballet history and there are lots of choices.
The mammals of winter will be fun. My picks are the artic hare, arctic fox, Peary caribou, arctic wolf, and harp seal.
It’s hard to imagine a world without insulin, but the discovery is only 100 years old. Read more on it here 100 Years of Insulin: Accelerating Canadian Discoveries to Defeat Diabetes. Previous stamps highlighting insulin included the 50th anniversary issue 1971, 1990 physician’s series, and 1999 millennium issue.
And the beloved Bluenose!
1929 Bluenose stamp from writer’s collection
The Bluenose has appeared on 4 Canadian stamps, 1929, 1982, 1988 and 1998. The classic 1929 issue appeared on the 82 and 98 stamps. It’s hard to beat the iconic 1929 issue for power and grace. Of all the new releases, this one creates the greatest interest. I’d love to see a photo of the Bluenose incorporated into the design this time around.
The Valour Road stamps will honour 3 WW1 Canadian soldiers who lived on the same street in Winnipeg. Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, and Lieutenant Robert Shankland each won the Victoria Cross, prompting Pine Street to be renamed Valour Road in 1925.
Reoccurring themes for 2021 Canadian stamps
As expected, Canada Post will highlight several popular themes used in past years.
- spring flower stamps this year will be crab-apples blossoms.
- the Chinese Lunar New Year will feature a multi-stamp look at past issues in the series.
- Black History Month will honour pioneering settlements in Amber Valley, Alberta, and Willow Grove, New Brunswick.
- a stamp honouring the Canada Post Community Foundation, which supports a number of schools, charities, and children’s organizations.
- Eid, Diwali, and Hanukkah stamps.
- and of course, the yearly Christmas stamps which will have an angel and some as yet unannounced, classic Christmas characters.
Lots to look forward to in the new year. I’m eager to see who the designers are as well. I started a small database tracking modern designer and their stamps. If I ever complete it, I’ll share it, but don’t hold your breath. So many stamps to write about, so little time to spare.
What are your choices? Leave them in the comments below.
Check back frequently for more stamp collecting news. Remember to follow Bitter Grounds on Twitter or Facebook to receive updates on the stamp world. If you don’t use them, check out the links below for more options to follow this site.