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Q & A: Plenty of centenary activities in the works

January 12, 2016 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: The Alberta Teachers’ Association is approaching its centenary. Are there plans to celebrate?

Answer: Yes, the Association will soon be 100 years old. In fact, it will reach the centennial mark regularly over the next two years. In April 1916, the Alberta Education Association (AEA) passed a resolution directing its president, school inspector George Gorman, to take steps toward the formation of a provincial teachers’ organization. Absolutely nothing was done by Gorman to move in this direction.

The AEA, which consisted of classroom teachers, as well as school inspectors, professors, Department of Education staff members, clergymen, school trustees and even MLAs and cabinet ministers, was not really inclined to be helpful to classroom teachers. Why should they be on their own, anyway?

In 1917, Gorman had no report on the steps he had taken, so the teachers planned their strategy more carefully. With the business of the AEA all wrapped up except for the closing speaker, George D Misener, an Edmonton principal, took the floor of the meeting and quickly introduced three resolutions.

First, Misener proposed the establishment of a provisional teachers’ organization. Second, Misener and Calgary teacher C. E. Leppard were offered as acting president and vice-president of the organization, with authorization to choose a general secretary-treasurer. Third, a sum of money sufficient to cover the initial expenses of the organization was requested from the AEA’s treasury. The educational establishment was horrified, but the teacher members of the AEA were the vast majority of the voting participants at the 1917 convention, and quickly passed the resolutions. Misener and Leppard were also given the task of drafting a constitution for the teachers’ organization.

They chose John W. Barnett, a teacher at Strathcona High School in Edmonton, to serve as secretary-treasurer. Barnett, who had extensive involvement in the British National Union of Teachers, knew a lot about teachers’ organizations and prepared plans. The first annual general meeting of the Alberta Teachers’ Alliance was held in First Presbyterian Church in Edmonton on April 2, 1918.

With the constitution established, the Alliance was formally incorporated on June 24, 1918. From the outset, the Alliance sought to professionalize teaching, to obtain official recognition as the voice of the teaching profession and to improve the economic and professional conditions of teachers.

The 2016 Annual Representative Assembly, to be held just over 100 years after that fateful effort to establish a provincial teachers’ organization, will consider a series of initiatives to celebrate our organization’s centenary. Activities will be scheduled in 2017 and 2018, especially between the ATA’s 100th Annual Representative Assembly in May 2017 and the actual centenary, on June 24, 2018. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (


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