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.
THE CALGARY WOMEN’S LITERARY CLUB
A book club with a difference (then and now)
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.