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Biography – Dr. Shadd

Biography

Stamp commemorating Abraham Doras Shadd, e010759301 Copyright Canada Post Corporation. Library Archives Canada. Click on image to enlarge.

Dr. Alfred Schmitz Shadd was born in 1869 in Kent County, Ontario, near the settlement of Buxton. He came from a family of respected Black educators, journalists and abolitionists who resided on both sides of the Canada/US border. His grandfather, Abraham Doras Shadd, had come to Canada in the early 1850s after the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Though the stated purpose of this Act was to require people even in free states to turn in people who had escaped slavery, in practice it was used to capture and enslave free Black people. Though Abraham had been born to free parents, he was well aware of the horrors of slavery and was actively involved in abolitionist movements. He served as a founding member of the Anti-Slavery Society and was active in the Underground Railroad. He was also the first Black person to serve in public office in Canada after being elected in 1859 to the Raleigh town council.

The Shadd family, including Abraham, worked on both the American and Canadian sides of the border to help people escaping slavery. On the Canadian side, Abraham and his family helped refugees settle in Canada. They provided education and gave work opportunities to help newcomers buy homes in Kent County, Ontario at Buxton. A well-respected racially integrated school was the pride of the Buxton settlement. By 1854, the number of Black and white students was equal and the first Canadian-born Black doctor received his early schooling there.

Mary Ann Cary portrait, date unknown. Library and Archives Canada C-029977. Click on image to enlarge.

Abraham’s daughter, Dr. Alfred Shadd’s aunt, Mary Ann Cary (née Shadd) was also a prominent figure in both the United States and Canada. She worked as a teacher in a segregated school in the United States and then moved to Ontario in 1851 where she taught at a racially integrated school. In 1853, she became the first Black woman to publish a newspaper in North America and one of the first female journalists in Canada when she established the Provincial Freeman. Through her newspaper, Cary fought for racial liberation and justice, as well as for women’s rights through her support of the suffrage movement. After the Civil War, like many others, Cary returned to the United States. In 1883, she obtained her law degree from Howard University, becoming the first Black woman to earn a law degree in the United States.

Education was highly valued in the Shadd family, as was activism and political involvement. Alfred obtained his teaching certification and taught at the Buxton School, later serving as principal of a school in Chatham, Ontario. In 1896, Alfred Shadd moved to Carrot River Settlement, Northwest Territories (present-day Kinistino, Saskatchewan) to teach for a year and save funds for medical school in Toronto. He had responded to an ad in the Toronto Daily Mail and Empire and traveled west. There was no school in the Carrot River Settlement at the time. Instead, he taught out of the Agricultural Hall.

He was the first person of African ancestry recorded living in what is now Saskatchewan. He faced discrimination as soon as he arrived. The people who had hired him had been unaware he was Black. The family who had originally agreed to host the new teacher refused to open their house to him upon realizing he was not white. The Lowrie family, who ran the local post office, agreed to take him in instead, and this formed the foundation of a lifelong friendship.

Many parents were doubtful of his ability to teach their children. However, he quickly proved himself to be a skilled and personable teacher and earned the respect of almost all his neighbours and their children.

Main street, Melfort, no date. Courtesy of Melfort and District Museum. Click on image to enlarge.

After one year in Carrot River, Alfred returned to Ontario to finish medical school. In 1898, when he graduated with his medical degree, he chose to return to the prairies and once again settled in Carrot River. He quickly established himself as a doctor, known for both his skill and his dedication to his patients. When needed, he also provided veterinary services.

He moved his practice to Melfort in 1904 and there became involved in everything from politics to agriculture to the Anglican church. In 1906, he married Jeannette (Jennie) Simpson, an immigrant from Scotland. They had two children: a son, Garrison, born in 1910 and a daughter, Lavina, born in 1912.

Dr. Shadd died in 1915 in Winnipeg from complications relating to appendicitis.

 

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