With sadness, the Calgary Women’s Literary Club informs you of the passing of honorary member Lois Alger on January 6, 2021. Lois was a club member for more than 60 years and served as president in 1964-1965.
Lois lived in the era when a woman’s role centered on service to family and community. She actively supported husband Ross Alger in his position as Calgary mayor in the late 70s. Lois, the intellectual and lover of literature and ideas found her own personal haven with the Calgary Women’s Literary Club as an active member from 1950 to 2010. Club records show she researched and authored 28 presentations several of which extended over 2 to 3 weeks. There was some very serious literary analysis in those days. For example, in 1988 Lois presented William Falkner over a two-week period. Other authors of note that she presented on include Jane Austen, Virginia & Leonard Woolf, Toni Morrison, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
There was a a gap in Lois’s presentation activity between 1976 and 1981 corresponding to her husband Ross’s term as Calgary mayor. Even Lois Alger could not ‘do it all’.
Lois will remain a role model of personal friendliness and dedicated service to Calgary Women’s Literary Club.
The Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s magazine Westword published an article about our Club in their October-December 2019 issue. Moorea Gray wrote the article, and we have been granted kind permission to post this article on our website.
Further information about the Club can be found by clicking on ABOUT US
THE CALGARY WOMEN’S LITERARY CLUB A book club with a difference (then and now) Moorea Gray
The Calgary Women’s Literary Club (CWLC) — founded in 1906 by Annie Davidson — is a self-described “book club with a difference.” With the diversity of book clubs emerging among friends and in communities, libraries and schools — some led by television and Internet celebrities — you might wonder what makes CWLC different. Although some elements of the club evolved over the past 113 years, the structured program, dedicated membership and rich legacy of literary study and community involvement all contribute to the club’s distinctiveness and long-lasting success.
Club meetings don’t consist of members reading and discussing the same book. Instead, one member prepares a 30-35-minute talk based on her choice of an author. Every two years, the executive committee selects a theme upon which presentations are based. This year, for example, the theme is “Cultural Awareness Through Literature” and presentations include the works of Richard Wagamese and Susanna Moodie, among others. In addition to member presentations, guest speakers make appearances. Distinguished guest authors have included W.O. Mitchell (1966) and Grant MacEwan (1981).
Membership comes with a yearly fee of $40 ($0.25 in 1906). Like Davidson and her fellow readers, CWLC members are creative, well-read, interesting and passionate about literature and learning. Members are expected to attend regularly and present every other year.
Since 1906, presentation summaries, meeting minutes and other documents of interest have been housed in the Glenbow Museum’s Library and Archives. Soon, the materials will move to the University of Calgary. These archives provide details of club activities and literary trends, community events, women’s rights and world history.
Although community engagement is not the purpose of the guild, when the opportunity arises, the CWLC gets busy. In 1915, members helped to pay for seamstresses for the Military Chapter of the Red Cross. In 2018, the club purchased a window in support of the Calgary Public Library’s Windows of Opportunity fundraising program with a bequeathed sum of money from a past member. Members take pride in honouring Davidson’s legacy; it’s not uncommon for the executive to ask, “What would Annie do?”
A widow in her late sixties, New Brunswick-born Davidson (née McKean) held the first CWLC meeting in her home on February 9, 1906. ” At the first meeting, by-laws were drawn up, officers elected and program topics chosen. Early meetings were devoted to rather heavy works, e.g. Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, and world affairs and current events. By the 1920’s they were devoted to pure literature. Attendance ranged from 25 to 30.” (Source: “Our History,” CWLC website, calgarywomensliteraryclub.com)
Davidson, aware that the growing city of Calgary would profit significantly from a library, applied for a Carnegie Foundation library grant. From 1883 to 1929, Andrew Carnegie — a Scottish-American philanthropist — helped fund the building of more than 2,500 libraries worldwide, of which 125 are in Canada. “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert,” said Carnegie. To obtain funding from the foundation, Calgary was required to provide land for the library site, and a petition of one-tenth of the male electorate’s signatures was needed. Thanks to Davidson’s leadership and determination, the foundation provided a grant of $80,000, and the Central Memorial Library opened in 1912. The first CWLC meeting held in the beautiful sandstone building was on February 6 of the same year. Unfortunately, Davidson died in 1910 — a few years before the library’s opening.
The CWLC is the oldest club of its kind in Canada. Today, the club meets every Tuesday afternoon in March, April, and October and November at the Memorial Park Library (previously named Central Memorial Library). Coffee and treats are served at 1:30 P.M. A welcome and administrative note from the club president is followed by the presentation and a question and answer period.
The CWLC has a current membership of 35 women. New members are welcomed and encouraged, and men are welcome to attend as guests. For more information and to submit an online membership application, please visit our website (calgarywomensliteraryclubcom). No longer are two written references required — as in the early years — but only a keen interest in literature.
Mooréa Gray holds degrees in English literature and education. She has been a member of the CWLC since 2016. Along with raising her family and teaching, Gray has devoted much of the last decade to researching Icelandic-Canadian poet Stephan G. Stephansson and published an anthology of his translated poetry in August 2019. She is a native of Calgary, where she lives with her family.
The Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s magazine Westword published an article about our Club in their October-December issue. Moorea Gray wrote the article, and we have been granted kind permission to post this article on our website.
On September 27th a special plaque was unveiled, commemorating the Memorial Park Library becoming a national historic site. It details the vision and hard effort by Annie Davidson and the women of the Calgary Women’s Literary Club to build a library. Doloris and Margaret were delighted to be part of such a heartfelt ceremony, which was attended by CPL’s own Bill Ptacek, and representatives of City Parks and Parks Canada, among others.
Sept 27 2018 plaque unveiling at Memorial Park Library
CBC’s Rachel Ward was in touch with Mary Carwardine.
Mary Carwardine was able to connect with Annie’s great-grandson and invite him to the Historic Calgary Week presentation. Sadly, Donald was unable to attend Historic Calgary Week but sent the following. He did attend the Library’s 100th celebration six years ago, which coincided with the release of Brian Brennan’s book, The Calgary Public Library: Inspiring Life Stories Since 1912.
“After travelling the world most of my life as an aviator, I am now limited by a debilitating walking disability which curtails most of my current travel. I will not be able to get to Calgary in July. I wish you all the best in executing an excellent program. I appreciate your consideration.
I have examined the “Historic Calgary Week” program and find it all very interesting. So many of those places and experiences were part of my life growing up in the City until I was eighteen years old and left for Military College in Kingston. During WW II we ( my brothers and sisters) covered the whole much smaller City by bicycle many times. The air was filled with aircraft training airmen for the war via the
and the streets with uniforms from around the Commonwealth and Europe. I attended schools in Capitol Hill, Mt. Royal, Bowness, Balmoral and Crescent Heights High. I got my first pilot’s license at the Calgary International Airport at the Calgary Flying Club.”
Donald A. Davidson, Great Grandson of Annie & Richard Davidson
Hooked? In addition to the link on BCATP above, here are links to two aviation museums in Calgary:
This month our city enjoyed Historic Calgary Week. The theme for this year was The Power of Partnerships and the Calgary Women’s Literary Club was pleased to be invited to participate. Held in the delightfully historic Memorial Park Library, Mary Carwardine, Sue Carscallen and Sandra Ens took part in an engaging talk which served to deliver a thoughtful and informative overview of the significant role that our club has played in Calgary’s history.
This presentation created an enhanced appreciation of the accomplishments of our founder, Annie Davidson. Annie we were told was a lady of quiet dignity and thoughtful opinions who overcame the many challenges and losses that were typical of her time. Buoyed by her love of books, she sparked intellectual and social discourse in a growing population of literate Calgary women. These women shared the scarce few books that they had brought with them on their journey to Calgary during their weekly meetings in Annie’s parlor.
Under Annie’s leadership, in a time when women had yet to win the right to vote, the Calgary Women’s Literary Club worked tirelessly to garner support and succeeded in obtaining the land and the funding to build the first public library between Winnipeg and Vancouver. The Memorial Park Library came into being in 1912.
Annie’s “book club with a difference” continues to meet on Tuesday afternoons in the library that she built. Today’s members hold dear the legacy left to us by Annie as we continue to discuss and analyze literature.
I have borrowed liberally from the talk in my efforts to capture and relate the flavor of this wonderful presentation.
With a photo of the front entrance and the bold headline “A National Treasure” on the front page of its January 19, 2018 edition, the Calgary Herald announced that Memorial Park Library has been designated a national historic site.
Although the article on page A2 doesn’t mention the Calgary Women’s Literary Club by name, it does explain that the library “was built thanks to the efforts of a group of local women, including one of Calgary’s cultural pioneers, Annie Davidson.” Memorial Park Library served as the city’s main library from 1912, when it opened, until 1963.
Although it may not be published, I did write the following e-mail to the newspaper: