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Notes from the Past: Our Hidden History

The new millennium has led to changes in the way the WMC communicates with its audience and supporters. We now have a website and a presence on social media, making the WMC accessible to a much broader audience.

A few months ago, we received an email from Ontario which read, “I found this old newspaper article from January 1906 in a frame from a painting I found at a reuse store. It’s in bad condition but I thought that you might be interested in it.” The page fragment from “The Globe” newspaper was clearly titled “The Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg” and contained a large photograph of an elegant, but simply dressed woman. Unfortunately, the lower part of the page with a name was missing and water damage made it difficult to read much of the article.

The establishment of the WMC of Winnipeg in 1894 predated that of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto by four years, and we have wondered whether there might be a direct connection between these early musical groups. We knew that two of the founding members of the WMC of Winnipeg, Mrs. A. Kirkland and Mrs. L. A. Hamilton, had moved to Toronto but we didn’t know if they had joined the Toronto club. Clearly it was important to find the entire article and, given that we knew the newspaper and the exact date, this should have been easy. A search through the digital newspaper archives at the University of Manitoba and The Toronto Public Library found that everything except that page had been digitalized! The Toronto Public Library offered to investigate its microfilm newspaper holdings and found the page, but it was illegible! Finally, a search of their Special Collections Archive, containing the original newspapers, produced a readable copy.

The woman in the photograph is identified as Mrs. W. Sanford Evans (nee Irene Gurney), a founding member of the WMC of Toronto, and the President of the WMC of Winnipeg at the time of the article. She is described as being a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, and one of Winnipeg’s “foremost pianists …. of most artistic temperament”. The article also confirms that Mrs. Kirkland and Mrs. Hamilton had become members of the Toronto club after leaving Winnipeg, thus establishing that there was a direct connection between our two clubs.

The unidentified author of the article presents a comprehensive history of the WMC as it was in 1906, naming its officers and describing its first aim as “the development of the home player who might otherwise never have an opportunity to measure her abilities with those of others”. Several local musicians are noted by name, and the club’s role in bringing professional musicians to the city is highlighted, noting that they were “men whose reputation has been made in metropolitan circles”.

The writer also gives an insight into how 1906 Winnipeg was viewed from the outside. “Winnipeg is popularly supposed to be devoted entirely to the spirit of commercialism, but while the talk of the street may be all of the market-place and money-getting, there is another aspect of the soul of the city that finds expression in the appreciation of music. Music washes away the dust of everyday life it has been said, and nowhere perhaps is its cleansing more needed than in the young city of the west.” Winnipeg was to be redeemed by music and the WMC was playing its part!

The WMC is now the proud possessor of this fragment of our history - thanks to the generosity of the finder who tracked us down through our website.

Mary Lynn Duckworth, WMC Chair of Archives

February 2023

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