In Praise of Canadian Women…

Photo by Kathy M.

Thanks to member Kathy M. for this review of Painting Friends: The Beaver Hall Women Painters by Barbara Meadowcroft (1999)

This is SUCH an important book, as even in the introduction we learn that:

“Despite these achievements, the place of the Beaver Hall women in Canadian art history is uncertain. Robert Hubbard ignored them completely in his influential book, The Development of Canadian Art (1964). J. Russell Harper’s Painting in Canada: A History (1977) draws attention to the “Many outstanding women painters in the Montreal Group”, and then dismissed them in three sentences. …

“Most Canadians could name the Group of Seven. But few outside of Montreal have heard of Prudence Heward or Anne Savage. Why the discrepancy? Why is the Group of Seven so widely known and so well represented? To find out about them and their work you have to hunt in out-of-print catalogues and the storerooms of museums?

“…Women were associated with nature and domesticity, men with culture and professionalism. The qualities attributed to the artist – genius, originality and unconventionality – were considered incompatible with “femininity”. According to a 19th-century writer: “so long as a woman refrains from unsexing herself by acquiring genius let her dabble in anything. The woman of genius does not exist but when she does she is a man.” (The Modern Parisienne, 1912)

As the book explores the works of this ‘Group of Ten’ artists, one learns of the friendships these women shared. As so many women do, in so many varying fields of expertise, “the women of Beaver Hall drew strength and confidence from their painting friends.”

The various photographs (even artistic renderings) of the women scattered throughout the book, help the reader feel a greater sense of connection to each woman. (The eyes are the windows to your soul.” – William Shakespeare)

The abundance of artwork from each of these 10 friends, is thoughtfully displayed, showing the styles and favoured colour palettes, and if one looks closely enough, one can see a similarity in their work, all the while admiring the uniqueness of each piece. Its quite remarkable!

The short and easy to read book takes us all the way from the last few decades of the 1800’s – the births of some of the women, through the 1970’s when the last of the friends passes away.

We are introduced to some influences on each artist’s work as well as sweet anecdotes of their life experiences.

As one will see as they progress through each intertwined story, these women were advocates for each others’ work and leaned on each other as friends often do.

These women add a new dimension to the word ‘genius’ and certainly prove that femininity and genius are more than capable of co-existing – as these ten bright, strong, talented women found in “Painting friends” are evidence of exactly that!

Kathy M.

Book Exchange Reviews –

Photo by Shawna M.

As a follow-up to the Second Annual Winter Party Book Exchange, members are encouraged to write a blog post about the book they received. I will kick it off…

I received the graphic novel, Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal. I was intrigued by the title and sat down on Tuesday evening after the Winter Party and began reading. I read until it was Wednesday and then finished the book the next day. So, it is fair to say it was instantly engaging. Cyclopedia Exotica imagines a world where the cyclops and the human are parallel subspecies that now live together.

My husband was watching a “Mad About You” marathon on TV while I was reading this book. The situations the fictional characters of that 90’s sitcom find themselves in are not so different from the situations that the average cyclops experiences, so why can’t we all just get along? Unfortunately, being a visible one-eyed minority is not so easy.

Because Cyclopedia Exotica is graphic novel about a subspecies that doesn’t exist (that we know of…) the challenges minorities face are shown with humor. Still, I think most readers will put this book down and ask themselves “have I made someone feel that way?”

I really enjoyed this book and will be seeking out other titles by Aminder Dhaliwal. Thank-you to my Winter Party Exchange counterpart for giving me the chance to read this fun yet challenging slice of life.

Shawna M.

Our History & More…

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

On November 16th, 2021 CWLC Archivist Sandra E. gave a presentation on the history of the club, with emphasis on the presentation topics of the past. Sandra reminded us that since 1906, CWLC members have shared a love of reading and a knowledge of the world outside Calgary.

In the early years, Shakespeare and Browning were common topics. Then, other authors and topics began to appear. Authors such as Galsworthy were contemporary, not historical, when they were first discussed by members.

In the current era of our club, we discuss the works of a single author. In the past, members’ presentations were not always limited to specific authors or books, but included social and cultural events. In a time when travel outside of Canada, topics such as “Mrs. Palmer’s trip to the Old Country” are also found in the archives.

For more information on our club history, click here:

In addition, selected records of the CWLC can be found in the Glenbow Archives.

After Sandra’s presentation, Shawna M. (your blogger) gave a brief presentation on the CWLC website.

Shawna M.

There is more to history than dates

On November 2, member Maryliz Q. presented on the works of Australian author Kate Grenvillle. Ms. Grenville’s trilogy “The Secret River” explores the emotional lives of early Australian transported settlers and their descendents, as well as the Indigenous people’s they displaced. Kate Grenville’s fiction looks beyond the dates and facts to provide history with emotional depth. Her major themes are colonization, the class system, loss, and what land ownership means.

Kate Grenville’s most recent fictional work is the novel “A Room Made of Leaves”, a “fake memoir” of a wife of a well known Australian magnate. A video clip of Kate Grenville discussing this book in a virtual book launch by the National Library of Australia can be found here:

Maryliz was able to contact Kate Grenville, who responded to questions about what it means to be an Australian writer and why she chose the genre of historical fiction.

More information on the life and works (which includes non-fiction) of Kate Grenville can be found in the presentation summary:

Shawna M.

Photo by Zac Porter on Unsplash

Janet Frame – Between the Inner and Outer Worlds

Member Sandra E. described Janet Frame’s work as exploring the dichotomy between the inner and outer worlds in her October 19th, 2021 presentation on the New Zealand author. Ms. Frame is known for her fictional work “Owls Do Cry”, her autobiography ” An Angel at My Table” and her short stories.

Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

While Ms. Frame had mental health challenges, Sandra emphasized that she should be recognized for sensitive literary work rather than be defined by her personal circumstances. Frequently drawing on the naive perspective of children, Ms. Frame showcases the dichotomy between what is said and what is meant.

Sandra read from the short story “You Are Now Entering the Human Heart”, which uses metaphor to describe the petty cruelties people inflict on each other.

Shawna M.

Sandra’s summary can be found here:

Clive James -Man of Many Parts

On October 12, 2021 Della Mae W. presented on Clive James, continuing the theme of authors of Australia and New Zealand.

Clive James was the prolific author of literary criticism, fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as being a TV presenter, AND completing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In his obituary, his frient Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker said “appraisal was his greatest gift”.

Della Mae reminded me of his humour, which I remember from watching him on TV in the 80’s and 90’s. After her presentation, I checked out is column in the Guardian, “Reports of My Death” which ran in the latter years of his life, when he had received a possibly imminently fatal diagnosis. His humour and intelligence shines thru that column.

Della Mae’s summary can be found here:

Shawna M.

Peter Carey: Quintessentially Australian

From Wikimedia Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0

A question for members only: What does Peter Carey have in common with Susan Hill, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, George Jonas, and Rex Murphy? If you don’t know, the answer is “Anita.” My tenure in CWLC only goes back to 2012, so this is just an incomplete list of Anita’s eclectic author presentations!

That’s the thing about our “book club with a ­­difference:” Our annual theme takes on a life of its own when one is on the upcoming slate. The presenter has been reading and researching like crazy, quite often an author and/or theme that may not be one she normally reads. The lucky members come home with new insights and another author to add to their ever-expanding reading lists. Horizons expand! With all of us stuck at home this year, our theme of Australia and New Zealand has given us a welcome new literary horizon. Anita selected two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey, whose novels, short stories and non-fiction are summed up by Anita as “quintessentially Australian.”

Janet H

Learn more about Peter Carey from our “resident expert” here!

Westword Article on CWLC

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

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,

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.

Khaled Hosseini – The Refugee Experience

Photo by Umut YILMAN on Unsplash

On October 27 2020, member Elaine Buckman gave a presentation on the works of modern Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini.

For Elaine, Mr. Hosseini makes the refugee immigrant experience personal in his two novels. The ancient and recent history of Afghanistan is one of resistance to foreign conquest. Culturally, Afghanistan has conservative tribal and class distinctions that are a contrast with the values of Western society.

Mr. Hosseini’s father was a diplomat, who emigrated to the United States after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. His family settled into an immigrant community and Mr. Hosseini became a doctor and married a law student who was also in the Afghan immigrant community.

While working as a doctor, Mr. Hosseini wrote his first novel “The Kite Runner”. It is a tale of both Afghanistan and immigrants who have left Afghanistan. The characters struggle to meet traditional family expectations while respecting individual rights in a modern social setting. The novel was met with widespread commercial success and has been made into a movie and a play.

A second novel  “A Thousand Splendid Suns”; a book of short stories “ And Now the Mountains Echo; and a poem “ Sea Prayer” have followed “The Kite Runner”. These works continue the themes of the immigrant experience, grief, class & poverty, and the status of women in Afghan society.



Remembering Kay Coutts

Photo by Seth Betterly on Unsplash

It is always with sorrow that we announce a passing of one of our members. Kay Coutts was an enthusiastic member of the Calgary Women’s Literary Club. From 1989 to 2010, she entertained and educated us with presentations on a wide range of authors including Pearl S. Buck, Susanna Moodie, Sir Winston Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, and Doris Lessing to name a few. She did about fifteen talks in ten years! She continued to join our meetings thereafter. She will be missed.

For more about Kay’s rich life CLICK HERE