Reintroducing Albertans to John Ware
Published Wednesday, August 20, 2014 1:19PM MDT Last Updated Wednesday, August 20, 2014 3:11PM MDT
John Ware’s contributions to Alberta’s history have resulted in the naming of a Calgary school, as well as a creek and ridge in Southern Alberta, in his honour and Canada Post has issued a stamp bearing the image of African-Canadian cowboy.
Despite their familiarity with the name John Ware, playwright Cheryl Foggo believes many Albertans are unfamiliar with the cowboy’s history, an oversight she aims to correct with a theatrical piece entitled ‘John Ware Reimagined’ starring local talent.
Foggo says she knew the name John Ware from an early age, but no one told her he was black.
“I just heard his name in the context of stories about great Alberta cowboys,” said Foggo. “I loved cowboys and I loved the whole western mystique. My brother and I had fully embraced it.”
“When we discovered that John Ware was a black cowboy, a person of African descent as we are, I got very, very interested in him.”
Cheryl began researching Ware but she lacked an outlet for the information she compiled. Inspiration struck the playwright, author and historian, in the months prior to the 100th anniversary of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
“I was actually inspired to write a play about him in 2012 because Stampede centennial was coming and I wanted to make sure John Ware was not forgotten.”
Orville Cameron and Janelle Cooper are currently rehearsing for their roles as John and Mildred Ware in the play which weaves the story of Canada's most famous cowboy of African descent into the life of a young Afro-Canadian girl who was born in Calgary nearly a century later.
Ware arrived in Canada from the United States while driving cattle in the 1880’s and decided to stay. Ware worked on the Bar U Ranch, southwest of the village of Longview.
Cheryl took the cast and crew to the ranch, including Orville Cameron (John Ware) and Janelle Cooper (Mildred Ware), to give them a better feel for the story. The trip included a visit to the Union Cemetery gravesites of John and Mildred.
Cameron says he was unfamiliar with Ware’s story prior to the trip to the Bar U Ranch and found the experience moving.
“I don't have words to express the inspiration and the moment of togetherness and family that we felt standing there with them,” said Cameron.
To ensure authenticity, Orville Cameron received roping lessons for his portrayal of John Ware, as the cowboy’s rope skills were legendary.
Cheryl Foggo's passion for John Ware’s story has spread to her children. Foggo’s daughter, Miranda Martini, alongside Calgary’s first poet laureate, Kris Demeanor, provides the music for the play. Martini says she is inspired by her mother's passion to tell the story of black pioneers.
“For her, it was very important that my sister and I felt we were a part of our history,” said Martini, “and that we understood everything that had come before us.”
The world premiere of John Ware Reimagined, presented by the Black Canadian Theatre Series and Ellipsis Tree Collective, is scheduled for Friday, August 22 at the Lunchbox Theatre. The show is slated to run until August 30.
For her efforts to keep the story of a trailblazing pioneer alive, Cheryl Foggo is this week’s Inspiring Albertan.
With files from CTV's Darrel Janz