Sunday, March 8th, marks International Women’s Day. It is a global celebration of respect and admiration of women, whose many accomplishments in economics, science, history, politics, social advancement, family welfare and community development, are all too often overlooked.
One of the most prominent early community leaders and activists in Red Deer was Edith Pennington Ellis McCreight.
She took an avid interest in municipal and educational affairs. She was the first woman to hold public office in Red Deer, when she was elected as a Public School Board trustee in 1926.
Edith Pennington was born in Ulverston, Lancashire, England, in 1869, the daughter of Harry and Emily Threlfall Pennington. In 1889, Edith moved with her parents to the Penhold area, where her brother William had taken out a homestead the year before.
The Penningtons established a stopping house, a type of rudimentary frontier hotel, along the old Calgary-Edmonton Trail. In November 1891, Harry Pennington bought the tiny Queen’s Hotel, which fronted the newly-constructed Calgary-Edmonton Railway in the fledgling hamlet of Red Deer.
Meanwhile, on March 15, 1892, Edith married Thomas Ellis, a member of the North West Mounted Police, who had served as a constable and cook at Fort Normandeau.
Tragically, Harry Pennington passed away on Jan. 28th, 1893. The Ellis’s continued to own the hotel, but turned it over to a manager. They then moved to the Red Deer Indian Industrial School, where Tom had secured a position as vice-principal. While the Ellis’s were living at the school, their only child, Harry Pennington Ellis, was born.
In the spring of 1899, Tom decided to tear down the old Queen’s Hotel and replace it with the Arlington Hotel. Once the Ellis’s were able to acquire a liquor license in 1900, they decided to assume the active management of the hotel themselves.
The Ellis’s were very good businesspeople. In 1904, they were able to build an addition. In April 1906, they hosted a grand banquet for the Lieutenant Governor, Premier and all the MLAs, as part of a grand bid to make Red Deer the capital city of Alberta.
In 1907, the Ellis’s began the construction of an enormous brick house on the corner of 55 Street and 46 Avenue.
Tragically, Tom suffered a severe stroke while the house was being built. He passed away in July 1909. In 1910, Edith married Dr. James McCreight, a veterinarian. However, she continued to run the hotel herself.
In 1912, another large addition was built onto the Arlington as the business continued to flourish. However, the imposition of Prohibition in 1915 was a huge blow, as the bar was a major source of the hotel’s income.
In 1915, Harry enlisted with the 89 Battalion and saw service in the trenches of the Western Front. Edith became very active in the groups supporting the war effort. She later became the president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Great War Veterans’ Association
Edith was also active in many other groups such as the St. Luke’s Anglican Church W.A. and the local Order of the Royal Purple. She maintained a large floral and vegetable garden around her home, which made the residence look even more outstanding.
Meanwhile, Edith became an active participant in the annual ratepayers’ meetings. She was noted for her tough questions to ensure that the City was spending tax money as efficiently as possible. In 1926, Edith successfully ran for the Public School Board, thereby becoming the first woman to hold elected office in Red Deer.
However, she only served for one term.
In 1932, Edith began to suffer from poor health. She passed away from a heart attack on Oct. 26th, 1933. A tribute written in the local newspaper stated that, “This community is richer from her residence here and poorer from her passing.”