The historic Shiloh Baptist Church near Maidstone, once the centre of a community of African American farmers who settled in Saskatchewan after fleeing racial segregation in the U.S., has become a provincial heritage site.
Leander Keith Lane, great-grandson of the first man to be buried in the nearby cemetery, says it’s a necessary tribute to hardship and triumph.
“But they were never given the recognition for coming here and surviving the winters and living through all of the racism.”
The nearly 20 families formed what came to be known as the Shiloh community, and Shiloh Baptist Church was a central part of their lives. It was built in 1912 and now serves as a museum.
Inside, next to a picture of Kane’s ancestor, is a picture of Mattie Mayes. More than a hundred years ago, she fled the racism of Oklahoma and its Jim Crow laws and settled on a farm near Maidstone, Sask.
Mayes was born in Oklahoma in the 1860s as a slave. She fled the racism and bigotry that was still rampant in the United States after the American Civil War ended. She eventually came to Canada, and helped settle the Shiloh community.
“It’s an inspiration to me. And it’s something I can pass on to my children,” said Crystal Mayes, Mattie Mayes’ great-granddaughter.
Crystal Mayes says her ancestor became a matriarch to the other families who had also made the area their new home.
And, she adds, her great-grandmother served an important role in the other communities as well.
“She was a midwife to the community,” Crystal Mayes said. “It wasn’t only just for the black community. It was for everybody, which I think says a lot.”
Mayes says she is often asked if she is a recent immigrant because of the colour of her skin. She says the official designation for the church cements her own history and helps others understand what a Canadian can look like.
“For other kids that are Canadian, it lets them know that, ‘Yeah, you’re actually from Saskatchewan, you’re a true Saskatchewan person. Just like other people … whose families have been here for over a hundred years.”