The Black Calgarian’s story from 1914

Maria Crooks

On Feb. 3, 1914, Charles Daniels — a Canadian Pacific Railway employee who worked as a porter supervisor — bought tickets to see a Shakespeare play at the Grand Theatre in Calgary but when he arrived the theatre wouldn’t let him take his seat because he was Black.

Daniels’s story is one of many that was told as part of a storytelling circuit at the Lougheed House this weekend. The circuit, part of the House’s Full Bloom Fest, consisted of performers telling 10-minute narratives at “story stations” scattered throughout the gardens.

Maria Crooks is the Calgary writer and playwright who shared Charles Daniels’s story. She said that although very little is known about his life, other than the racist incident in 1914, he deserves recognition.

“I think that Black history is part of of Canada’s history,” Crooks told The Homestretch on Wednesday.

“People should know more about these things and not just look towards the States and think that racial discrimination and civil rights cases only take place there. They also take place here.”

At the theatre in 1914, Daniels was told he could exchange his tickets for seats in the balcony that were reserved for Black patrons or get his money back. Angered and humiliated, he sued the building owner, Senator James Lougheed, and the theatre manager, William Sherman, and won $1,000, as neither Lougheed nor Sherman showed up to court.

About two months later, Lougheed fired Sherman, possibly because of embarrassment from the publicity that the incident received.

Crooks said that though Daniels’s case ended in a victory, it didn’t mean that much changed afterward. For example, in 1959, a Black man named Ted King was refused entry at a motel. He sued but lost his case.

But Crooks said that Daniels’s courage makes his story important.

“I think just the very fact that this man was willing to stand up for himself, and long before any of this was happening in the United States,” said Crooks, noting that Daniels sued the theatre 41 years before Rosa Parks began the Montgomery bus boycott in the U.S.

She said that these events don’t just live in the past.

“Even today, there are still people of Black African descent [who], you know, face discrimination and still feel othered,” she said. “I think that it is important to realize that it’s a journey that we are on. It’s not something that happened in 1948 or in 1959, but that it’s still happening … we need to learn from these stories and move forward.”