Our story begins 100 years ago, as the first International Women's Day is celebrated March 8, 1911. It truly seemed to be a man's world then, as most of the heads of state and industry in those days were male. Pioneering women such as Dr. Emily Stowe and her suffrage movement in Canada, which began in 1878, are attempting to gain equal rights for women, among those the right to vote. Women in British Columbia will finally earn the right to vote provincially in 1917, and federally, a year later.
The Coquitlam Star newspaper dated April 23, 1913 gives a lengthy account of the city of Port Coquitlam's Inauguration Day celebrations held the week before, including the all-male Commemoration Banquet held at the newly-opened Commercial Hotel. Among the various toasts given to the well-being of the new city included the Ladies' Toast (no ladies were present) by Mr. Heaps: "It takes a good man to keep level with the ladies. I believe they should have equal voting rights with men." This comment was reportedly greeted with applause from the honoured dignitaries and prominent citizens of Port Coquitlam. Our newly-incorporated city was heading in the right direction.
The Woman's Institute in Coquitlam, founded in 1908, was an organization whose meetings offered lectures on home nursing, domestic work and recipes. In later years, it helped families in need, volunteered its services to the city when needed in times of trouble and became the driving force behind early May Days.
One of the institute's early presidents was Mrs. Robert Irvine, whose daughter Ada was a teacher at the one-room Junction School from 1900 on, and later, became principal in 1911. When the new Central school opened in 1914, she took over there as principal, too, and taught at the school for the next 30 years. Many of Miss Irvine's former students, now seniors, recall how she was a stickler for discipline but was a great teacher who enriched the lives of all she taught. Ada Irvine passed away in 1958.
Central school welcomed a new addition to its staff in 1924 when Hazel Trembath began her 42-year teaching career there. In the late 1940s, she had to teach her elementary school class at the community Aggie Hall Centre when there was no class space available due to the rapid growth of the city after the Second World War.
When Viscount Alexander school opened in 1951 (the first school built, by the way, since Central was erected in 1914) she joined Bill Brand's staff as librarian. By the time she retired in 1966, the library's volume of 2,000 books had grown to more than 10,000. Hazel Trembath died in 1984.
Around the same time frame of 1911, John Kilmer and his family came from the busy metropolis of Vancouver to the soon-to-be fledging city of Port Coquitlam to become the city's first engineer. John's oldest daughter, Jane Kilmer, would leave her mark on the city she so loved. She served as president of the Women's Institute as well before becoming British Columbia's first female alderman in 1934, a position she would hold with dedication and honour for 34 years. "Aunt Jane" passed away in 1971.
One hundred years have passed since that first International Women's Day. Today, a man or woman is judged on who they are and whether they have the credentials and ability to do the job, the prejudice of gender no longer a stigma. We have many fine examples today in our city of boys and girls, men and women who are making a difference and serving our community with pride.
By the way, there are three Public Schools in Port Coquitlam named after Ada Irvine, Hazel Trembath and Jane Kilmer. Three worthy individuals recognized for their contributions to Port Coquitlam`s history and growth.
Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities' three heritage groups writes about local history. Bryan Ness is with the Port Coquitlam Heritage and Cultural Society.