Sometimes in life, you get to meet the most amazing people. No, I’m not talking about the day I met a former Canadian Prime Minister, which was rather underwhelming. I’m talking about the time I met the daughter of a legendary Canadian cowboy who told me about her father John Ware. This is the story about how I first learned about a real legend, a man whom the Blackfoot Indians called “Matoxy Sex Apee Quin” because they thought he was related to the spirits. John Ware was undoubtedly one of the best cowboys ever to ride on the prairies of 19th century Alberta, Canada. What makes his story even more amazing than his skill is his backstory. He was a freed slave who made Canada home and became a hero to many black Canadians. This is his story.
“Go west young man”
When I was a teenager, I heard the call to “Go West Young Man”. Well, it was more a request from my friend to drive him back home to Calgary, Alberta. And so I did.
From 1977 to 1979, I had the privilege of living in Calgary, Alberta during its boom years. The city was thriving. It seemed everything was possible. Living there was like magic to me. I had never seen real mountains. I had never seen a sky as blue and never-ending as I saw there. And I had never experienced how vast and awesome Canada really is. It was a formative time for me moving from suburban Toronto to the “wild west” of Calgary. Well, it wasn’t all that wild but it was new and wonderful for me.
Downtown Calgary as seen from the Bow river (circa 2010). Source: Wikipedia.
Miss Janet (Nettie) Ware
During part of that time, I stayed in a rooming house belonging to a very kind elderly woman who rented out rooms for students attending a nearby community college.
Her best friend was a woman by the name of Janet (Nettie) Ware, the daughter of John Ware. She would often visited my landlady. I would be invited to sit with her and hear her stories of her past. And what a past she had!
It is through her that I learned about her father. John Ware was born a slave in the Carolinas in the United States. At some point he was given his freedom, probably some time after the civil war. But we get ahead of ourselves here. In the next photo you can see John Ware and his family with Nettie sitting in the arms of her mother and John Ware and their second child standing next to John.
John Ware and his family.
I spend three years in Calgary eventually leaving Canada to move to the United States, oddly in the entirely opposite direction as John Ware had done over 100 years before. Life moved on and I slowly forgot about this episode in my life getting busy with new things in Pennsylvania and New England.
In time, I moved back to Canada. It occurred to me then that I ought to see what had happened to Nettie Ware. Initially, I didn’t get very far. Later on while doing some more indepth research for this blog post, I was saddened to learn that Nettie Ware had passed away in 1989 on her ninety-sixth birthday. That meant she would have been in her mid-eighties when we had chatted in my landlady’s kitchen drinking tea and talking about the life of her father. It was then that I decided I wanted to know more about her father.