Stitch by stitch: Tales of Alberta in making of quilts

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

It is an absolute must-read for anyone with passion for quilting!
Alberta Quiltmakers and their Quilts is a recently-published book by Lucie Heins, BSc. MA. Included in its 176 fact-filled pages of amazing stories and photographs are many examples from the Peace Country including High Prairie, Grouard, McLennan and the Waterhole-Fairview district.
As part of the Alberta Quilt Project [AQP], Heins spent six years researching and documenting Alberta quilts. She partnered with 38 museums throughout Alberta to host public quilt documentation events. Assisted by local quilters, Heins was able to collect important information about the quilts made in Alberta as well as to capture the histories of the quiltmakers themselves.
Alberta Quiltmakers and their Quilts highlights 19th century quilts, 20th and 21st century quilts found across the province, with a focus on quilts made during the 20th century. It includes 12 in-depth stories about individual quiltmakers and 12 wide-ranging chapters featuring many quilts around specific themes. Together, they reveal how quilters used their ingenuity for making quilts using materials on hand to stitch relationships to their families and communities.
The book was published with the help of Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society [FRAMS], which was proud to facilitate the publishing of their seminal work by Heins.
In the preface, it is written: In 2010, the Western Canadian History curatorial program at the Royal Alberta Museum [RAM] introduced the Alberta Craft Research Initiative to document the material culture of craft production within the Alberta context.
The AQP, a component of this research initiative, was created to further research the history of quilt making in Alberta. It followed on the work done from 1982-84 by Sandra Morton Weizman, then curator of Social History at the Provincial Museum of Alberta, now the Royal Alberta Museum, and Elyse Eliot-Los, director/curator of the Muttart Gallery Associates, who first researched quiltmakers and quilts and displayed some in the exhibition, Alberta Quilts.
Although not extensive, the research project was the beginning of the museum’s work to preserve the history of quilting in Alberta. After the 1984 exhibition, the RAM became the repository of some historically significant Alberta quilts, of which 33 per cent are featured in the book.

The Pictorial Quilt, Fairview Pioneer Museum

This prize-winning pictorial quilt was made by Minerva [McLeod] Horton in 1968 when she was 63 years old.
Horton drew and then embroidered each block to make the quilt. Minerva was very skilled with the needle and enjoyed embroidery. The quilt won first prize at the Grande Prairie County Agricultural Fair. It is not known if she made other quilts.
The quilt is a visual travel diary of her family’s journey to the Peace Country in 1912, as she remembered it as a six-year-old. It provides a glimpse of the McLeod’s four and a half-month journey from White River, Ont., to their new home in Waterhole, a former community six km south of Fairview. Although there was not a lot of written information about the journey, Minerva did provide a description for each block. As per the old English adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” Minerva has conveyed the joys and heartaches of the McLeod family’s journey using needle and thread.

Minerva McLeod’s pictorial quilt tells the story of her family’s journey from White River, Ont. to Dunvegan in 1912.

Historic Sights of High Prairie – Farm Women’s Union of AB [1970]

The Farm Women’s Union of Alberta in High Prairie created a historical wall quilt. It documents some of the historical buildings in the community, such as the McFadyen Store owned and operated by Neil McFadyen from 1915-35. It was later sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1959 or 1960.
George Holmes established St. Peter’s Mission and the Anglican School at Kapowan across the South Heart River overlooking Buffalo Bay and Grouard. The Catholic Church was built in 1917 about one mile north of High Prairie. The log cabin is typical of what the early homesteaders build. The McLeod Hotel was in fact a tent hotel in 1914. It was the first structure in the new town of High Prairie. In 1915, the tents were replaced with a 10-room brick and mortar hotel. The Prairie River School was built in 1908 on land donated by Frank Mearon. It retained its name even when the settlement became High Prairie.

Twelve woven pictures are included in the Historic Sights of High Prairie – Farm Women’s Union of Alberta quilt, 1930

Nosegay Sisters of Providence [High Prairie] Quilt

The nosegay patterned quilt was hand-pierced and hand-quilted by some of the nuns who managed the Providence Hospital in High Prairie between 1920-69. In the bridal business, the word “nosegay” refers to a specific type of bouquet: a round, tight bunch of flowers. The pattern cleverly represents this arrangement.
Sisters of Providence used scraps to make the quilt. The inclusion of black fabric in the 1930s is rare. Clear, bright colours distinguish most of the quilts in this era. It is possible that the black fabric used in the quilt were recycled habits belonging to the Sisters. One summer, they traded the quilt for vegetables they needed for the hospital kitchen.
Louise Truckey, the recipient of the quilt, was well-known around the High Prairie area for her gardening skills – producing large quantities of vegetables and berries. Every fall, Louise would enter the largest exhibit in vegetables and flowers at the annual High Prairie Agricultural Fair. Over time her exhibits became bigger both in number and in variety. Her exhibits even traveled to Manning, Peace River and Grande Prairie.

The Nosegay Sisters of Providence [High Prairie] Quilt was hand pierced and hand quilted by some of the nuns who managed the Providence Hospital in High Prairie between 1920-69.

Signature Quilt District of Waterhole. . . [1930s]

Signature quilts are most often made using cotton fabric. This quilt, however, is made using wool suiting and is tied with red yard instead of being quilted; a technique often associated with Utility quilts. It was made during the Great Depression when resources were limited. The use of wool could have been a practical choice considering Waterhole [a former community six km south of Fairview], where tthe winters are very cold. P.J. Foster won the raffled quilt.

Signatures of Waterhole and area residents in the 1930s are featured in this Signature Quilt, District of Waterhole and Green Island Ladies.
Part of the blanket quilt made for Mgr. Grouard, made by Indigenous women to help him keep warm during cold weather trips. A Hudson’s Bay Company blanket quilt, filled with woven rabbit pelts was documented in Girouxville, AB. An opened seam on one side of the quilt confirmed the use of woven rabbit pelts as a fill for the quilt. The weave is loose enough for a finger to go through as previously observed by Edwin Tunis in his book Indians.
Shown above is most of the Patchwork Quilt, Fernand and Marie-Luce [Thibault] Ouellette, McLennan [1968]. Marie-Luce and her husband, Fernand, made the Patchwork quilt as a gift for their daughter, Yvonne [Ouellette] MacRoberts. They got bags of clothes to use for fabric. Fernand’s job was to cut up all the squares for the quilt. Marie-Luce pierced the squares together.
Dresden Plate, Alberta Turner, High Prairie [1971]: In the photo above, Alberta Turner made the quilt [only a portion shown in the photo] as a wedding gift for her niece, Colleen Greer. It is made of cotton, machine-pierced and hand-quilted. According to statistics from the Alberta Quilt Project documentation research, the Dresden Plate pattern was the second most popular pattern in this province during the 20th century. The photo below shows Greer with the quilt, which she has kept.

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