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HistoryBlackHistoryMonth9TuesdayFebruary262013ByRENEFRANCOEURFortSmithin1942wasanexcitingplacetobe.ThatswhatEmiliaMer-crediGratrixtoldhersonTonyWhitfordformerNWTCommissionerandMLA.Mercredipassedawayin2005attheageof87butWhitford71stillfondlyrecallsmanyofthevibrantstorieshismotherpassedonaboutthatyear.TheAmericanarmyhadcometotheNorthwestTerri-toriesthatJune.Theywouldstayforjustoverayearwork-ingtoboostAlaskasdefenceaftertheassaultatPearlHar-bour.ThatperiodmarkedthersttimemanyNorthernersmetAfrican-Americans.TheUnitedStateswasespe-ciallyconcernedaboutJapa-neseattacksastheyshippedpetroleumtotheirAlaskanbaseviathePaciccoast.AssuchtheCANOLCanadianOilProjectwasborn.Theprojectwouldseethecon-structionofapipelinefromNormanWellstoWhitehorseGratrixbefriendedanum-berofthesoldiersandsoldthemhomemadepiesanddidtheirlaundryWhitfordsaid.Twoorthreeofthemwouldsitthereonthefrontstepsofthehouseandcutthesepiesshedsoldthemintofourbigpiecesandeatthemrightthere.Mymommadegoodmoneyonthat...Wedgetspecialfavoursfromthemtheydbringoverawholejeepfullofbigcansofhambaconpiellingforcherryandraisinpies.TheChristmasEveservicein1942wasanothermemo-rableevent.MymothersaidtherewasnothingonearththatcouldmatchthesingingofSilentNightbythesehundredsandhundredsoftroops.Tearscameinyoureyesshetoldusbecausetheywereallsadbecausetheywereawayfromhome.HoweverWhitfordsaidhismothermadereferencetoanumberofunpleasanteventsconnectedtotheStrugglesofidentityandbe-longingwereproblemstobesolved.BurkehasmadehishomeonVancouverIslandandisstilltryingtoobtainhisIn-dianstatus.WhenthesoldiersweretransferredtoNormanWellsintheearlyautumnof1943Whitfordsmotherhadverylittlecorrespondencewiththesoldiersshedbefriended.Shedheardtheydallbeenmostlyshippedover-seasafterwards.ShefeltandIdontknowhowsheknewthatmanyofthetroopsinSmithhaddiedintheislandsspecicallytheBattleofTar-awaIthinkWhitfordsaid.Remnantsof1942arestillstrewnthroughouttown.WhitfordfoundburiedcorrodedBriggsStrat-tonenginesandboxesofhammersdownontheSlaveRiverbankwheretheland-slideoccurredin1968.Ilearnedthearmyscol-onelbulldozedoneoftheirwarehousesdownintotheSlave.Thewarehouseshadbeenlocatedrightontheriverbankin42.Thisonehadbeenbadlydamagedwhenarewassetbyaspy.AccordingtoWhitfordsstoriesthetroopsabandonedmanyoftheirbelongingswhentheyleftincludingjeepsandambulancessomeofwhichcanstillbefoundonCalderAvenuehesaid.FromwhatIwastolditalmostseemedliketheycameovernightandtheyweregoneovernighthesaid.FebruaryisBlackHis-torymonthinCanadaandtheUnitedStates.RememberingNorthernblackhistoryFormercommissionerretellssoldierstoriesFromwhatIwastolditalmostseemedliketheycameovernightandtheyweregoneovernight.TonyWhitfordFormerNWTCommissionerandMLAarmyspresenceaswellin-cludingcasesofsexualas-saultandendlessghtingbetweenthetownboysandsoldiers.Therewasalotoffunbutmanytribulationstoo.Itchangedthesocialstabil-ityhere.Therewasdrinkingandghtsandromancestak-ingplaceregardlessofmar-riageandthatdidcausesomedifficulties...Ithinktherewereabout10childrenthatresultedfromthatyearchil-drenwithFortSmithmoth-ersandblackfatherstheyneverknew.OneofthosechildrenisartistRobertBurkewhosemotherwasChipewyanandfatherwasanAfrican-Amer-icansoldier.BurkeburrowedintotheraciallycomplexissueofhischildhoodthroughoneofhispaintingexhibitionsTheSilentBreed.InhisartiststatementBurkeexplainsthetitleTheAmericanswerepartofaseg-regatedarmyandtheirjobwastoserveaslabourers...Theyworkedunderterribleconditionswithhandtoolssuchasapickshovelaxeandsaw...Mostofthechil-drenneverhadachancetoknowwhotheirfatherswere.Yukon.FromthereoilcouldbetruckedintoAlaska.About1500soldierscametoFortSmithtohandletheshipmentofpipelinemateri-alsonbargesdowntheSlaveRiverbuildanall-weatherair-eldandcarveoutnewwinterroadsfromHayRivertoFortSmithandNormanWells.ThesoldierswhobuilttheirowncampcompletewithasawmillbarracksmesshallandevenatemporaryhospitalwouldalsochangethesocialmakeupofthesmallNortherncommunity.WedhadcontactwithsouthernersbutnotlikewehadwhentheAmericanscame.Theyarrivedanditwastotallydifferent.AllofasuddenyouvegotathousandhandsomeblackmenawayfromtheirhomewithfullpocketssoitwasanexcitingtimeWhitfordsaid.AccordingtothelocalhistorycompilationWoodenBoatsandIronPeoplebySandraDolanthe338thEngineerBattalionstationedinFortSmithwasmadeupof26whiteofcersand1238African-AmericansfromCampClaiborneLouisiana.TheydidntwanttheseguysghtingatthefronttheydidnttrusttheblackssotheyshippedthemNorth.ThatwassadlythetimeWhitfordsaid.PhotocourtesyofMarieSwansonPhotocourtesyofPWNHCAmericansoldierskilltimeononeofthebargesusedtocarrypipelinesuppliesdowntheSlaveRiveracrossGreatSlaveLakeanddowntheMackenzieRivertoNormanWellsaspartoftheCANOLProjectduringtheSecondWorldWar.TheAmericanarmybandjamstothejazzhitJumpinattheWoodsideinFortSmithwhereabattalionofmostlyblacksoldierswerestationedin1942.