Perennials and Politics by Barbara Villy Cormack

In Alix, Alberta on November 30, 2016 at 11:16 AM

Perennials and Politics by Barbara Villy Cormack, Sherwood Park: Professional Printing, 1969, 160 pp. $20 softbound.

Barbara Villy Cormack was born in England, and came to Canada in 1914 with her parents and sister.  She attended school in Calgary and graduated from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. She married Eric Cormack, and they had three sons.  As well as farming in the Alix area, she wrote novels, poetry, nonfiction, and was a newspaper reporter.  She and her husband  received the Order of Canada and honourary doctorates from the University of Alberta for their work in establishing education for the handicapped.

Irene Parlby nee Marryat, was born in 1868 in England, the eldest child of Elizabeth Lynch and Colonel E. L. Marryat.  She lived in England and in India, where her family was acquainted with the Byng-Hall family. Alix Byng-Hall married Charles Westhead, and they had gone to ranch in the Buffalo Lake District of the Northwest Territories in Canada.  In 1897, Irene went to pay them a visit. There she met Walter Parlby, a neighbouring rancher, and they were married in 1898.

Perennials and Politics is mostly about Irene’s life as a pioneer Albertan.  Although she is best remembered for her role in the “Persons Case” as one of the “Famous Five”, Irene participated in several other important historical events, including the rise of the U.F.A. government in Alberta, where she served as a Cabinet Minister, and  being Canada’s delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva.  Her husband and their son, Humphrey, were staunch supporters of her work.

Those years saw many changes in government as the western provinces gained more population very rapidly, and their relationship with the federal government evolved rapidly.  Irene worked on establishing health and education services. She saw many events, including some that remain controversial to this day such as the Brownlee Seduction Case and the passage of the Sexual Sterilization Act for Mental Defectives.

Irene worked very hard and did a good deal of travelling in her government work, and her health suffered.  She retired from politics in 1935, to Alix.

Irene was not only a politician; she enjoyed drama, music, and community activities to which she contributed time and effort.  She was one of the organizing founders of the library at Alix, among many worthwhile endeavours.   She was also a keen gardener, and experimented with the growing of many plants in the Alberta climate, contributing articles to gardening publications.

Barbara Cormack has shown Irene’s life and the changes in her surroundings and in the world at large.  Barbara was a personal friend, neighbour and admirer of Irene, and has shared many insights, and even some photographs. Barbara’s twenty-five years of farming in the Alix gave her a real understanding of Irene’s life and context, which makes the book enlightening from several angles.

This book is available at Alix Wagon Wheel Museum.

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