Calgary

Statue of 1st Calgary alderwoman would encourage more women to run for office, says historian

The Annie Gale Project is hoping the statue would inspire a new generation of trailblazing women politicians.

'It's been 100 years — and we still have a lot of work to do,' Nancy Janovicek says

Annie Gale was the first woman elected to any level of Canadian government in 1917 when she joined Calgary city council. (www.albertachampions.org)

A group is pushing to erect a bronze statue of Calgary's first female alderman, 100 years after her election.

The Annie Gale Project is hoping the statue, ideally placed in municipal plaza or at Calgary City Hall, would inspire a new generation of trailblazing women politicians, chairwoman Nancy Janovicek says.

The idea came about after the 2013 municipal election, when the number of women on council dropped to two. After this fall's election, three women now sit on Calgary council.

"This was a woman who was committed to public service. Annie Gale was also a woman who truly believed that in a short period of time there would be gender equality on all of the councils and all of the governments," Janovicek told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.

"And we seem to be moving away from that in those years. I thought maybe she needs a statue to remind people of the fact that it's been 100 years — and we still have a lot of work to do on that front."

Annie Gale was not only the first woman to become a municipal politician in Calgary but in the entire British Empire when she was elected in 1917. She is pictured here with her son, Bill. (Glenbow Archives PA-1285-1)

Gale, born Hannah Rolinson, immigrated to Alberta from Great Britain in 1912.

She was an advocate for consumer rights, launching a public market that helped reduce the price of produce and coal for local families. She quickly became "a prominent reformer in the city," Janovicek said.

First in British Empire

In 1917, Gale ran for a seat on Calgary City Council and won, becoming not only the city's first elected female politician but one of the first women elected to municipal office in the British Empire.

"Her husband was concerned for her safety because she did get threats," said Janovicek, who is an associate professor of history at the University of Calgary.

Most women gained the right to vote in Alberta only the year before Gale's election, in 1916.

Chinese and Japanese women weren't allowed to vote in Alberta until the 1940s. First Nations women were barred from voting until the 1960s.

Gale had support from many who lauded her as business savvy and capable, including an endorsement from Bob Edwards, owner of the Eye Opener newspaper, for which the Calgary Eyeopener radio program on CBC is named.

Gale faced tough battles to earn the change she wanted to see.

In one case, she complained to no avail about the unsanitary conditions of basement jail cells.

Police couldn't produce laundry bills — because the sheets hadn't been washed in more than a decade, Janovicek said. So Gale ripped the sheets out of the cells and burned them in the street.

The city was forced to buy new sheets, and eventually agreed to move the cells to a more agreeable location.

"She often had to kind of push the barriers and push against this resistance to what she was trying to do," Janovicek said.

Gale served on council until 1923, including for a time as acting mayor, the first woman to do so in Canada.

Gale has been recognized in Calgary. There is an Annie Gale Board Room at City Hall, and the Annie Gale School in the northeast. The Bridgeland/Riverside Vacant Lot Garden is a historic site, which a city profile describes as being "a tangible reminder of the efforts of Annie Gale."

The Annie Gale Project is still in the early stages, currently seeking to receive charity status for the statue campaign.


With files from Caroline Wagner and the Calgary Eyeopener

Corrections

  • This article previously said Annie Gale was the first woman elected to a municipal council in the British Empire. In fact, she was one of the first women. Historian Nancy Janovicek contacted CBC on Dec. 14 to say she has found an official record of a woman elected to Auckland city council in New Zealand four years earlier than Gale.
    Dec 14, 2017 10:51 AM MT

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