The beautiful spring weather this past weekend encouraged us to get to know our neighbourhood better, just in time for our annual Feminist Jane’s Walk. This year’s walk was bigger than ever! We were joined by over 40 people, and spent a sunny afternoon exploring the neighbourhoods of Bridgeland, East Village and Calgary’s downtown core.
Every year, we recruit volunteers from our community to plan and lead our walk. They never cease to amaze us with interesting facts and landmarks in our city. We began at the Women’s Centre, where our volunteer Nicole shared the story of Jane Jacobs, the woman behind the Jane’s Walk movement. From there, we journeyed into Bridgeland where we visited the old Women’s Centre space, and talked about the importance of considering women when planning cities in front of the Bridgeland vacant lot gardens.
Reconciliation Bridge – a new chapter
After exploring the streets of Bridgeland, we made our way downtown, to the newly re-named Reconciliation Bridge. Our volunteer, Blaire, shared the story of how the name change was first recommended in response to a public outcry in 2015 against the bridge’s namesake, Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, who was one of the architects of Canada’s residential school system. Blaire told us about the White Goose Flying Report, a call to action for City of Calgary Council in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This past January, Council voted unanimously to rename the bridge to the Reconciliation Bridge. Blaire also highlighted some of the work for change that has been carried out by Indigenous women in Canada, including Daisy Crowchild, Sylvia McAdam, and Josie Nepinak. After Blaire’s presentation, Chantal Changnon performed a healing ceremony and smudge at the bridge, to mark a new chapter in the symbolism of this landmark.
The Cecil Hotel – a space for lesbian women in Calgary
A new stop on this year’s walk was where Cecil Hotel once stood but isnow an unassuming parking lot.
Our volunteer Dana shared some history about the Cecil. Built in 1912, it was described as a “working man’s hotel,” and was originally intended to house travelers and workers in the east end of Calgary. Dana detailed how throughout the years the Cecil would go on to be a stable, a blacksmith shop, a grocery store, a cafe, a tavern and eventually would become a community hub for lesbian women.
This hotel took on an important role for the lesbian community by becoming a central gathering place and “an underground haven for the lesbian community to convene and celebrate”. This was a time when there weren’t many public places where lesbian women could gather safely together. Until 1969, it was criminal under federal law to be gay in Canada. Even after 1969, it was still not particularly easy or safe to be an out lesbian in Canada or in Calgary, and the Cecil is remembered by many living in Calgary during that time as a space for lesbian women to connect and build community with one another.
The Wheel of Women – remembering Vera Russell
In past years we have ended our Jane’s Walks at the Famous Five Statues near Olympic Plaza. This year, we decided to try something different. After stopping at the Famous Five, we made our way to the East Village to visit the Wheel of Women. The Wheel of Women is a wheel etched into the pavement near the river walk in East Village, and contains the names of 30 women who were chosen for their contributions to making Calgary the city it is today. Our volunteer Teri told us about the life of one of these incredible women – Vera Russell, Calgary’s first female police officer.
We wished we had more time to share Calgary’s herstories but, we ended our walk by sharing other ways to learn about women’s issues at the Women’s Centre. You can join us for our Social Issues Discussions on the first Wednesday of every month, or for our Women and Environment Issues Discussions on the third Wednesday of every month. If you missed our walk but are interested in learning more about women’s issues in Calgary, please attend these events! Our next Walking Tour to explore Calgary’s herstory will take place late in the summer of 2017 – stay tuned for more details and thank you to all our volunteers and to everyone who joined us!