Dr. Alfred Schmitz Shadd was the first known black pioneer to live in what is now Saskatchewan, and while he faced discrimination, people eventually accepted him while he became an important figure.
Shadd’s life is the topic of a virtual exhibit that the Western Development Museum (WDM) has produced for Black History Month. The WDM has teamed up with the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum and the Melfort and District Museum to share Shadd’s life and history in northeast Saskatchewan.
“A black man, the first to be registered in Saskatchewan, with exemplary leadership skills and attitude, helped the town of Melfort take great strides in the first decade of the 1900s,” said Garry Forsyth with the Melfort and District Museum.
The doctor’s provision of medical care was only one aspect of his dedicated pursuit of excellence that led to flourishing for the community and great respect from his peers, which is why the public needs to know this story, he continued.
Melfort is excited to work with the WDM since the story of “this black doctor (who) made a difference” now has a wider audience.
It has been great for the WDM to work with both organizations on this project, said curatorial assistant Kaiti Hannah.
“People like Dr. Shadd are too often overlooked when we talk about the history of the early settlement of Saskatchewan. Remembering the diversity of Saskatchewan’s past is important to strengthening our communities in the present,” she continued.
“It reminds us (that) our province has always been diverse and that our provincial motto, From Many Peoples Strength, rings true. We are honoured to have this chance to share these stories of Dr. Shadd’s life and legacy.”
The virtual exhibit — which can be found at https://wdm.ca/exhibits/drshadd — contains resources for teachers with students in grades 8 to 12.
Shadd was born in 1869 in Kent County, Ont., near Buxton. He came from a family of respected black educators, journalists and abolitionists who resided on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. His grandfather, Abraham Doras Shadd, came to Canada in the early 1850s after the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act.
Shadd obtained his teaching certification and taught at Buxton School, later serving as principal of a school in Chatham, Ont. In 1896, Shadd moved to Carrot River Settlement, North-West Territories — present-day Kinistino — to teach for a year and save money for medical school in Toronto.
There was no school in the Carrot River Settlement, so he taught out of the Agricultural Hall.
“He faced discrimination as soon as he arrived. The people who had hired him had been unaware he was Black. The family who had originally agreed to host the new teacher refused to open their house to him upon realizing he was not white,” the WDM’s website says.
The Lowrie family, who ran the post office, took him in, forming the foundation of a lifelong friendship.
Many parents doubted his ability to teach their children. However, he quickly proved himself to be a skilled and personable teacher and earned the respect of almost all his neighbours and their children.
After one year in Carrot River, Alfred returned to Ontario to finish medical school. He graduated in 1898 and returned to Carrot River, where he established himself as a doctor, known for his skill and dedication to his patients. He also provided veterinary services.
He moved to Melfort in 1904 and became involved in everything, from politics to agriculture to the Anglican church.
Shadd died in 1915 in Winnipeg from complications with appendicitis.