As Calgary’s Poet Laureate (2014-2016) one of my projects was initiating a plan whereby the city would name alleys and streets after deceased Calgarian authors — a means of remembering how writers have helped us understand who we were, who we are, and who we can become.

It was my plan to have this be an ongoing program honouring authors through-out Calgary’s history. While the program was not meant to be, one name was supported by City Hall: Nellie McClung.

Calgary is a city populated with award-winning novelists and poets with international reputations. Writing from Calgary has changed the face of Canadian literature. The citizens of Calgary tend to be unaware of our rich literary past — of the writers who have walked our pathways and lived in our neighbourhoods. With their passing, they fall out of our collective imaginations and back on to our shelves. Their books become silent footnotes to the communities that they helped build, reflect, document and enrich. A city’s literature makes tangible our citizens’ thoughts and concerns, our triumphs and our shame, our small personal reflections and our larger civic discourses. I learn of Calgary and its growth through its literature, through its authors and poets.

McClung is renowned for being a member of the CBC’s first Board of Governors, a delegate to the League of Nations, a renowned public lecturer, women’s rights advocate and a member of the “Famous Five” as advocate for women’s suffrage in the 1928–29 “Persons Case.” McClung’s legacy is not without controversy, as she was also a supporter of Eugenics and forced sterilization. McClung’s legacy is a complicated one, just as any city’s history is fraught with tragedy. As McClung once said, “Why are pencils equipped with erasers if not to correct mistakes?”

In addition to McClung’s well-known efforts – and mixed political legacy – as a social activist, suffragette and politician, she was also on the 1st Board of Governors for the CBC. McClung moved to Calgary in 1923; her home on 15th Avenue SW is a National Historic site (and the current home of the Columbian Consulate) and was recently re-created at Heritage Park.

She is also the little-remembered author of best-selling volumes of fiction and non-fiction that reflected life in Canada’s prairies and the small communities from which so many of our citizens were raised. Her editions included 9 volumes of fiction (Sowing Seeds in Danny (1908); The Second Chance (1910); The Black Creek Stopping House: And Other Stories (1912); Purple Springs. (1922); When Christmas Crossed ‘The Peace’ (1923); Painted Fires (1925, 2014); All We Like Sheep (1926); Be Good to Yourself: A Book of Short Stories (1930) and Flowers for the Living (1931)) and 8 volumes of non-fiction (In Times Like These (1915); The Next of Kin (1917); Three Times and Out: A Canadian Boy’s Experience in Germany (1918); Clearing in the West: My Own Story (1935); Leaves from Lantern Lane (1936); Before They Call … (1937); More Leaves from Lantern Lane (1937); The Stream Runs Fast (1945)). In many ways McClung’s publishing of national best-sellers gave her the social profile to run for public office. McClung died in 1951 in Victoria, B.C.

Nellie McClung Avenue is the only street in Calgary named after an author.

(photo by Shaun Hunter)

mcclung ave

 

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