Black cowboy John Ware recognized as a person of national historic significance

The federal government has recognized John Ware, a trailblazing Black cowboy in Western Canada, as a person of national historic significance.

Ware’s designation was commemorated today with the unveiling of a plaque at the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site south of Calgary.

Steven Guilbeault, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, says in a news release that Ware embodied the resilience and strength of Black Canadians.

Ware arrived in the district of Alberta in 1882 on a trail crew driving thousands of cattle to the site that became known as the Bar U Ranch.

He wrangled herds of large ranching outfits then built his own ranch with his wife, Mildred, and their children, before he died in 1905.

John Ware was born into slavery and migrated to Canada after the American Civil War. This picture is a recreation, shot by Edmonton photographer Dickson Obasuyi to depict the cowboy’s life for Black History Month 2022. (Dickson Obasuyi/Doba Photography)

The government says Ware had a successful ranching career despite “racism, rough frontier conditions, and having been enslaved.”

The federal government, though its Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant people, places and events that have shaped the country as a way to help Canadians connect with their past.

It accepts nominations as part of the program.

John Ware is remembered for his excellent horsemanship and farming skills, and greatly influencing Alberta’s ranching industry. This picture is a recreation, shot by Edmonton photographer Dickson Obasuyi to depict the cowboy’s life for Black History Month 2022. (Dickson Obasuyi/Doba Photography)

Janet Annesley, who nominated Ware, said Canadians still have a lot to learn about the experiences of Canada’s Black cowboys.

“The National Film Board’s John Ware Reclaimed by Cheryl Foggo exposed some difficult aspects of Ware’s story, ones we don’t like to see because racism is out of line with our western Canadian values of freedom and merit,” she said in the release.

“I nominated John Ware as a positive reminder that anyone of any colour or background can have a place in Canada’s story. Our rich diversity has never been a threat to who we are. It makes us who we are.”

Foggo, an author, playwright and filmmaker, said the acknowledgment of Ware illuminates him and his family.

“It makes his accomplishments in agriculture and his skills as a horseman visible to all who will read this plaque, while honouring the complexity of his life and situation,” she said.

“It also simply acknowledges that he was here.”

Back To Top