Claresholm museum to launch UFA women in agriculture exhibit

A bust of Louise McKinney will be part of a new exhibit honouring women in Alberta agriculture at the Claresholm Museum, thanks to a provincial tourism grant, the head of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) told The Homestretch.

Exhibition to recognize the kind of people it took to settle Alberta, such as Louise McKinney

One of the Famous Five, Louise McKinney, will be featured in a new women in Alberta agriculture exhibit at the Claresholm & District Museum. ( Fogg/CBC)

A bust of Louise McKinney will be part of a new exhibit honouring women in Alberta agriculture at the Claresholm & District Museum, the trailblazing head of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) told The Homestretch.

McKinney, one of the Famous Five women who led to the suffrage movement in Canada, was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1917 representing Claresholm.

Carol Kitchen, the CEO of the United Farmers of Alberta, says the exhibit will honour the contribution of women to the agriculture sector. It's set to open next year,  thanks to a provincial tourism grant.

Kitchen is a bit of a pioneer herself, being the first woman to head a North American agricultural co-operative.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.

Carol Kitchen, UFA president and CEO, says a new Claresholm museum exhibit will honour the contribution made by women to the Alberta agriculture sector. It's set to open next year. (Submitted)

Q: Please describe the new exhibit.

A: It will be interactive and digital. People will have the opportunity to learn about women in Alberta agriculture with a focus on the Famous Five, given that Louise McKinney is from Claresholm. It's to help them understand the role women have played in rural Alberta over time.

It's a self-guided, computer-driven exhibit and a bust of Louise McKinney.

Q: Why is it important?

It's about recognizing that [both] women and men have built the agriculture industry in Alberta. These women were part of UFA early in its history. They led a very important [initiative] to get the right to vote for all of us, so it's very important.

Q: The exhibit will include other trailblazers like Irene Parlby?

A: She was one of the first organizers of the women's section of the United Farmers of Alberta in the early 1900s. She travelled around a lot to talk to farmers and get them organized around things like health care and support for women.

The story goes that she was going to a meeting and she was late. The weather was pretty bad. They waited for her until 11 p.m. to have that meeting.

I often say I don't think farmers would wait for me to come to a meeting at 11 p.m.

Q: What challenges did women face at the time?

A: It's a pretty tough life.

Travelling rural Alberta today in the winter time in an SUV or a vehicle is certainly no fun, but in a horse and carriage or sleigh, these women were tough and hardy stock. Everybody was, at that point.

This exhibit recognizes the kind of people it took to start this industry and really settle Alberta. UFA is part of that and that's why we wanted to recognize these women.

Q: You are the first woman to lead an agricultural co-operative in North America, how far have women come since the days of Louise McKinney?

A: In some ways, it's a long way, in other ways, it's not.

It's quite inspiring to me that they were in front of a very diverse set of people in Alberta, who in some cases didn't speak the same language.

They didn't come from the same backgrounds, they moved here for a variety of reasons and they were trying to make their own lives in a hard place.

Those women were out there talking to them and trying to get them to work together. Women have come a long way in this industry and we have to continue to do that.

Women do the books, women feed calves, women drive combines and tractors just like everybody else does.

It is a business that is a family endeavour and that hasn't changed, and I honestly don't think that's going to change for a long time.

Q: What is the provincial grant going to mean?

A: It's Tourism Alberta recognizing that agriculture and women, in particular, are really the fabric of what this province was built on.

It's on the main route between Calgary and southern Alberta, so I think it's a nice place for people to stop in and learn and recognize that this is one of the places that these really people came from.

The United Farmer's Historical Society is contributing to the exhibit, which is expected to open in 2019 and provincial tourism grant is $8,000.

With files from The Homestretch.