Drawing the Line
Race and Canadian Immigration Policy
On the morning of 22 March 1911, a reporter for the Manitoba Free Press paced nervously in Winnipeg’s CPR station as he awaited the arrival of the Great Northern No. 7, now infamous for the cargo it carried north from the U.S. border. For the past two days, Canadian immigration officials had held up the train and its 194 black passengers as they hastily searched for cause to bar their entry.1 For months, Canadian newspapers had warned of an impending “Black Peril” from an “Invasion of Negroes.”2 Western Canadian newspapers took particular interest in these migrants from Oklahoma, “the advance guard,” they claimed, “of at least 5,000 people of mixed Cree Indian and negro blood” forced out of the South by white supremacists turned elected statesmen.3 The Manitoba Free Press reporter hoped that he would be first to witness “Negro Settlers Troop into [the] West.”4
Rev. Henry Sneed, a Baptist minister of “considerable executive ability, and comfortable means,” shepherded the group of “Negroes Swarm[ing] into Canada.”5 “Old Daddy” Sneed had culled his flock of southern migrants from his church and Masonic lodges back in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas.6 He then carefully plotted their immigration to Canada over the next two years. After canvassing the Canadian Plains for future homesteads in August 1910, Sneed selected northern Alberta as their future home.7 In March 1911, determined migrants loaded up seven freight cars with horses, mules, cattle, and farming equipment and boarded the special train commissioned for the trek north.8 It was the last time most of them ever saw the South.
Aware of growing unrest over black immigration into Canada, the Sneed