Black History Month

Canada Post is issuing new stamps to mark Black History Month, including one that honours a former American slave who became a pioneer of Alberta’s ranching industry.

Born into slavery in South Carolina, John Ware travelled to Texas after the U.S. Civil War to become a cowhand.
In 1882 he settled in what became Alberta after he was hired to bring a giant herd of cattle up to the Bar U Ranch.
“”””John Ware was certainly one of those main builders of southern Alberta and the ranching community,”””” said Loraine Lounsberry, curator of Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

After first living in the Calgary area, Ware established his own ranch in the Foothills in 1890 and later near Brooks, east of the city.

“”””Skilled with the lariat, he pioneered steer-wrestling and won his first competition at the Calgary Summer Fair of 1893, setting a precedent for what would become a highlight of the Calgary Stampede,”””” said Canada Post on its website.

Ware lived in what we may consider the golden age of the ranching frontier and achieved heroic status for his impressive physical strength, remarkable horsemanship, good nature and courage. The true story of the man is difficult to discern from the legends built around him. Documentation about his life is rare and most of what is known about him comes from commentaries written by fellow cowboys, but those accounts did not begin to appear until the late 1930s. Ware was predeceased by his wife and died while his children were very young.

In the many stories told about John Ware, his strength and skill with livestock are central features. He was said to have walked over the backs of penned steers without fear and that he could stop a steer head-on and wrestle it to the ground. It was also said that he could break the wildest broncos, trip a horse by hand and hold it on its back to be shod, and easily lift an 18- month-old steer and throw it on his back for branding.

Regardless of the level of hyperbole extant in the stories of John Ware, his status as regional folk hero gives testament to how well-respected he was. The characteristics attributed to him are those shared by the frontier heroes of cowboy subculture. What distinguishes him the most, however, is how successfully he, as a Black man, established himself in the Eurocentric society of 19th-century Canada.

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