Fonds ATH 08.26 - Shirley Backstrom fonds

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Shirley Backstrom fonds

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CA ATH ATH 08.26

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18 photographs
CD-ROM recording of oral history

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(1934 - Present)

Biographical history

Shirley Backstrom (neé Coleman) was born in Amber Valley, Alberta on July 7, 1934 and her parents were Isaiah and Velma Coleman (neé Adams).
Shirley’s great, great grandmother was Jane Bowen, born February 18, 1844 in Alabama, USA. She was half Black and half Cherokee. Her maiden name was thought to have been Thigpin, but discovery of her marriage license shows that her family name was actually Gregory.
The family myth is that great, great grandmother was the daughter of a chief; however, the most likely scenario is that great, great grandmother’s father had enslaved her mother, as the Cherokee Nation is known to have kept Black slaves at that time.
Great grandfather Columbus Bowen’s parents were “Big Daddy” and Jane Bowen. Descendants of this family have been unable to establish Big Daddy’s actual name. This is understandable given the fact that Big Daddy was most likely a freed slave. Slaves were sold from one owner to the next and took on the names given them by their respective owners.
Columbus was the first of eight children born to Big Daddy and Jane in 1870 in Pine Flats, Butler County, Alabama. The remaining children were twins Martha and Mary, Lulu, Silas, Ollie (known as Aunt Miss), Frank and Nellie.
Columbus’ wife, Martha Watts, was born in 1872 in Butler Springs, Alabama and he and and Martha were married in 1887 in Butler Springs. They moved to Montgomery, Alabama where four of their eight children were born: Minnie, Etheline (Ethel), Forest and Columbus (Lummie).
They left Alabama via Lee County, Texas for Guthrie, Oklahoma. They had four more children:
Willa, Ilean, Herman and Lovetta. It appears they remained in Guthrie for approximately 11 years from 1899 to 1910. Their second daughter, Ethel, born in 1888, received her teaching certificate from the State of Oklahoma in 1910. They moved yet again to Chandler in Choctaw County, Oklahoma to join a group who were immigrating to Canada.

The family arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1911 where Martha unfortunately passed away in 1912. Columbus moved his family to Pine Creek, Alberta, Canada (NE 15-66-20-W4) in 1912 where he and his cousin Willis Bowen would eventually settle. Pine Creek later became known as Amber Valley. Ethel taught school in Amber Valley at the Toles School, District #2895.

Ethel Bowen married Percy Adams in Vancouver, BC. Percy was from Cape Town, Africa, born in 1894. They moved to Amber Valley. They had two children, Shirley’s mother Velma Adams, born in 1916 in Amber Valley, and uncle Chris Adams, born in 1918, also in Amber Valley. Percy Adams was a porter on the Northern Alberta Railway from Edmonton to Fort McMurray for many years.

Velma Adams married Isaiah Coleman (born 1910) in 1932. They had six children: Corene, Shirley, both born in Amber Valley, and Ronald, Rodney, Jeanette and Carol, born in Edmonton, Alberta.
The family lived in Edmonton from 1935 to 1946 and then moved back to Amber Valley, the children attending Toles School until 1951. When the family moved to Edmonton, Isaiah Coleman got a job as a porter on the Canadian National Railway going from Edmonton to Prince Rupert.

Shirley married Sylvester Hinton of Amber Valley on April 30, 1951 and they lived in Edmonton. They had four children: Nadine, Terry, Randolf and Leon. September 7, 1957, Shirley and the children moved to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.

Shirley lived in Fort Smith for 11 years, moved to Pine Point for 12 years, then Hay River for 11 years for a total of 34 years in the Northwest Territories. She was the Supervisor at the Information Centre at the Alberta-Northwest Territories border for six years. While living in Hay River, she worked as a highway transport officer at the weigh scale from 1982 – 1991. Shirley was Secretary for the Union of Northern Workers Public Service of Canada, Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis Workers from 1983 – 1990.

While in Fort Smith, two foster children were added to the family. Wilbert Boucher was two years old when Social Services asked if she could keep him until they found a place for him. He was born on June 03, 1963. In 1966, Shirley got Shawnee Mary Ruth when she was six weeks old. She didn’t find out until Shawnee was six months old that she was Wilbert’s biological sister.

When Shirley lived in Pine Point, NWT, she was the Secretary for the Mothers for Minor Hockey Club, Secretary for the Legion, and Craft Teacher for the Sanavisik Guild, teaching knitting, crochet and ceramics.

Shirley joined the Royal Purple in Pine Point on February 1, 1968 and held dual membership in Pine Point and Hay River until 1988 when Pine Point closed down. She received her 25-year-pin in 1992 from the Hay River Lodge. She received her 30-year-pin form the Athabasca Lodge. She received her Life Membership Pin from the Athabasca Lodge on April 15, 2000 and her 35-year-pin from the Barrhead Lodge in 2002. She received her 40-year-pin from the Lac La Biche Lodge in 2007.

Shirley moved from Hay River, NWT to Colinton, Alberta in July, 1991. She was a member of the Athabasca Native Friendship Centre (ANFC) since March 1991 and was elected to the Board of Directors in June 2007. She became Vice-President in 2008 and Board President in 2010. In 2010, Shirley represented the ANFC at meetings held in Edmonton, and youth and Elders gatherings in Jasper. She attended an Elders retreat at MacEwan University in 2011.

Shirley started the Drug and Alcohol Program at Athabasca’s Landing Trail Intermediate School, the Hutterite Colony School, and Rochester School in September 1993 for the Elks and Royal Purple of Canada. She ran the program until June 2010. The last year of the program she had 273 entries from participating students. Shirley also worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Program in the Athabasca and area schools. The Elks and Royal Purple donated education kits on teasing and bullying as unacceptable behaviours to Smith School, Rochester School, the Hutterite Colony School, Whispering Hills Primary School, Landing Trail Intermediate School and the Athabasca Native Friendship Centre.

Custodial history

Shirley Backstrom

Scope and content

Shirley Backstrom was born in Amber Valley, Alberta and has spent many years volunteering for various groups and organizations in the Northwest Territories and Alberta.

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  • English

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Photos and oral history have been digitized
See also: Athabasca Area Seniors Memory Project:

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Digitized records are available on request.

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ATH 08.26

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Shirley Backstrom

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