To celebrate Black History Month, residents and local dignitaries gathered to learn about a piece of history just outside of the Border City.
Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery is found about 30 kilometres north of Maidstone in the RM of Eldon. It sits as a historic marker of the first black settlers to arrive in Saskatchewan and is recognized as a provincial heritage property.
Leander Lane is a descendant of one of the settlers and is also the founder of the Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery Restoration Society. He gave a presentation on the communities history at the Lloydminster Comprehensive High School Library on February 29.
“There’s a rich history of black pioneer settlement in Western Canada and in Saskatchewan in particular. The black pioneers were here, they settled and helped make the country as much as anybody else.”
Lane’s great-grandfather, Julius Caesar Lane, was one of the first of 12 families that settled in the area in 1910. Lane recounted the story of Julius and his family moving from Oklahoma after seeing ads promising land in Canada.
They eventually built a church which became the centre point of the community. Lane also spoke on the issues settlers faced at the time.
“They were forced into a situation where they had to accept a segregated school against their wishes. The segregation didn’t last long as European settlers started coming in and they didn’t care who their children went to school with.”
The church and cemetery are the only things left as a reminder of the settlement and began to deteriorate until twenty years ago.
In 2001, Lane began the Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery Restoration Society to restore the church. He says in three years they were able to raise $60,000 to restore the church and replace about half of the wooden logs used to build it.
“We did as much as we could to make sure the building would last another 100 years and remain to stand to represent our African-American experience in Saskatchewan,” says Lane.
“I’m happy to relate the story of the black settlement in Saskatchewan. I think Canadians should be aware of black people having a long history in Canada and they have a rich history in Saskatchewan.”
The event was organized by Charles Balenga who had been planning to bring in Lane since last years event. He says Lane’s knowledge and experience help build the story of the Shiloh church and community.
“He talks about history as not someone who has read history but as someone from the history itself. Having him was extremely important and I was so happy that he could make time and tell the story.”
Balenga hopes to do more next year for Black History Month by giving presentations to schools in Lloydminster and the surrounding area.
“The more we celebrate each other, the more we get to know each other, the more we appreciate each other.”
Mayor Gerald Aalbers, MP Rosemarie Falk, MLA Garth Rowswell and MLA Colleen Young also spoke on the importance of celebrating history at the event.