Lily (Sharland) Blackhurst




Life and Work

From 1924 to 1940, Lily Blackhurst was camp mother on the Sundre Merry Westerner Girls Club trips to Sylvan Lake. On one of these excursions, a young girl became homesick and was crying, her first night away from home.

Lily noticed her and said, "Come with me, there is just room for you, right here beside me." Lily asked about the girl's pets, her family and friends. Her tears stopped. With her contagious laugh, Lily asked, "Is everything fine now?" It was.

Besides her work with youth, Lily was a member of the Women's Institute and helped younger women learn homemaking arts such as preserving, canning and sewing. More than once, her costume-making skills helped the district's teachers survive the annual school Christmas concert.

Although neither rich nor famous nor a holder of office, Lily's work and laughter touched those who knew her.


I will always remember her laugh - we knew everything was okay when we heard that infectious laugh. She made it possible for the Merry Westerner Girls to have that week at Sylvan Lake and she had a way with young people. We all loved Mrs. Blackhurst and looking back, I don't know how she found the strength to do what she did, with her own family of nine children …

-Lily McGonigal, Sundre resident and former Merry Westerner Girls Club member

Memories of Lily Blackhurst by Grace Peterson

She lived on a farm, and in those early days there were few labour-saving devices. There were no telephones at the time she moved there in 1924, no electricity, and the roads were not even gravelled. The country school was a mile and a half a way from her home, and she had children attending there for many years. For many years, the teachers boarded at her home.

It had become an established custom for each country school to hold a Christmas Concert, and the parents as well as people from the neighbouring districts would all be there on the night of the concert to be entertained, and to visit. They would also be judging the choice of items, the degree of polish, and the costumes. Many a beginning teacher would be quite overwhelmed to know how, when and where to go about these preparations, and would need help. Mrs. Blackhurst would always "come to the rescue" with advice, and with the help of her needle and sewing machine she would fashion costumes for all occasions. She was an invaluable asset to the community in this regard.

The Women's Institute has long been an institution in Canada, and Alberta's West was no exception. When Lily Blackhurst moved to the Rockwood district, she joined the W.I. and remained a member until her passing. The meetings were held in the homes and it provided an opportunity to exchange ideas, catch up on the news, and plan ways to help needy families or those who were ill.

Connected with the Women's Institute was the Girls Club. Mrs Blackhurst was the leader of the Merry Westerners' Girls Club for many years. Each year there was a special outing for them, a summer camp-out. Some years they would travel to Sylvan Lake to hold their camp. It would be partly "fun and games," but there were also learning experiences. Under Mrs. Blackhurst's capable guidance, the girls were taught various crafts, as well as homemaking.

In those earlier days, there were no regular churches. The schoolhouse was often used to hold Sunday services, and there were times when a student minister would come to the district to officiate at these. Under the auspices of the United Church, there were camps sometimes held at the Little Red Deer River, and Mrs Blackhurst would be the one to act as camp cook, as well as being "the den mother" for these. There were always "learning experiences" connected with these. Mrs. Blackhurst was a person dedicated to helping others.

Lily Sharland was born in Somerset, England in 1891, came to Canada with an aunt a year or two ahead of the coming of her parents and the remaining seven children, and married Edward Pimm in 1911, When WWI began, he joined the army, returning home safely, and the family settled on a farm in the Eagle Hill District. Here Edward Pimm was killed in a farm accident, leaving Lily with five children. In 1924 she married Robert Blackhurst, and moved to the west side of the Big Red Deer River. Here four more children were born, She lived out her life here, and passed on in 1971. When she died, she had 44 grandchildren.

Letter of Appreciation by Lillian McGonigal

I feel very privileged after all these years to have this opportunity to say a heart felt "Thank You" to Mrs. Blackhurst for being our supervisor and making it possible for the girls of the Merry Western Girls Club to have a week at Sylvan Lake for several years.

This experience was the highlight of our life, in those days there was very little social interaction with other young people. Beach pajamas were the fashion then, and my mother made all three of us girls quite wonderful outfits, very wide legs - mine was a sailor suit and my sisters was made from chintz drapes.

We all loved Mrs. Blackhurst and were on our best behaviour because we didn't want to cause her any stress. She had a wonderful way with young people, we were expected to mind and obey the rules - but she made everything fun. I will always remember her laugh; we knew everything was OK when we heard that infectious laugh.

Looking back I just don't know how she found the strength to do what she did. She had a large family, and I think these two little boys were probably the youngest and they came along and we loved helping to look after them. We stayed in a big tent down by the beach, and she did all the cooking - there would have been 10 or 12 of us. Some of us got home sick and some got scared at night - but she always reassured us all was well.

Thanks again Mrs. Blackhurst.