What began as a simple search for family members that I’d been told migrated to Canada turned into something amazing! I found my great aunt and great uncle, Emma (Bruce) and Caesar Lane on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census living near Dalton, Missouri.
I next find them on the 1911 Census of Canada. In the interim, they moved to Oklahoma Territory seeking relief from the racial inequality that was present in Missouri. That freedom was short-lived. When Oklahoma achieved statehood, it adopted a long list of Jim Crow laws that guaranteed separation of races. Canada began placing ads in Oklahoma newspapers offering “free land”, 160 acres of it, to those who were willing to settle it. Emma and Caesar packed up their family, as did about 11 other families, and headed north to Saskatchewan. They settled in the Eldon area, establishing what would eventually become a community of over 50 black families and the oldest settlement of African-Americans in Western Canada. In 1911-12 they built the Shiloh Baptist Church. In 1913, Caesar Lane became the first person to be buried there, thus establishing the Shiloh Baptist Church Cemetery. It is, to this day, the only African-American cemetery in Saskatchewan. This little church stands as a testament to the “Shiloh People”, to their faith, and to their desire to live freely. I’m both humbled and proud that my family members were an integral part of this historical place and these events.