Thursday, February 2, 2017

Black History in Alberta

I read in the news that Alberta is officially recognizing February as Black History Month. In honour of that I would like to share a story, though unfortunately it is one I only know the bare outlines of.

One of the founders of the storytelling circle I belong to, TALES Strathcona, was Helen Lavender. Helen told many sorts of stories, but now and then she would relate stories of her own life, often beginning with how she came to Alberta as a baby in a Bennett Buggy during the early 1930s. Another thing that she spoke of only once or twice, but that really stuck in my mind, was a certain couple who were neighbours and friends of her family when she was a young child, living in rural Alberta. This couple was very elderly: I have it in my head that she said they were both about a hundred years old, but I am not absolutely sure I remember that detail correctly. The detail I am sure I remember right is that they were both just thirteen years old when they ran away from slavery together, and came to Alberta on the underground railroad. They homesteaded together, working hard to create a new life for themselves. Helen remembered them as kind, welcoming people, still very much in love with one another.

I think most modern people would feel that thirteen is too young to decide to spend the rest of your life with someone. But you can't apply ordinary rules to something like this. In a better world the two of them would have had time to grow up in security and freedom and leave such decisions for later years. They did not have that privilege. They had the courage to take a chance on a better life together, and they were able to build that life here in our province. I think it is a part of our history that is worth remembering.

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