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As I mentioned in my August 21st post, one of the main subjects that I am focusing on for my installation in the Archived Land : Terrain Archivé group exhibit is early Edmontonian, and one of my heroes, Gladys Reeves. As Edmonton’s Historian Laureate, one of my objectives is to shed light on some of Edmonton’s lesser known stories, and Gladys Reeves’s legacy is one that deserves recognition.

Detail of “Back to the Garden” painting by Marlena Wyman – encaustic, image transfer and oil stick

“Back to the garden” might well be a motto put into action by employed and unemployed alike; it costs little for seed, and the energy & time will be amply repaid by the fresh vegetables with which to help out our larder, & a few 10 cent packets of flower seed will brighten many a lot & cheer us up if we feel depressed.           

Excerpt from Gladys Reeves’s notes for her “Clean up, Paint up, Plant up” campaign, Edmonton, [1930]. Provincial Archives of Alberta #1974.0173.60. Photo of Gladys Reeves #1974.173.610, Provincial Archives of Alberta (photographer unidentified).

Gladys Reeves was an important figure in many sectors of Edmonton’s history. She is perhaps best known for being the one of the first women to own a photography studio west of Winnipeg. However, one of Gladys Reeves’s most significant contributions to Edmonton was her tireless advocacy for the beautification of our city and the preservation of the natural beauty of its ravines and river valley.

Page from the Edmonton Horticultural and Vacant Lots Garden Association Prize List brochure, 1924. City of Edmonton Archives #MS 89, Class 4, Subclass 3, File 4

In 1924 Gladys became the first woman to hold the position of President of the Edmonton Horticultural and Vacant Lots Garden Association.

Edmonton Horticultural and Vacant Lots Garden Association, [1924], Gladys Reeves, President, centre front. Provincial Archives of Alberta #B7334 Photographer: Ernest Brown 

Gladys was instrumental in the formation of the Edmonton Tree Planting Committee in [1923], responsible for planting by hand thousands of trees along Edmonton’s boulevards, in parks and on school grounds. Many of the mature trees that line our streets today are thanks to Gladys and her Committee’s efforts.

Re: the tree planting, I think I can say with truth that it was conceived in my studio when a Nursery representative called to ask me if the Horticultural Society would sponsor a peony planting campaign. I told him peonies were too much of a luxury…After further conversation the idea of a Tree Planting Campaign was formed.

Letter from Gladys Reeves to John Blue, Secretary of the Edmonton Board of Trade, February 20, 1925. Provincial Archives of Alberta #PR1974.0173.45a

Since 1924, the Tree Planting Committee have planted over 12,000 native trees on streets of Edmonton & Public Places such as Churches, Institutions, & Schools…Ash seed was taken from the streets of Edmonton, & Elm seed from the streets of Winnipeg & we now have a good stock of trees ready for planting out.

Notes by Gladys Reeves, n.d. Provincial Archives of Alberta #PR1974.0173.45a

Detail of “I Love Trees” painting by Marlena Wyman – encaustic, image transfer and oil stick

I love trees, I love beautiful home surroundings, & I want the visitors to our City to take home with them the impression that the People of Edmonton must love their City or they would not have taken the trouble to make it lovely.                     

Excerpt from notes for a speech by Gladys Reeves [1925], Provincial Archives of Alberta #PR1974.0173.39a. Photo of Gladys Reeves [1925], Provincial Archives of Alberta #B7351. Photographer: Ernest Brown

Gladys gave speeches and wrote letters to newspapers and City Council to champion and defend Edmonton’s ravines and river valley. She campaigned to restore and preserve these City treasures, which were being used for garbage dumps and other development that affected the beauty and environment of green spaces.

She encouraged her fellow citizens to participate in clean-up campaigns and avidly furthered the work of earlier citizen programs to plant gardens in vacant lots. These became relief gardens during the Depression, and Victory Gardens during the Second World War. The legacy of these gardens are seen in our community gardens and the Edmonton in Bloom initiatives of today.

City of Edmonton Archives #MS 89, Class 4, Subclass 3, File 1

In her archives, Gladys Reeves refers to making Edmonton a City Beautiful. The City Beautiful Movement was an early urban planning concept that first emerged from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and was popular in Canada until 1930. It emphasized city livability, planned green spaces, and historic architecture to counteract unsightly industry, pollution and congestion that had become the face of urban living.

It promoted the planned creation of civic beauty through architectural harmony, unified design and visual variety…the amateur side of the movement was lively and active on the local scene. It was sustained by concerned citizens working through horticultural societies, newly formed civic improvement associations and even boards of trade. These smaller groups often effected greater change than the professionals, bringing to pass flower boxes on Main Street, street tree plantings, landscaping of public buildings, railway station gardens, allotment gardens and park creation.        The Canadian Encyclopedia – City Beautiful Movement

Gladys Reeves fonds, Provincial Archives of Alberta #PR1974.173.44

During the early years, the City saw the value of these citizens’ efforts, and supported the Horticultural and Vacant Lots Garden Association and the Tree Planting Committee in various ways such as financial and administrative assistance, the provision of City trucks for tree planting, and office space in City Hall. Unfortunately, not all later City Councils and management were as sympathetic, and Gladys was heartbroken in the 1940s when the City removed and severely cut back many of the boulevard trees that she and her committee has so lovingly planted.

Gladys Reeves died in Edmonton on April 26, 1974 at the age of 83, but much of her legacy of green remains.

Detail of “Gladys as River Valley Warrior” painting by Marlena Wyman – encaustic, image transfer and oil stick

Those of us who have lived among Edmonton’s ravines and river banks enough to know and love them, to have drunk in the beauty of the bursting leaf buds in the Spring; the restful swath of green in the Summer; the riot of color during our Autumn days & the magic of Jack Frost’s artistry on a hoar frosty morning in winter…wonder if the real beauty is better viewed from the top road, rather than by cutting a gash right through the centre of these lines of beauty…                      

Excerpt from Gladys Reeves’s letter to the Editor of the Edmonton Journal protesting road development in the river valley, [1930]. Provincial Archives of Alberta #1974.0173.33. Photo of Gladys Reeves #1974.173.603, Provincial Archives of Alberta. Photographer unidentified.

Archived Land : Terrain Archivé

Jackson Power Gallery, 2nd fl, 9744 60 Ave, Edmonton, AB

Opening reception 7pm, September 14, 2018

Exhibit hours: Noon to 5pm, Saturdays and Sundays, September 15 to 29

Or by appointment: 780-499-7635

Background information from the Provincial Archives of Alberta: Gladys Reeves fonds #PR1974.0173, the City of Edmonton Archives: Office of City Commissioners fonds #RG11 and Edmonton Horticultural Society fonds #MS-89, and Kathryn Chase Merrett’s book “Why Grow Here: Essays on Edmonton’s Gardening History”.

I would like to thank the Edmonton Historical Board and the Edmonton Heritage Council for their support.

I acknowledge that we are on Treaty 6 territory. I acknowledge all of the many First Nations and Métis whose footsteps have marked these lands for centuries

Posted by Marlena Wyman