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From the Archives

March 13, 2018 Maggie Shane, ATA Archivist
Photos courtesy of ATA ARCHIVES
Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history as well as interesting artifacts or documents from the Association’s archives.


John W. Chalmers’s book Teachers of the Foothills Province: The Story of The Alberta Teachers’ Association was unveiled at the Annual Representative Assembly in 1968. The work was the culmination of a three-year, $30,000 Canada Centennial Project dedicated to the memory of the ATA’s first general secretary-treasurer, John Walker Barnett, and was published to commemorate the Association’s 50th anniversary.

ATA staff contributed to the project by means of a liaison committee that included assistant executive secretary Fred Seymour and ATA News editor Tom McConaghy. Sadly, Seymour did not live to see the work completed. He died suddenly and far too soon in February 1968, a mere month before Teachers of the Foothills Province was published.

The work reads like the offspring of history and poetry. Author John W. (Jack) Chalmers’s work is historically comprehensive but reads more like a novel than a historical overview. Chapter titles include “Necessity Most Imperious,” “A Home of Fairest Mould” and “The Flowering of the Sixties.” Dedicated to the memory of John Barnett, the work also includes a “postlude” penned by former colleague and University of Alberta chancellor George McNally.

Chalmers was a renowned educator and a gifted writer and editor. His contributions extended to poetry, articles and many books. He arrived in Alberta from Manitoba in 1931 at the onset of the Great Depression and took up positions as a classroom teacher and principal. His work as director of the Correspondence School Branch in Edmonton was interrupted by wartime service as a navigation instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Post war, Chalmers earned a doctor of education degree from Stanford University and was a professor at the University of Alberta and Concordia College. The embodiment of “life-long learning,” Chalmers earned his third master’s degree from the U of A in 1990 at the age of 80. His epitaph, appropriately from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, reads “Gladly would he learn and gladly teach.”

It has been 50 years since Teachers of the Foothills Province and 20 years since Chalmers’s death. He left the Association with a superb history of its first half-century. Today, we remember his accomplishments at the close of our first century. ❚

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