Martha (Wilson) Grant
Life and Work
Martha Imrie Wilson was born in Parry Sound, Ontario on April 6, 1889. She was the eldest of eight children. Her mother and father worked hard and accomplished a great deal with the few resources they possessed. Her father built a two-story home with timber cut from their bush. Her mother used every scrap of cloth to make clothes, quilts, mats, etc. for the family.
Martha worked for her room and board while attending high school and then got a permit to teach school when she was eighteen years old. She taught for two years in Ontario and then learned of the much higher wages they received in Alberta. She applied for a teaching position and in 1911 accepted a position with Rosebrier School.
As Martha only had a teaching permit, the next few years were spent upgrading her education in both Edmonton and Camrose. By taking summer classes, a term here and there, she was able to obtain her teaching certificate. She taught school in Lougheed, Sedgewick, Donalda, Millet, Battle River, and Angus Ridge. Being a thrifty person, she was able to save money. With some of her savings, Martha purchased land in Red Deer in 1913 and Edmonton in 1914. It was while she was teaching at Battle River and boarding with the Hudson Grant family that she met her future husband Manfred. They married in 1916 and their son Vernon was born later that year.
After living for a year with Manfred’s parents, the young couple bought their own land. As it had not been worked, the land needed to be broken (40 acres the first year) and a home constructed. There was no well for the first few years and in summer, water was hauled from the river half a mile away. The stock had to be driven to the river. In the winter, ice and snow were melted to provide water.
It did not take long before Martha became involved in her community. In 1917, the Angus Ridge Women’s Institute was organized and she was a Charter Member. The Institute introduced many different crafts and activities to women everywhere in Canada and Angus Ridge was no exception. Martha Grant learned copper etching, photography and basket weaving for example. She sewed all her children's clothing while they were growing up and her hand-made quilts won awards nationally and internationally. Included in her write up of “The Manfred Grants” in the Lewisville Pioneers she wrote, “With the coming of the Institute a new world was opened up to farm women. They had their monthly meetings with a Provincial Convention every year. The government sent speakers and demonstrations were given in the halls and school houses; the women learned to take office and a great many crafts were taught”.
Martha served in many capacities over the next several years. She was President and Secretary of the local Women’s Institute. She also spent several years as Constituency Convenor and several more as Constituency Secretary. At the provincial level, Martha served as the Convenor of Canadian Industries and Agriculture.
She was also busy with her family. The Grants had three more children during the next decade. Margaret was born in 1918, Roscoe in 1921 and Robert in 1927.
After her family had grown, Martha became involved in other endeavors. In the early forties she started in the poultry business, initially by raising turkeys for market. Then, she began raising hatching eggs. The government would send out inspectors to certify that the laying stock was of pure breed. Each egg was weighed and if it was of sufficient weight, became one of the 30 to 50 dozen that was sent to Edmonton by rail each week. The eggs were brought in through the Poultry Board. This was the beginning of Martha’s several year involvement with the Alberta Poultry Producers. She attended many annual general meetings in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s in Calgary and Edmonton.
The Wetaskiwin Co-operative became another of Martha’s passions. In 1916 the Wetaskiwin Co-op was established when an interested local group of United Farmers of Alberta formed the Wetaskiwin District Association of the United Farmers of Alberta. The objective was co-operative buying and selling among a membership of district locals. In 1948, Martha Grant was nominated to the board at the Annual Meeting and was elected Director. She was the first woman to serve as Director and continued to do so for the next 8 years. She was highly regarded by her associates who thought of her as practical and farsighted. During her tenure, Martha wished to improve the appearance and operation of the store. Her wish was that the Co-op be the very best store in Wetaskiwin!
In 1954, Martha helped form the Ladies Co-op Guild. It started with a membership of twelve ladies. They raised money through various fundraising activities and served the Co-op through their loyal patronage, by increasing good public relations, conducting cooking schools and other various activities. As a guild they met monthly and read articles and pamphlets on the co-operative movement. She felt women needed to be more involved with the Co-op. “After all”, she was known to say, “the women spend 85% of the money, why shouldn’t they have something to say about the Co-op Store?”
Martha and Manfred continued their life on the farm and their involvement with their community. On October 12, 1964 Manfred passed away in the Wetaskiwin hospital. The Grants would have celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1966. Martha continued living on the farm until about 1970 when she bought a home and moved into Wetaskiwin.
Martha was still very active after moving to Wetaskiwin. She began painting and enjoyed giving her paintings away as gifts to family members. She loved “serious” reading and would enjoy discussing authors and their works. Poetry was something she enjoyed very much. Martha became a member of the United Church. She saved articles and clippings about community history, people in the community and royalty in her scrapbook. Throughout her life she loved playing cards, especially Canasta. Gardening was a great passion and she would get up early to tend to her flowers and garden. She won numerous ribbons for her immaculate garden and flowers. Until the end of her life, Martha sewed her own clothes and continued making quilts.
In summary, Martha Imrie Grant was a woman devoted to her family and her community. As a young wife and mother, she worked along side her husband to develop and improve their land and begin a family. As a young woman, she became involved with her community through the Angus Ridge Institute. As time passed and her children were grown, she became involved with poultry production. Through this endeavor, Martha became involved with the Alberta Producers. Finally, she devoted years to the Wetaskiwin Co-operative by serving as a director on the board for several years and the foundation of the Co-op Ladies Guild. Martha was very busy and involved almost to the end of her long life. She passed away on July 14, 1987 at 98 years of age.
Compiled by: Viki Ruben
Sources: Roscoe & Shirley Grant, Robert Grant, Margaret Grant Henderson, Helen Crawford, Roma Simonson, Dorothy Runte, George Wilson, Betty Ballhorn, "The Lewisville Pioneers", "Angus Ridge Women's Institute"