BC Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS)

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.

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Robert Burt Gilbert was born on July 31, 1887 in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Both parents, James Gilbert & Matilda Rogers were born in the U.S.
1916: Lived at 846 Fisgard St. with his sister Tina Lee
Enlisted on January 29, 1916 Regiment: 706854, Canadian Infantry, 103rd Battalion Distinguishing Characteristics: Scar on forehead between the eyebrows.
1917 April 9 Battle of Vimy Ridge –German officer decorates Gilbert with his Iron Cross for Gilbert’s bravery and courage.
1918 Stationed at Willows Camp in Victoria

 After the Military:

1921 Census: Lived at 844 Johnson St. Victoria; Occupation: Labourer
1940 Vancouver Voter List: Lived at 612 Hasting St. E. Apt 9, Occupation: Longshoreman

He died in Vancouver on May 12, 1952 and was buried on May 14, 1952 at Mt. View Cemetery, Vancouver in the soldier’s section. Robert never married; his death was registered by his niece, Mary Johnson, Vancouver.

  Summary of the Newspaper articles:   

Colonist: May 30, 1917 (p.5): PRISONER GIVES HIS CAPTOR IRON CROSS

Captured German Officer Decorates Pte. R. Gilbert, a Victoria Soldier, Who Took Him and Twenty-Four Men.

This article recounts information from Mr. Charles Alexander of 1943 Mason Street who writes” yesterday I received an Iron Cross. It came by letter from Pte. R. Gilbert, one of Victoria’s colored soldiers who went away with the 103rd Battalion, Vancouver Island Timber Wolves, and has been on the firing line several months.” 

Colonist: September 7, 1917 (p.9): VICTORIAN TELLS HOW HE WON IRON CROSS

Pte. R Gilbert, Colored Soldier at Vimy Ridge Brought Out Forty Prisoners – Captive Officer Decorated Him

This is an extensive article written by Gilbert describing how he went into an enemy tunnel after the Canadian charge at Vimy Ridge and single-handed, captured some forty Germans, how the captive officer recognized his bravery and gave him his Iron Cross, and other details of the exploit, in which he was armed with a revolver, a pair of wire-cutters and some bombs, are described by Pte. R. Gilbert, a Victoria colored soldier, who went away with the 103rd Battalion, in a letter just received by Mr. Lorenzo E. Jones, 920 Caledonia Avenue. With the letter Pte. Gilbert sends the Iron Cross given him by the German officer.  It is suspended from a red and black striped ribbon.

Colonist: June 30, 1918 (p.5):  Photo of Pte. R. Gilbert (shown above).  The caption below the photo reads:   Pte. Robert Gilbert went oversees with the 2nd C.M.R. and some time ago returned to the city disabled after seeing much active service oversees.  He is now at the Willows Camp.  One of the boys in France, writing a few weeks ago to a friend here said: “I was glad to hear of Gilbert again.  Everyone in France who came in contact with him couldn’t help but like him, and if it were not for his colour I believe he would have had the Victoria Cross for his work on Vimy Ridge a year ago today (April 9).  The colour business is an awful drawback at times, but we all know he is the whitest black man that ever lived.” Gilbert’s single-handed captured twenty-five Germans and a machine-gun. Among the Germans taken was an officer who gave the Victoria boy his Iron Cross, which is at present on view in the window of the Colonist office.”

Grafton Tyler Brown was a cartogopher, lithographer, and painter and is considered the 1st professional Black artist, working and living at the time largely in the Pacific North West as well as British Columbia and California. gtbrown studio

Grafton Tyler Brown was the oldest of 4 children born on February 22, 1841 in Harrisburg Pennsylvania to Thomas and Wilhelmina.  Thomas and Wilhelmina were free Blacks who had left the slave state of Maryland for the free state of Pennsylvania in 1837.

Brown worked for a printer when he was 14.  It was there where he learned the skill of lithography.  His next job, at the age of 17, was as a hotel steward and porter.  There his painting caught the attention of the local paper which may have prompted Brown to leave Sacramento and head for San Francisco where he was hired as an artist by a German printer Charles Conrad Kuchel.  While working for Kuchel, Brown's main role was to draw panoramic views of towns as well as the homes and properties of prominent citizens, which Kuchel lithographed and sold.

In 1867 when Kuchel died, Brown bought the business from Kuchel's widow and renamed it "G.T. Brown & Co.". and he continued to document gold rush towns and other area settlements.

Brown became restless again and perhaps to see remote parts of the Northwest. he joined a geological survey party in 1882 which travelled through British Columbia including Kamloops, the Okanagan valley, the Simalkameen area and the Fraser River.  He then established a studio in Victoria in the then Occidental Hotel at the corner of Wharf and Johnson streets.

While in Victoria, Brown continued to establish himself as a landscape painter of note.  His works include landscapes of the Gorge, Esquimalt, Victoria and the surrounding area.

In the summer of 1883 Brown held an art show that was promoted by the British Colonist (now the Times Colonist).

In 1886 he returned to Portland, became a member of the Portland Art Society and again opened his own studio.

He left Portland for Helena, Montana in 1890; he arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1892 to begin work as a draughtsman for the U.S. Army Engineer's Office.  Brown spent the rest of his life in St Paul and died there in 1918.

Brown's other connection to B.C.'s Black Pioneers is that his company, G.T. Brown and Co., was commissioned to create the graphic designs for the labels for John Sullivan Deas Salmon Cannery.

The majority of Brown's works are now housed in Victoria, B.C., San Francisco, California, and Tacoma Washington.

The content that is presented here is largely a summary for the Salt Spring Island Archives and "The History of the Stark Family" that appeared as a 10-part series in the "Gulf Islands Driftwood" newspaper in 1979.  See the Links.

Emma StarkEmma was born in 1857.  Her given name was Emily Arabel/Arabella.  She is the daughter of Silvia and Louis Stark. She had 1 brother Willis, born on December 13, 1858.  She would have been a toddler when she arrived on Salt Spring Island.  While on Salt Spring Island four more children ere born: John Edmond, Abraham Lincoln, Hannah Serena and Marie Albertine.  In 1975 the family moved to Cedar in the Nanaimo area where her yougest sister Louisa was born in 1878.  It was shortly after that, that Silvia and her children returned to Salt Spring Island while her father remained on Vancouver Island.

Emma survived all the hardships of bitter winters, smallpox, conflicts and the break-up of her family.  Emma attended the log cabin classroom of John Craven Jones.  When she was ready for highschool, Emma moved to Nanaimo to live with her father.

After highschool she trained in Nanaimo to be a teacher.  At the age of 18, in August 1874 she was hired to teach in a 1-room school in the Cedar District.  Her salary ws $40.00 per month.  A notice appeared in the Nanaimo Free Press "Cranberry-Cedar School, situated near the Nanaimo River Bridge will be opened next Monday with Miss Stark as teacher". 

One of her students was her sister Marie (7 years of age).   During the week they boarded with various families and on the weekends travelled back to their father's home.  In the summer they could travel back and forth on horseback, but in the winter used a home-made sleigh pulled by oxen.

Emma married James Clarke on December 28, 1878, but not much is known about her married life.  She died in 1890 at the age of 33 from an un-determined illness. A photo of her grave is at the Nanaimo archives with the name Emily Stark Clarke and a plaque in recognition of her teaching career is located at 331 Wesley Street, Nanaimo where Emily lived. The plaque reads:

"In memory of Emily Arabella (Emma) Stark
1856 - 1890
Emily was the daughter of Louis and Sylvia Stark. She was appointed the first teacher in the new North Cedar School in 1874, thereby becoming the first black teacher on Vancouver Island.  


The following content is a compilation of articles that can be accessed by the Links.  

D Hudlin umpire    Doug Hudlin worked for the City of Victoria but his love was being on the field as an umpire.  He umpired generations of Island ball players over four decades.  He was known for his empathy toward all   the young players.  He is quoted as saying "In Little League, you're  the umpire and the coach at the same time".

 He was the first non-American to be invited to umpire the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1967 and in 1974.  He also unpired twice at the Senior Little League World Series in Gary, Indiana.

 He was a founder and served as first president of the B.C. Baseball Umpires Association, a position he held from 1974 to 1979.  He was  inducted into the association's hall of fame in 2011. The umpires association present the "Doug Hudlin Distinguished Service Award" each  year to an umpire in British Columbia.

Away from the diamond, Doug was a founding director of the B.C. Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS).  His interest and enthusiasm for the Society's work was largely inspired by the fact that he is the grandson of the earliest Black pioneers, Nancy and Charles Alexander, who arrived in Victoria in 1858 and who started a farm in what is now a suburb of Saanich.  They had 12 children and 21 grandchildren.  The Alexander name remains prominent on the South Island.  Doug prepared a family tree in the mid-1990's, recording more than 400 descendants, among them Kevin Alexander, a great lacrosse star.

In 2011, as a member of the BCBHAS, Doug was given the honour of introducing Ferguson Jenkins, the first Canadian inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, at a public event in Victoria that launched the Ferguson Jenkins commemorative Canada Post stamp.

Doug was inducted into the B.C. Baseball Umpires Association Hall of Fame in 2011 and inducted posthumously into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.  The 21st induction ceremony takes place in June in St. Mary's Ontario.   

 2011 Fergie Jenkins Stamp

The content that is presented here is largely a compilation from articles and research found in the Links section.

John Craven Jones was the 2nd oldest of three brothers who came to Salt Spring Island in 1859.  John's older brother is William Alan who settled in Barkerville and became known as the Barkerville Dentist, affectionately nicknamed "Painless Jones".  His younger brother Elias Tousant headed for the gold rush in the Cariboo, but returned to the U.S. within a year. John Craven Jones

  All three brothers graduated from Oberlin College in 1856, 1857 and 1859.

  Oberlin College had taught John how to start and manage a one-room school; when he graduated he taught for two years as the only    teacher in a one-room school for Black students in Xenia, Ohio.

 When John Craven Jones arrived on Salt Spring Island he was 25. There was no school on Salt Spring Island, so Mr,  Jones taught the  children wherever there was space, in rough sheds or in family homes.  By 1861 the community built a  log school house roughly in the  same location where Central School is now located.  For three days he taught at Central  and for three days he taught at what only can be  described as a shed in the north of the island, roughly where Fernwood  School is located today.  He travelled back and forth between the  schools because it was too dangerous with cougars all  about for the children to travel.

 By 1872 John Craven Jones had 25 students, 7 in the north and 18 at Central.  Jones was only one of 16 public school  teachers in the entire province.  Most surprisingly, he taught without being paid!   Jones owned property and a farm on  the east side of Ganges Harbor and the families were happy and eager to ensure he had whatever he needed to stay,  providing him with clothing, produce from their gardens, eggs, meat and poultry. 

 Mr. Jones taught without pay until the creation of the Salt Spring Island School District in 1869; when he was paid  salary  of about $40.00 per month.

 From an 1872 school report "The schoolmaster offered his charges instruction in Latin, philosophu and human rights  education that was the eny of the wealthiest whit citizens in nearby Victoria and the mainland".

John Craven Jones continued teaching on Salt Spring Island until 1875 and then returned to Ohio.

This story is also told in a song written in 2009 by Phil Vernon http://www.k12studycanada.org/files/audio/John_Craven_Jones_Demo.mp3

Epilogue: Upon his return to Ohio, John met and married Almira, also a graduate of Oberlin College.  They had 3 children.  John continued to teach for about 20 years before retiring as a farmer. 

Lyrics PVernon Jones