Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Recognizing Local Legend, Leonard Williams

Leonard "Len" Williams
Photo Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta
He (Len) didn’t harp on his hardships or on the discrimination, he just wanted to protect his family…” - Son, Gilbert Williams 

In 1995, the House of Commons officially dedicated the month of February to honouring the legacy of Black Canadians. This month, you are encouraged learn more about the substantial influence that Black Canadians have made to the history of Canada, and more specifically, to our region. To learn more and to participate in Black History Month, visit canada.ca/black-history-month

This article recognizes one remarkable Black Canadian: Leonard Williams, who not only made a significant contribution to our region, but is an inspiration to Black Canadians as he circumvented racial discrimination and grew to become a highly respected Canadian citizen. 

Leonard, more commonly known as Len, was born on April 19th, 1885 in Upora, Mississippi.  In the wake of the Civil War, the southern United States harnessed much hatred and racial violence towards African Americans. After seeing his best friend lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, Len fled the United States and sought refuge in Canada. In 1910, Len secured a job as a caretaker with the Northern Alberta Railway where he worked on one of the most popular passenger services running from Edmonton to Waterways, known as the Muskeg Special. Len grew to be one of the most notable persons on Muskeg Special which, in 1925, he secured his status as a rail conductor.

Photo Source: Maisonneuve, M. (2011, October, 6). 
The N-Scale N.A.R. (Blogspot). 
Retrieved February 6, 2017

Len was known to be a loyal and trusted employee.  Dignitaries, small children and important cargo were placed in his care during the 28 hour trip between Edmonton and Waterways. So much was Len respected, he was chosen to assist in shipping the original Bison that would stock the Wood Buffalo National Park. Len remained a conductor for 35 years, and later retired in 1960 only to begin working for the next seven years as a jail watchman for the RCMP detachment in Fort McMurray. Len later began work as a night watchman from 1967 to 1969 at the Sawmill in Waterways and for the then Mildred Lake site (now operated by Syncrude). In recognition of his dedication, Len was appointed the honorary mayor of the Mildred Lake site in 1970. He passed away in December 27, 1977 leaving his legacy to his six children. 
Photo Source: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, 
Heritage Plaque Program, 2013

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is proud to recognize Leonard Williams as part of the Heritage Plaque program. A plaque has been placed in his honour within Wood Buffalo Park bordered by Wilson Drive and Williams Drive, Fort McMurray. 

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