When Karen Hoshal attends the Central Saanich United Church (formerly the Shady Creek Church) she experiences more than a spiritual connection; she knows that over 130 years ago her great grandfather, Charles Alexander, built the walls around her.
Alexander and his wife, Nancy, were some of the first Black pioneers to come to B.C. at the invitation of then-Governor James Douglas in 1858. They came up from San Francisco as free people to seek a better life for their family.
“He was a carpenter, so he built a lot of Victoria,” Hoshal said. “He built the original Saanich Fairgrounds.”
|The Shady Creek Church (now known as the Central Saanich Baptist Church) was built by Charles Alexander, one of the first Black Pioneers in B.C. (Central Saanich United Church)|
Alexander and his wife had 12 children and owned farmland in Central Saanich and businesses in Victoria that grew to be prosperous. Nancy Alexander helped form the Lakehill Women’s Institute and was very active in the church community.
When the couple grew older, they bought a final residence at the corner of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue in Saanich, which they called the “Rockabella Gardens.”
|Charles and Nancy Alexander a were some of the first Black pioneers to come to B.C. in 1858. Together they had 12 children, and helped build Victoria through carpentry and farming (BCBlackHistory.ca)|
Descendants from the duo include BC Sports Hall of Fame lacrosse player Kevin Alexander, and Canadian Sports Hall of Fame Umpire, James Douglas “Doug” Hudlin.
For Hoshal, knowing their history is a valuable thing.
“It’s very hard to go back in Black people’s families because before my great grandfather’s records there are no records,” she said. “Somewhere in a ledger, it might say ‘one slave was born.’”
Knowing that her great-grandparents were free and prosperous was an important thing for Hoshal to share with her own children, who are of mixed heritage.
“When I brought my children to Victoria, they saw pictures of them and were confused why they were so dark. I wanted to explain it to them… that’s the reason I started telling this history,” Hoshal said.
Hoshal has been working with the BC Black History Society since 1995. She does presentations throughout the year, with an especially busy schedule for Black History Month.
To learn of more B.C. pioneers or upcoming Black History Month events you can visit bcblackhistory.ca.