Calgary’s Cheryl Foggo has done extensive research into the history of Alberta’s first black settlers.
She’s written several books and produced and directed many films about the black pioneers who helped shape the province, so she was surprised she hadn’t come across Charles Daniels’ story sooner.
“I first heard about Charles Daniels and his story about 15 years ago,” Foggo said. “I had not heard this story before, so I was very surprised by that.”
Foggo was surprised because Daniels’ story involves what was very likely the first civil rights case to be tried in Alberta.
In all her research and digging, Foggo hasn’t found evidence of a case earlier than Daniels’ lawsuit from 1914 in which he sued the Sherman Grand Theatre, its manager William Sherman and Senator James Lougheed — the theatre’s owner — for discrimination.
Daniels had purchased a front row seat to see the theatre’s production of King Lear but when he arrived at the venue, he wasn’t allowed to sit in his seat. Theatre management insisted he move to the balcony.
“He really stood his ground. He was not going to be denied, but ultimately, he was denied and so a spectacle was made of him,” said Foggo who gathered her information from court transcripts.
She said Daniels was a porter with the Canadian Pacific Railway and that at the time, it was the highest-ranking position a black person could hold.
“Charles Daniels was humiliated publicly,” she explained of his lawsuit. “It’s reported there were people he knew going into the theatre, other white employees of the CP, so he was humiliated in front of strangers, he was humiliated in front people he knew.
“His courage and his stamina and his absolute belief in himself and his right to live in dignity in this city was very inspiring, but the fight had to be had again and again and again and again and again over decades,” she said.
A new film directed by Foggo and produced by Holly Dupej focuses on Daniels’ story, most of which was pieced together through court transcripts uncovered by associate producer Bashir Mohamed.
Secret Calgary: Kicking up a Fuss also includes newspaper accounts of the incident and the only outcome of the case that has been found to date.
“Which was that Charles Daniels had won $1,000 in damages,” said Foggo adding the film reveals a “twist” in Daniels’ story that indicates he likely never saw a single cent of that money.