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Preserving a slice of Edmonton’s black history

Edmonton woman working to preserve black history in Alberta
WATCH: During this Black History Month, we're highlighting some of the ways Alberta's black pioneers helped build Edmonton. Hundreds of African Americans, many fleeing slavery and violence in the south, settled here in the early 1900s. Jennifer Crosby spoke to one woman working to preserve an important piece of Alberta history.

“It was for everyone.”

Deborah Dobbins describes Edmonton’s first pie shop as a place where everyone — black and white — was welcome.

“If they liked pie, yes!”

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In the late 1970s Dobbins’ mother, Caroline Mae Johnson Leffler Greene, opened The Slice, which was billed as Edmonton’s only pie shop, on 118 Avenue and 86 Street.

New customers came from the larger community, but those who knew Caroline Mae had some inside knowledge.

“They pretty much could get the pie for free if they went to her house,” Dobbins said.

The Slice pie shop opened in the late 1970’s in Edmonton. This story of The Slice is preserved at the Royal Alberta Museum exhibit “I Am From Here.”
The Slice pie shop opened in the late 1970’s in Edmonton. This story of The Slice is preserved at the Royal Alberta Museum exhibit “I Am From Here.” Jennifer Crosby/Global News

For Dobbins, Alberta’s history is also family history.

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“I am third generation African American Canadian Albertan,” she said.

An exhibit honouring the hundreds of African Americans who made they way north to Alberta in the 1900’s, “I Am From Here” highlights a tradition of quilting.
An exhibit honouring the hundreds of African Americans who made they way north to Alberta in the 1900’s, “I Am From Here” highlights a tradition of quilting. Jennifer Crosby/Global News

She’s also the president of Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots, working to preserve and promote the history of the hundreds who came to Canada in the early 1900s.

Stories like how Shiloh Baptist Church got its start.

“When the people first settled in Edmonton they tried to go to church and they weren’t allowed. So they started their own.”

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The church has since been recognized as the oldest black Baptist church in Western Canada. It’s still operating, serving both as church and as community gathering place.

Deborah Dobbins gives a tour of the “I Am From Here” exhibit at the Royal Alberta Museum. The exhibit highlights the ways African American pioneers helped build Alberta.
Deborah Dobbins gives a tour of the “I Am From Here” exhibit at the Royal Alberta Museum. The exhibit highlights the ways African American pioneers helped build Alberta. Jennifer Crosby/Global News

Dobbins is putting out a call for help to build an African American Albertan cultural centre to inspire future generations.

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“They need to understand their roots and take pride in that so they can stand on the shoulders of those who came before and be proud and equality.”

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The story of The Slice — including their famous pie crust recipe — is preserved as part of the Royal Alberta Museum’s “I Am From Here” exhibit.

Caroline Mae’s pie crust recipe, featured in the Royal Alberta Museum exhibit “I Am From Here.”
Caroline Mae’s pie crust recipe, featured in the Royal Alberta Museum exhibit “I Am From Here.” Jennifer Crosby/Global News

The interactive exhibit also highlights Hatti’s Harlem Chicken Inn, which became famous among visiting entertainers.

You can hear the story of Hatti’s in this RAM podcast.

Standing in front of a re-creation of Hatti’s Harlem Chicken Inn, Deborah Dobbins gives a tour of a RAM exhibit highlighting stories of African American Albertans.
Standing in front of a re-creation of Hatti’s Harlem Chicken Inn, Deborah Dobbins gives a tour of a RAM exhibit highlighting stories of African American Albertans. Jennifer Crosby/Global News

I Am From Here,” is open until Sept. 7.

The Shilo Centre for Multicultural Roots is hosting events in honour of Black History Month. Find more on its Facebook page.

READ MORE: Small Alberta village honours founding families for Black History Month