- *Why Blacks Came to British Columbia
- Charles & Nancy Alexander
- Doug Hudlin
- Eleanor Collins
- Emery Barnes
- Emma Stark
- Fielding Spotts
- Grafton Tyler Brown
- Henry “Harry” Winston Jerome
- John Craven Jones
- John Robert Giscome
- John Sullivan Deas
- Leon Bibb
- Mifflin Wistar Gibbs
- Plaque for Black Pioneers of British Columbia
- Pte. Robert Burt Gilbert
- Rosemary Brown
- Ruby Sneed
- Selwyn Romilly
- Seraphim Joseph Fortes
- Sir James Douglas
- Sylvia Stark
- Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company
- William Allen Jones
“If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” Shinichi Suzuki
Ruby Sneed was born Ruby Evelyn Proctor on April 30, 1917 in Edmonton Alberta. Her self-educated parents were part of the 1909 migration of black pioneers from Oklahoma to Alberta. Ruby’s parents encouraged all three of their daughters to pursue formal education and excel in their areas of interest. Ruby, the eldest, excelled both academically and musically starting piano while she attended public school. Her sister, Eleanor Collins, excelled at jazz vocals and would go on to become the first black artist in North America to have her own national television series. At the age of 95, Eleanor was awarded the Order of Canada. Youngest sister Pearl Hendrix-Brown pursued a career in the business sector, but in later years returned to her love of theatre, music, and the performing arts.
To advance her classical music studies Ruby moved to Vancouver, B.C. in the late 1930’s. Under the tutelage of Canadian pianist and composer, Jean Coulthard and European concert pianist, Jan Cherniavsky, she completed the Royal Conservatory of Toronto ARCT (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) exams and was awarded the highest marks in Western Canada. Ruby then launched her career as a professional musician. She started a piano teaching practice, performed in public concerts and recorded for CBC Radio. As well, she wrote arrangements for and sang with the CBC Swing-Lo Quartet.
During the early days of her music career, Ruby had the singular honour of performing for the celebrated African American contralto, Marian Anderson. Impressed with Ruby’s talent, Anderson would go on to mentor her. Very few black women who pursued classical music careers in the early 1900’s were taken seriously by the public. However, Ruby was highly motivated and determined to overcome any social barriers that would impede her goals. Studying the careers of successful female North American and international classical musicians helped her craft her own professional path. She was particularly inspired by the careers of Gina Bachauer, Rosina Lhevinne, Leontyne Price and Lili Kraus.
In 1942 Ruby met and married Stanley Sneed. They had two daughters Brenda and Theresa.
By 1948 Ruby began to specialize in early childhood music education. Astutely aware of young children’s capabilities she began teaching piano to eager learners at the Vancouver Chinese YMCA. Nine years later she opened her own private studio on the west side of Vancouver working with children as young as 3 years old. Over the next 28 years she would nurture the musical talents of some 75 students each year.
Several of her students who started their piano lessons with her when they were ages 4 to 6, earned scholarships, medals, awards and first-class honours in local, provincial, and international competitions on a consistent basis. Many more pursued graduate studies and teaching positions at such major musical institutes as the Brussels Conservatory, Moscow Conservatory, Paris Conservatory, Juilliard Schools of Music, University of Indiana (Bloomington), UCLA, Aspen Music School, and Banff Centre of the Arts.
During this period Ruby was involved with several other arts endeavours. For example, she wrote the script The Promised Land for the CBC TV series Heritage which chronicled Black immigration to Canada in the 1900’s.
In 1972 a grant from the Community Music of Greater Vancouver (a.k.a Vancouver Academy of Music) enabled Ruby to travel to Japan where she observed firsthand the internationally renowned Suzuki Talent Education Method for piano students. Impressed with the appeal and effectiveness of the Suzuki philosophy, she organized the first Canadian Suzuki Piano Program at the Vancouver Academy of Music. It met with an enthusiastic enrollment of some 50 children ages 3 to 5. The program was so successful she returned to Tokyo in 1974 with two of her students who performed in several recitals throughout Japan.
Word spread quickly in Western Canada about Ruby’s development of the Suzuki philosophy of teaching adapted to the piano. Before long she was a sought-after lecturer and teacher of master classes at institutions throughout North America and abroad. She made several guest appearances on educational television in Canada and the United States right up until her untimely death in 1976.
"No Chopin Fantasie" (circa 1957): Ruby Sneed with 2 of her young students in her studio in West Vancouver.
Blessed with an engaging personality and a passion for teaching Ruby employed great patience and discerning care. Her commitment to music education was fostered not only by the desire to promote excellence in piano performance but also by an abiding faith in children. She felt it was the express purpose of the teacher to help them realize their innate talents. Ruby’s lifework was devoted to a deeply held belief in the power of music to elevate the human condition.
The B.C. Black History Society is grateful to Theresa Lewis, daughter of Ruby Sneed for her written submission of this story and images; and, for granting permission to publish.
The Daily Province, March 14, 1940, page 9 photo of Ruby Proctor: Caption: Dream Come True – Negro Girl Plays before Famed Singer –Marion Anderson.
Transcript: Marian Anderson broke one of personal rules on Wednesday afternoon to make a dream come true for a vivacious Vancouver Negro girl in her teens. A year ago (1939) Ruby Proctor, who is studying piano in the city, heard Marian Anderson sing. Since then as she practiced she dreamed of the day when the famous contralto should hear her play and perhaps advise her on her musical career. On Wednesday, in a large empty salon in Hotel Vancouver, Marian Anderson broke into the afternoon of complete rest that always precedes her concerts to listen to Ruby’s music.
INTRODUCED BY TEACHER Ruby, her eyes bright with excitement, and a large bunch of violets trembling in her hands, had been brought to Miss Anderson by her teacher Jean Coulthard Adams. Miss Anderson, quietly graciously seemed to radiate some of her own poise and calm to the girl before she led her to the piano. Carefully, almost reverently, Ruby played a Bach Chorale and Debusssy’s “Garden in the Rain” with all Miss Anderson’s attention focused upon her.
IS IMPRESSED “I am very impressed with her playing” she told the teacher when her pupil was finished. “It is amazing that she has accomplished so much with only a year and half of study.” Later she suggested negro universities that the girl might enter to complete her career.
“I love music and I feel I can express myself through it in some way” said Ruby, who came to Vancouver from Edmonton two years ago. She won’t admit that her ambition is to be a concert pianist, but her expressive eyes shine at the thought.
Vancouver News-Herald, November 6, 1943. Caption: Reunion of well-known Vancouver musicians and their babies. Mrs. Don Adams, Mrs. Stanley Sneed and Mrs. Richard Bardsley Wills.
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.”
The following content is a compilation of articles that can be accessed by the Links.
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.
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.
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 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.