Breton

Settlement

The town of Breton received its name from Douglas Corney Breton who moved to Canada at the age of 20. In 1907, people began settling around Breton. The following years brought many more settlers from the areas of Millet, Wetaskiwin, Leduc and the United States. For approximately 30 years, lumbering was the main industry that provided employment for many of the homesteaders. Black settlers from Oklahoma and its neighbouring states founded the town during the first part of the 20th century. Breton started in 1926 as a hamlet.
 
Breton_pd_313_25_thuThe first businesses established in 1926 were Woodcork's Cafe, The Pioneer Hotel, Barber Shop and Breton Grocery Store. Industries and the area's people were responsible for bringing the railway to Breton in 1926. The first school was built in 1927 and the Alberta Provincial Police were moved from Yeoford to Breton in 1928. Breton and district became a major lumbering centre in the late 1920s after the arrival of the railway in 1926. Despite the Depression in the 1930s, Breton continued to grow and businesses continued to be established. 
 
The Breton Hotel and Pool Elevator were built in the 1930s.  The Breton Hospital officially opened on September 25,1963. The Treasury Branch opened on May 8, 1961. Breton was incorporated as a Village on January 1, 1957. When the railway was extended the new terminal was named Breton in appreciation of the work done by D.C. Breton.
 

BEFORE WWII

breton_glenbow_na_316_1_thuIn 1907, in an attempt to escape persecution from the influx of white homesteaders, approximately 1,000 black American settlers journeyed to Western Canada from the United States in states such as Oklahoma and Kansas. Many were encouraged by newspaper articles in Oklahoma that encouraged them to move to Alberta which was reported to be a haven for black settlers. During this time, many settlers scouted the area, returning to Alberta with their families and friends. Many of the settlers were of mixed blood, Creek and Seminole; some were former slaves. Their welcome, however, was less than warm. 
 
breton_glenbow_na_742_4_thuMany of these settlers moved to Alberta settlements such as Amber Valley, Junkins (present-day Wildwood), Clyde and Breton (present-day Keystone). They were interested in two things: land near the railroads and distance from the United States. Many black settlers formed cohesive communities. Yet, white settlers and even immigration agents were opposed to the new settlers and attempted to convince blacks that the climate was too tough. The Edmonton Board of Trade even went on record opposing black immigration. The only legitimate reason in which black settlers could be denied entry into Canada was based on health reasons. 
 
breton_glenbow_na_266_6_thuMany of the new settlers were financially prepared for their transition. Some wereformer slaves and a large number had operated farms in the United States. Many brought their farming tools and equipment, horses and mules. In Western Canada, black settlers were often the object of ridicule and bad humour. They also experienced trouble in the form of white supremacists such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), lack of unity, pride, leadership and few black heroes and role models. The settlers' goals were incompatible: they could either survive as a distinct group, or join mainstream Canadian culture.
 
The black settlers to the Edmonton area tended to homestead at Keystone (Breton). They usually brought their extended family and stayed in Edmonton until their homes were built on homesteads. 
 
Keystone Community
 
breton_glenbow_na_4210_1_thThe Keystone area was a good location for settlement due to its isolation. That way, black settlers could establish a community without white interference in the forms of prejudice and racism. William Allen and his wife Matie were the first black settlers to arrive in the area and laid the groundwork for the formation of the settlement. The settlement was known as a farming community. Later on, a post office and community hall were established. Many events were held in the hall such as basket socials and dances. The first institution built was a church, as most settlers were very religious.
 
breton_glenbow_na_704_4_thuMost of the men farmed, hauled lumber and went to Edmonton in the winter to make a decent wage. The women and children stayed at home and worked in the fields. There was no health care and the settlers had to rely on home remedies. With the arrival of the railroad, many work opportunities increased in areas such as lumbering for men and nursing/midwifery for women. As the black population grew, so did the white settler population. 
 
 
breton_glenbow_na_811_1_thuWhen the WWI began many young black men went to fight for Canada. During theGreat Depression the black population declined. Black settlers slowly left the area to work in areas where there were more opportunities. During WWII, black settlers went overseas to serve in the Canadian Army. Many returned decorated with medals for their service. After the war, the black population decreased even further. Many children of the settlers became well educated and established careers as lawyers, judges, entertainers, teachers, administrators, doctors and scientists.
 
The region's history was symbolized through the creation of a black pioneer cemetery. The cemetery was declared inactive in 1983. 
 
Sources:
 
  • Hooks, Gwen.  The Keystone Legacy: Reflections of a Black Pioneer.  Brightest Pebble Pub. Co., 1997. 
  • Franklin, Jimmie Lewis.  The Blacks in Oklahoma.  University of Oklahoma Press, c. 1980.

WWII and After

breton_na_3376_9_thuThe men and women who participated in WWII served overseas mainly in England. Many of the young men from the Breton area took their first training at the Camrose Training Centre. A few of these men went on to become mechanical transport drivers. The corps performed vehicle and equipment repair and recovery resources of the Canadian Army.

After the war, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a number of businesses were started and others changed hands. In the 1970s, growth of the village occurred at a rapid rate as new buildings and recreational facilities were opened. On November 1, 1969 a Cenotaph was constructed in memory of Breton's fallen comrades.
 
 
 

PRESENT DAY

 
breton_welcome_thuThe Village of Breton offers a vast array of services and is a central stopping point for travellers of many destinations. It is located within easy distance of major centres such as Edmonton, Leduc, Red Deer, and Wetaskiwin. The population of Breton is approximately 530 residents yet it serves an area that consists of 8,000 to 10,000 people. Breton's economy is diverse and is supported by agriculture, oil and gas, recreation and logging. Its economy has remained stable for the past five years. Breton also has one of the best water supplies in Alberta, both in quality and quantity.

breton_church_thuBreton is an active and vibrant village that offers many amenities such as a nine-hole golf course with pro-shop and restaurant, curling rink, paved outdoor skating rink, museum, library and two parks, including one with skateboard equipment. Outdoor recreation is abundant with several lakes offering camping, fishing, swimming and skating. Snowmobiling, horseback riding, golf and cross-country skiing are also popular. breton_golf_thuIt also features the Breton and District Historical Museum which contains exhibits with four major themes: Black History, the Lumbering Industry, Community Development and Agricultural Development. The museum is the only one in the province that has a major focus on the black settlement history of Alberta.