The Shiloh people, an unknown part of Prairie history

Saskatchewan’s first and only African American farming community.

Hello Flatlanders,

Today, at the request of Flatlander reader Ken, we are going to travel to just outside Maidstone, SK.

You may have seen signs for Maidstone if you’ve driven along Highway 16, past North Battleford towards Lloydminster.

I personally haven’t been to Maidstone. Although, I have been to some towns nearby, like Paradise Hill, Edam and Turtleford.

If you’re in that area, you should check out the Cochin Lighthouse, which sits atop Pirot’s Hill and overlooks Murray and Jackfish lakes. (CBC did an episode on it as part of their series Big Things Small Towns).

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You should also stop outside a small log building, 29 km northeast of Maidstone—the Shiloh Baptist Church, built by Saskatchewan’s first and only African American farming community known as the Shiloh People. (Shiloh was the name of the biblical city that was an important worship site for early Israelites.)

“It is a part of Saskatchewan history that is not well known,” wrote Ken.

The Cochin Lighthouse. GETTY IMAGES.

Who are the Shiloh People? They were 12 Black families that moved to the Maidstone area from Oklahoma in 1910.

The promise of free land advertised by Saskatchewan attracted these settlers to the area. Other Black Oklahomans were also moving to Canada then. Mostly, to Alberta.

Looking for better pastures. Black settlers from Oklahoma came to the Canadian Prairies because of the segregationist laws being passed after Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

Canada wasn’t much better, as there was segregation going on up here too.

Racism on top of the harsh Prairie winters was an extra challenge the Black settlers had to deal with.

A church of their own. The Maidstone-area Black built their own church in 1912, because Black people weren’t exactly welcome at the white churches back then. The Shiloh church was built with hand-cut poplar logs. Beside the church is a graveyard that contains 37 of the community’s founding settlers.

Maidstone’s matriarch. One of the Shiloh Black settlers was Mattie Mayes, who was born a slave in the 1860s. Coming to Saskatchewan, she worked as the community midwife for everyone in the Maidstone area. (Her great granddaughter now works as a nurse in Saskatoon).

A big family. Mattie and her husband Joseph, who was the church’s pastor. They had 10 boys and three girls.

The homestead. Joseph was 54 when he arrived in Saskatchewan where he and his family used oxen and horse to break up the 30 acres of land on their homestead. They had to hew the logs for their home, which was plastered with lime, made in their lime kiln.

Further reading. You can also read more about some of Saskatchewan’s other early Black homesteaders and settlers hereMore is written about the Mattie Mayes and her descendants here and there are some great pictures included in this CBC article about the church.

The Shiloh Baptist Church got a provincial heritage designation in 2018 and today is a museum.

Provincial designation will formally recognize this property for its association with the history of African American settlement in Saskatchewan. As the only known surviving building from the first African American farming community in the province, the Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery illustrates the important role African American settlers played in shaping the identity and culture of Saskatchewan,” wrote former Saskatchewan Roughrider and then Minister of Parks, Sport and Culture Gene Makowsky, who now works as the Minister of Advanced Education and is the MLA for Regina Gardiner Park.

Over in Manitoba, in Winnipeg, there is the Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was previously Hill’s Memorial Baptist Church founded in 1924 by Rev. Dr. Joseph T. Hill from Arkansas. Members of the church were Black settlers who came up to Winnipeg by rail—Black cowboys, labourers and railway porters who were looking for work.

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A small community. Between 1908 and 1915, it’s estimated that Winnipeg only had about 300 Black people and the then Hill’s Memorial Baptist Church served as the community centre.

A rebrand. In 1928, it changed its name to Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Disaster strikes. In 1950, a fire destroyed the inside of the church. The repairs cost $8,000. Months later, the flooding from the Red River damaged the church further. With the support of other churches, the Pilgrim Baptist was able to rebuild and was expanded in the 1980s.

You can read more about the church here.

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Retired Winnipeg teacher’s ‘application‘ for heaven resonates around the world.
  2. On the ground in Churchill, polar bears fight for survival as the ice disappears.
  3. A Winnipeg goalkeeper trades soccer jersey for an army uniform in Ukraine.
  4. Manitoba is looking into baby name registry changes after an Indigenous couple’s name denied.
  5. A Manitoba artist transformed the snowbanks in front of her home into a tribute to Ukraine amidst the ongoing Russian invasion.

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. A Saskatoon woman shares her Kyiv war experience.
  2. Olympic hockey player Emily Clark enjoys her golden return to Saskatchewan
  3. Saskatchewan country music artist Tenille Arts has been nominated for Country Album of the Year at the 2022 Juno Awards..
  4. SaskPower invests $2 million to create a program to install electric vehicle charging stations.
  5. Restoring a 107-year-old farmyard was a dream come true for a Saskatchewan couple.

Photo of the week

The Blumenfeld Roman Catholic Church near Leader, SK. GETTY IMAGES.

Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

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