Alix road renamed for Famous Five’s Irene Parlby

An image of Irene Parlby amongst others at the UFA Members Elect at the Alberta Legislature circa July, 1921. ECA Review/T.Huxley
Written by Submitted

Grandson Geoff Parlby smiles while looking at photos of
Irene, his late grandmother, a famous five member and others
in the famous five group in his home at Dunmoor Ranch north
of Alix on Mon. Oct. 14. ECA Review/T.Huxley

Many Canadians are aware of the Famous Five, a collection of five Albertan women in the early 20th century who gave a voice for women, beginning the time of women’s suffrage nationwide.

Dr. Irene Parlby of Alix was among them.

Alix Council, at their meeting on Wed. Oct. 2. felt that renaming a nameless connector road to Parlby Way was a perfect nod to recognizing this powerful woman’s contributions to modern society.

“I feel it’s a great way to recognize a lady who was instrumental in promoting women’s rights in local, provincial, and federal politics at a time when women weren’t viewed favourably in the political arena,” said Alix Mayor Rob Fehr.

“She was very passionate about fairness and health care in her community as well as across Canada.

“Having a street named after her may seem insignificant to some, but to many, this is another way to keep her memory alive and remind people of the great work she did as a local resident and parliamentarian.”

This road connects Highway 601 to Pacific (44) Avenue which is located on the southeast edge of the village boundary.

Ninetieth anniversary

In conjunction with the new street name, Alberta recently celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Persons Case, the very case that the Famous Five made a reality in 1929 by posing the question ‘Does the word person in Section 24 of the British North American Act include female persons?’.

This took place on Fri. Oct. 18.

A ‘pink tea’ was held at the Alix Community Hall to celebrate the Famous Five on Sat. Oct. 26.

A group from Calgary called “The Valiant Five Story Tellers of Calgary” enacted each famous Albertan woman brilliantly.

Relative Geoff Parlby was humbled by the idea of the street naming and tea as the late Parlby was his grandmother.

Geoff, his sister Susan Hilton and brother Jerry have fond memories of her mentioning her love for gardening, reading and writing, family and the home at Dartmoor Ranch along Parlby Lake.

“She was great,” said Hilton. “She taught me how to read before I even went to school.”

Parlby’s descendants, including her three grandchildren, still reside in or near the village at the homestead.

Looking back

Irene Parlby (nee Marryat) was born on Jan. 9, 1868 in England.

Her upbringing included time in India before returning to England.

A description of the Canadian promised land from a friend piqued her interest, having her decide as a young woman to travel overseas with the friend and her husband.

“Their trip was long and adventurous. They were met in Lacombe by Mr. Westhead. Jim Gadsby, once a member of the Jesse James gang, drove the mules and democrat they were to travel in.

“June rains had made the trails in flood, and a bridge was washed out so they had to forge the creek, letting the mules find their way.”

When she arrived, she came to the Alix area to visit friend Alice Westhead.

“Darkness had approached when they arrived at the Westhead Ranch. They had a warm welcome, a cheery fire and a lovely meal, then went to bed.

“Next morning, Irene looked out her window to the green flats stretching out in the distance, and the silver creek flowing through the valley to its outlet at Buffalo Lake. She had fallen in love with the country she was visiting.”

This was where she met and married pioneer farmer/rancher Walter Parlby in 1897. Walter came from England as well but arrived a full 15 years before Irene stepped foot on Canadian soil.

He had a high education from Oxford University.

They had one son, Humphrey, born on Nov. 21, 1899.

An image of Irene Parlby amongst others at the UFA Members Elect at the Alberta Legislature circa July 1921. ECA Review/T.Huxley

An early supporter of the United Farmers of Alberta, Irene helped form the first women’s local in 1913.

She was elected president of the Women’s Auxiliary in 1916, transforming it into the United Farm Women of Alberta.

Hon. Irene Parlby, MLA who was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921 and represented the Lacombe Constituency for 14 years.

Irene successfully sponsored the Minimum Wage for Women Act in 1925.

She spent her life supporting initiatives to improve the lives of women and children, especially through the ‘Persons Case’ as one of the ‘Famous Five’ who were successful in getting women recognized as ‘persons’ who could be named to the Senate.

The signing of this particular bill took place in October 1929, officially allowing women to be eligible for appointment to the Senate.

She was elected Minister Without Portfolio, the first woman Cabinet Minister in Alberta history.

She represented Canada at the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 1930 and was the first woman awarded an Honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta (1935).

After her time in politics, Irene had retired to write and tend to her garden, often presiding over tea at her home which she was prided over.

A ‘pink tea’ was held at the Alix Community Hall on Sat. Oct. 26 to celebrate the contributions of the Famous Five to modern Canadian society. The Valiant Five Story Tellers of Calgary enacted each famous Albertan woman brilliantly including from the left: Betty Hersberger as Henrietta Muir Edwards, Donna Barnfield as Nellie McClung, Doreen Vanderstoop as Emily Ferguson Murphy, Karen Gummo as Irene Parlby and Mary Hays as Louise McKinney. ECA Review/T.Huxley

This special lady who was a founding member of the community died at the age of 97 in 1965 and is buried in the Alix Cemetery.

There is a monument in her honour at Centennial Park at the Alix Lake.

This time last year, the Alix Wagon Wheel Museum hosted a “High Tea” to commemorate the 150th year since Parlby’s birth, after a summer of featuring her exhibit at the museum.


Information received from a variety of sources including the Parlby Family, president Donna Peterson of the Alix Wagon Wheel Museum, Pioneers and Progress and Perennials and Politics written by Barbara Villy Cormack.


Terri Huxley

ECA Review

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