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The amazing Mayes


Three generations of the Mayes family in front of the Shiloh Baptist Church they built. (Leander Lane Family Photo Archives)

How many families do you know who built a church, a school and had a grandmother who delivered babies and was the leader of the community? Oh yeah, and that family also had an NFL football player and a member of Canada’s national women’s bobsleigh team!

Let’s find out a little more about this amazing Black family who have been living in the western part of Canada for over 110 years!

Where did they come from?

8 young Black children stand in front of a log house

A Black family who left the U.S. due to discrimination and settled in Alberta in 1911. (Wikimedia/Public domain)

The Mayes family had quite a journey before arriving in Canada. It all started when the United States changed its laws and abolished slavery, meaning a person could no longer own another person like property or force them to do unpaid work..

Joe and Mattie Mayes decided that they, and their children, should join a group of 1,000 others who were leaving Oklahoma, U.S.. They would go to the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada to work as farmers. 

Starting a new life in Saskatchewan was hard, but the Mayes family refused to give up.  Joe, Mattie and their 13 children built their own community and went on to do some really amazing things!

Joseph Mayes

three generations of the Mayes family stand in front of the small church that Joe built

Joe Mayes and his family built the Shiloh Baptist Church (in the photo) and was its first preacher. (Leander Lane Family Photo Archives)

Joe Mayes, along with his wife Mattie, led his family and others to a new land to start a new life. He built his family’s home from materials that he made, and ran a successful farm. He taught his 10 boys and three girls to be kind and to stay positive.

Amayes-ing! — He helped to build a church in his community and became the church’s first preacher. 

Mattie Mayes

close-up of an elderly Mattie Mayes

(Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan/R-A10362)

Mattie Mayes took care of her 13 children and still found time to be a mother and a leader in her community. When a doctor was not available, Mattie took care of her sick neighbours. She also worked as a midwife, which meant that she delivered many of the babies in her small town as well.

Amayes-ing! — Mattie, also known as Mammy Mayes, would ride on horseback to take care of those who needed her help even when she was in her 80s! She was incredible!

Lesa Mayes-Stringer

Lesa Mayes-Stringer's head pokes out of her bobsled

Lesa Mayes-Stringer and her partner train in their bobsled in 2009. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Lesa Mayes-Stringer is the great-granddaughter of Joe and Mattie Mayes. Lesa was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and went on to represent Canada in international bobsled competitions. Lesa was a great track and field athlete as well. Her events were the 100 metre hurdles and the heptathlon.

Amayes-ing! — She was ranked as high as the top ten in the world in bobsled and finished 11th in the two-woman event at the 2005 FIBT World Championships in Calgary.

Rueben Mayes

Rueben Mayes runs with the ball

Rueben Mayes #36 was the running back for the New Orleans Saints in a game against the Los Angeles Rams in 1986. (Tony Duffy/Getty Images)

Rueben Mayes, the great-grandson of Joe and Mattie Mayes, started his football career by leading his high school team to become the best in the entire province of Saskatchewan. He played for the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League, won Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and played in the Pro Bowl (the NFL All-Star game) twice! Rueben also did very well in school and now he helps students who are facing challenges to be successful.

Amayes-ing! — Rueben played at Washington State University in the U.S., where he set records and earned a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.