Canada Post’s 2021 Black History Month stamps commemorate two communities

2021 STAMPS

Canada Post is honouring two small communities with deep connections to Black history with commemorative stamps.

Willow Grove, New Brunswick and Amber Valley, Alberta were both home to hundreds of African Americans who sought refuge in Canada while escaping violence and slavery in the United .States. more than 200 years ago.

Ralph Thomas, an 82-year-old historian and former resident of Willow Grove, said he is grateful to finally see Black settlers represented on postage stamps.

“It’s one of the biggest rewards we could ever receive because we haven’t had Black people on stamps in New Brunswick,” said Thomas.

Thomas,  the program coordinator at the New Brunswick Black History Society who spent his childhood in Willow Grove, a community about a 30-minute drive east of Saint John. said he knew many  descendants of settlers.

“It was tough times growing up in Willow Grove in the ‘40s, but I couldn’t imagine what it was like for Black folks in the 1800s,” he said.

He says life for settlers was rough. He describes the land as once being wooded and almost uninhabitable unless they were given the proper tools to survive.

Thomas credits Indigenous people with helping many of the Black settlers in Willow Grove by teaching them how to live off the land. This may have included hunting and gathering, according to Thomas.

“If it wasn’t for the First Nations, a lot of our people wouldn’t have survived,” he said.

On the New Brunswick stamp are pictures of two settlers, Eliza Taylor and Alex Diggs, both of whom were responsible for the early development of Willow Grove. Their image is accompanied by the HMS Regulus, the ship that carried liberated former slaves to Canada by way of Saint John, N.B. in 1815.

Nearly a century after Willow Grove was founded, 30 Black families fled escalating violence and segregation laws in the southern United States to establish Amber Valley, Alberta.

The community is just east of Athabasca and about 170 kilometres north of Edmonton.

“They faced many of the same challenges as Willow Grove,” according to a statement issued by Canada Post, which said the settlers encountered “bone-chilling winters, inhospitable land and the racial discrimination they had hoped to leave behind.”

“Through perseverance and hard work, both communities overcame many obstacles. They actively challenged racial discrimination and built schools, churches and other community organizations.”

About 1,000 African-American men, women and children came to what was originally known as Pine Creek between 1909 and 1911. Despite harsh conditions and racial hostility, the community – renamed Amber Valley in 1931 – thrived for several decades before its population dwindled.

This marks the 13th year Canada Post has issued stamps for Black History Month.

The stamps went on sale on Jan. 22 last.