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What is a Maverick?

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1649

New Settlers, Their First House, Western Canada

Postcards from the Past, PC 1649

For Calgary’s first “One Book One Calgary” event we have selected the book Mavericks: an Incorrigible History of Alberta by Aritha Van Herk. We are planning a plethora of programs relating to the themes of the book, among them my own offering, “Maverick Hunters” in which I will try to assist family historians who are tracing their own “maverick”. This exercise has led me to ask myself what exactly do I mean by maverick? What qualities make up “maverick-osity”?

Alberta has long been perceived as a place where the maverick can flourish. Take, for example, this quotation from Irene Parlby:

I do not think I should be very wide of the mark, if I said that the older parts of Canada have for years regarded Alberta as a rather peculiar place, favorable to the breeding of extreme radicals, and peculiar political phenomena, and let it go at that. One wonders if it ever occurs to them that there are always causes and conditions which breed these things.

From the earliest settlement, the place that would become Alberta was a challenging landscape. Winters could be harsh and summer hot and dry. To even contemplate coming here, one had to have a sense of adventure and an ability to look past the hardships and see the possibilities in the future. This is the spirit we still embrace. Albertans still work hard, still ride the booms and busts that are so characteristics of our economy and still look forward to the future and the possibilities it holds. So maybe this is what we need to keep in mind as we populate our family trees with our black sheep, our mavericks, maybe even our heroes. We can look in the places we always look but then we need to look in the places we haven’t thought of yet. That’s what I’m hoping to help you with when I present “Maverick Hunters.” If you’re interested, have a look at our program guide, paper or online at our registration site A hint of what I’ve learned? Once we’ve fought our battles we escape to the milder climes beyond the Rockies Wink

The Right to Vote

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 0359

Nellie McClung House, 803 15th Avenue SW

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 0359

Because I am a genealogist I have an interest in the creation of records of people. Things like birth and marriage records, census records and, appropriately enough during this mayoral election, lists of eligible voters. When I speak to young people and people just getting started in genealogy, I have to remind them that we can’t look for everyone in the voters’ lists. As strange as it may seem now, at one time in our history not everyone was entitled to vote. In earlier times, being a citizen, as we understand it now, was not enough to qualify you as a voter. Sometimes you had to be a landowner, of a particular race, or of a particular gender. Changes in law that brought us to where we are now, where every citizen has a right to a voice in the choice of government, were often hard won. Often it took a way of thinking that was outside of accepted beliefs. This was the case with women’s suffrage. It sometimes astonishes people to find out that women weren’t granted the absolute right to vote in Canada until 1940, when Quebec finally granted women the right to vote in provincial elections.

The right of women to vote in the Prairie Provinces has much to do with a woman called Nellie McClung. She was a social activist who was concerned about many causes, among them, the right of women to have a voice in government. Through the work of Nellie and other women, Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote in provincial elections and to hold run for provincial office, in January of 1916. Nellie and her family had moved to Edmonton by this time and she had continued her fight. Alberta granted women the vote shortly after Manitoba, in April, 1916.

We have come a long way since we had to fight for the right to vote. Now we need to make sure that we exercise that right.

Ballot Box

The Community Heritage and Family History collection at the Central Library has an excellent collection of material relating to the history of the political environment in Alberta and many of Nellie McClung’s works.

Onoto Watanna

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

We were very lucky this week to have a visit from our new writer-in-residence, Gail Bowen. Logically, since she is a fiction writer from western Canada, we pointed out our pride and joy, the fiction collection in the Local History room. This got us to thinking, do people even know we have a fiction collection in the Local History Room? So we thought we would write a few blog entries on the novels that we have collected over the years. The collection is unique; the novels we house here reflect Calgary and Southern Alberta in some way (set in Calgary or southern Alberta, for example). There are many different and interesting authors represented. Our librarian’s fave is Onoto Watanna, also known as Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve and when she told me her story I knew I had to share it.

Winnifred Eaton was born either in 1875 or 1879 (she wasn’t always candid about that particular detail) in Montreal to a Chinese mother and an American Onoto Watanna book cover father. Her mother was either a missionary or a tightrope walker (again, kind of hazy on the details) but in any case Winnifred published a story at 13 (or 15 – again, hazy) and was bitten by the bug. She went to New York to pursue her writing career, but knew she needed a hook to get people to read her books. Her sister had already capitalized on her heritage by publishing stories about Chinese immigrants under the pen name Sui Sin Far. Winnifred, possibly wanting to avoid the prejudices directed against the Chinese at the time, reinvented herself as Japanese and embarked on a writing career that would lead her to Hollywood and, yes, Calgary Alberta.

Winnifred’s novel A Japanese Nightingale was very well received. Many editions were published and it was translated into a number of languages. She wrote at least a dozen Japanese themed novels and numerous short stories and became quite well known. Divorced from her first husband, she met and married Francis Reeve, a businessman, who persuaded Winnifred to start a new life with him in western Canada. They moved to BowView Ranch, near Morley. Winnifred loved the country but needed the buzz of “big city” life to enable her to write, so she took rooms in Calgary and, in 1923, turned her skills to writing about her new home. Her novel Cattle was not well received by her American readers, but was acclaimed in Canada as a great novel. When Frank’s farm started to fail, Winnifred headed to California to find work. She spent seven years in Hollywood as a screenwriter, specializing in adapting stories for the screen. Among her works was “Showboat”. Winnifred returned to Calgary in 1932 and moved into a home at 801 Royal Avenue in Mount Royal. She remained here until her death. Both she and her husband are buried in Queen’s Park Cemetery. Frank eventually regained his fortune and established a charitable foundation, the Francis F. Reeve Foundation, as a memorial to his wife. The Reeve Theatre at the University of Calgary is named in their honour. Winnifred’s papers are at the University of Calgary. The Local History Collection at the Calgary Public Library holds several of her novels, including a signed edition of Miss Nume of Japan. If you are interested in finding out more about this fascinating woman, her granddaughter has written a biography of her called a Onoto Watanna: The Story of Winnifred Eaton and we have a file of clippings both by and about her in the Local History room.