Remembering Ethel Taylor’s local legacy

Michael Dawe

Michael Dawe

The evening of Oct. 18, 1961 marked a very important milestone in our community’s history. It was on that night, 50 years ago, that Ethel Taylor became the first woman to be elected to Red Deer City Council.

It is also noteworthy that the 50th anniversary of this important political advance is occurring in the same month that Alberta got its first woman premier, Alison Redford.

Red Deer actually has a long progressive tradition in local politics. In 1901, when Red Deer was incorporated as a town, unmarried women and widows, who owned property were given the right to vote.

In 1913, when Red Deer became a city, the franchise was extended to all women property owners, regardless of their marital status.

In 1921, Laura Irish became the first woman to run locally for public office. She lost her bid to become a public school trustee by only 10 votes.

Five years later, Edith McCreight became the first woman to be elected in Red Deer when she won a seat on the public school board.

Mrs. Isabel Smith, with the backing of the local Home and School Association, was elected to the public school board in 1946 and remained on the board until 1953. In October 1955, Margaret Parsons was elected to the public school board and became the first woman chair of the board in October 1959.

A big boost to women’s involvement in local politics came with the formation of the Red Deer Local Council of Women in the late 1950s.

In the 1961 municipal election, three women connected to the L.C.W. decided to run for public office. Kathleen deLaunay, the L.C.W. president ran for the hospital board. Mary Martin, a long time City resident, decided to run for City council.

The third candidate was Ethel Taylor. A native of Gwelo, Zimbabwe, but raised in southern Alberta, she had moved to Red Deer with her husband Hugh and family in 1940.

Ethel Taylor was incredibly active in the community. She was a founding member of the Red Deer Women’s Institute. She became a leader for Canadian Girls In Training (C.G.I.T.) and became active with the local Home and School Association.

She helped to found the Quota Club, Red Deer Local Council of Women and the Red Deer Allied Arts Council. She became active with the Alberta Drama League.

Other community groups with which she was very active were the Red Deer Hospital Auxiliary, the Red Deer Kindergarten Society, the Red Deer Film Society, the Red Deer Craft Centre, the Indian Association of Alberta and the Alberta Council on Aging.

She became a stalwart member of the C.C.F./N.D.P. and ran for the party four times.

Ethel Taylor did very well in the 1961 municipal election. She garnered 2,240 votes and finished sixth out of the field of 17 candidates. Mary Martin also did well, but finished below the eighth spot required to get elected.

Other women did well on election night.

Margaret Parsons cruised to an easy re-election on the school board, while Pat Rouselle, a local teacher won her first term on the Red Deer Catholic School Board. Unfortunately, Kathleen deLaunay was edged out in her bid for the hospital board.

After her election to City council, Ethel Taylor became even more active. She helped to found the Social Welfare Committee, Social Planning Council, Family Service Bureau and Red Deer Social Services Board. She became a member of the Red Deer Public Library Board, Twilight Homes Foundation, Parks Board, Recreation Board, Red Deer Exhibition Board, Red Deer Health Unit, Red Deer Archives Committee, G.H. Dawe Community Centre Management Board, Golden Circle and Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary Committee.

In 1977, Ethel Taylor was named Red Deer’s Citizen of the Year.

In 1982, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Alberta. In 1979, when a third bridge was built across the Red Deer River, it and the connecting roadway were named in her honour.

In 1991, when the arterial road was built south along the old CPR right-of-way, it became part of Taylor Drive, thereby making it the major north/south continuous roadway on the west side of the City.

Ethel Taylor passed away in Calgary on May 24, 1989. At the time of her passing, she was survived by her three children, Laughlin, Ron and Mary Kay, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.