Mattie Hayes was close to 60 years old in 1909, when she decided to leave Oklahoma and go north to Canada with her husband, children and grandchildren. The frontier territory of Oklahoma had attracted a lot of former slaves after the Civil War. Mattie Hayes, born on a Georgia plantation, was one of them. In 1907, however, when Oklahoma gained statehood, the government brought in new laws to segregate stores and restaurants (meaning that Blacks had to keep to areas of their own). It also took the vote away from Blacks and turned a blind eye to lynchings. Mattie Hayes decided to travel on.

As Black immigrants filtered north across the Canadian border in 1909, they turned in various directions. Some headed east to Manitoba and Ontario. Others split away westward to Alberta. Twelve families chose to settle near Eldon in Saskatchewan, the Hayes among them. For $10, the government gave 160 acres to every settler, but there were conditions. Each farmer had to live on the land, build a house, clear at least 30 acres in the first three years and fence it. In fact, the Black settlers did better than that, and they also built a church and sent their children to local schools. In winter, the men worked as teamsters. In spring, they returned to the land. It was a good enough life. Mattie Hayes was content to live the rest of her life in the little community at Maidstone and, when she died at a ripe old age in 1953, she was buried there. Her travelling days were over.

Janet Uren (WordImage Inc.)
Maggie Fawcett, Claire Brodie, Parks Canada Agency, Multiculturalism Branch / Department of Canadian Heritage

Saskatchewan, CANADA
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