The Amber Valley community gathered to celebrate and recognize the history of its black settlers with a new mural unveiled at the Amber Valley Community Hall Aug. 25.
Over 30 people gathered to watch the unveiling of the mural, which depicts important figures and events in the history of the community first settled by black families coming from Oklahoma in the early 20th century. The mural was set up by the Amber Valley Community Association and occupies most of a front wall at the community hall.
Association member Myrna Wisdom organized the mural and grew up in Amber Valley. She said she wanted the mural to be made to help give the history of the community more exposure.
“Blacks have been here for a long, long time, but for whatever reason, it seems to be unknown,” Wisdom said. “That may be due to the fact that it’s never been covered in our history books. So that’s why I felt if I do this, this will start some conversation.”
The mural was funded through donations and leftover funds from the Amber Valley reunion event in 2014, Wisdom said. The mural features a collage which includes the wagon trains black settlers used to reach Amber Valley and the community’s first church. Historical figures are also featured, including Parson Henry Sneed, who organized the first large group of settlers to come from Oklahoma to Canada to try to escape racism.
“He was quite skillful because he anticipated he would have trouble when he got to the border,” Wisdom said. “He knew how to speak to the officials.”
Edmonton-based artist Trevor Salé said he was first approached to do the mural in March 2017 and created it based on reference photos provided by Wisdom.
“It was challenging. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done, but I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it,” Salé said. “It was nice to see it come together.”
The mural was made on four plywood sheets, with acrylic paint and an artist quality varnish intended for outdoor use, he added.
Wisdom said she thinks everyone was pleased with how the mural turned out. People from Amber Valley will have something important to see when they visit, she added.
“They can go and see this mural and their forefathers featured,” Wisdom said. “That’s why I wanted to do it and I thought Trevor did a wonderful job of putting it together.
The importance of Amber Valley’s history
Dignitaries attended and spoke at the mural unveiling, including Athabasca County Reeve Doris Splane and Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette.
Aspen View Public Schools acting superintendent Neil O’Shea said the school division hopes to have students doing more to explore the history of Amber Valley in the upcoming school year.
“Get more of our kids out here and expose at least the kids in the Athabasca area to this very, very rich history,” O’Shea said, adding thanks to the Amber Valley Community Association executive for collecting that history. “Our history is important to us. When we learn our history, it gives us the courage to move forward and that’s something we’re looking for in all of our students.”
Edmonton-centre MLA David Sheppard, who said he was only the third-ever black person to serve as an Alberta MLA, also attended and spoke at the unveiling event. He said despite being born and raised in Alberta, he only learned about the history of Amber Valley starting in 2016.
“I’m incredibly happy we have folks like Myrna (Wisdom) and others who are working to preserve that story,” Sheppard said.
Stories like Amber Valley are important in the world right now, Sheppard said.
“We’re living in a time right now where unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of voices of anger and hatred starting to rise,” he said. “In a time like this where people are trying to divide us as Canadians, its incredibly important that we remember stories like this, of when people came together (and) founded communities like Amber Valley.”