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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 44 continued: Claresholm

We had no plans of stopping at Claresholm - a town that straddles highway 2 and that, at first glance, resembles all those other small dusty towns dotted around Southwest Alberta. No, the plan was to drive straight on through it and find a perch for the night in a lakeside provincial park to the north west of there.

But then we saw the little white one roomed school house to the right...And a huge old style country and western store to the left...And there was just something about this town - a seeming attention to small details, just that hint of pizzazz - that made us stop. We backtracked - no easy feat with Carmella in tow - and made our way to Centennial Park Campground which sits within a stone's throw of the town's baseball diamond. It was a great little campground. With the day still young, we headed back to the attractions that had lured us into the town in the first place.

We never made it to the country and western store. That little school house and the excellent museum next door were just too darned fabulous to move on from. A marvelous tribute to the role played by women in the pioneering days of the great old west, the museum - housed in the former Claresholm railway station - re-created with integrity and flair the lives of war brides who ended up moving to the area, of WAAF trainees who arrived in large numbers during WWII, of farming women who worked impossibly long hours in a rural "double bind", of local telephone operators who played their part in "weaving" this vast country together, of female milliners and shopkeepers and hairdressers and homemakers and teachers and nurses...We were thrilled by the focus of the Claresholm museum.

Showing us around were the knowledgable and enthusiastic Trisha and Anola. When we expressed our excitement at the emphasis on women's history in the museum, we were led to another building where a number of 'famous' individual women were featured.

You can imagine our pleasure on discovering that Louise Crummy McKinney (1868-1931) who was a member of the 'Famous Five' alongside one of our wwp philosophy club 'rebels', suffragist Nellie McClung, had been a longtime resident of Claresholm. Trisha gave us the full rundown on how McKinney had not only played a key role in the 'Person's Case' wherein the Famous Five succeeded in changing the British North America Act to recognize that women were 'persons' back in 1929; McKinney was also the first woman in the British Empire to sit in a legislative body - Alberta's provincial parliament - just after women in that province had won the vote.

We were also delighted to learn about local celebrity Jean Hoare who ran 'The Flying N' restaurant for years and years at the local airstrip - people flew in just to eat there, so renowned was her cooking - and about nurse Anna Mae (Bell) Purcell who was instrumental in getting an X-ray facility set up at the local hospital and moreover, went all the way to New Brunswick to get training in said technology at her own expense - and this back in the 1930s. As we have always maintained as we run salons and courses and weekend getaways with wine women and philosophy participants, women have always been there doing amazing things...We just don't hear enough about them in the normal course of life, or travel!

We are grateful to Anola for lassoing us in when we felt we couldn't 'do' another museum, and to Trisha for taking us on such a great tour through the museum. A good meal at Duala's across the road and some Olympic coverage on the big big big screen on the wall brought the day to a perfect close. Refreshed and faith restored after our brief sejour in Claresholm, we felt ready to hit The Cowboy Trail bright and early the next morning.