Glenbow Museum’s three sisters left enduring legacy

Margaret Perkins Hess, Joy Harvie Maclaren and Zahava Hanen were related by their love of Calgary's Glenbow Museum

glenbow museumPOWELL RIVER, B.C. Sept. 18, 2016 /Troy Media/ – These three sisters weren’t related by blood. They were related by the fact that they loved Calgary’s Glenbow Museum – the definitive and interdisciplinary library, archives, art gallery and museum of the Canadian West.

Each of them were related to the museum differently, but each of them understood the institution (founded by Joy Harvie Maclaren’s father Eric Lafferty Harvie) to be central to the values they espoused.

As Glenbow’s CEO (2000 – 2008), I knew them all, and came to think of them occasionally as the ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ for their philanthropy, and because their donations of family papers, art and artifacts were central to our ongoing success. Now, with Marmie’s death this month at 100, they have all passed into the rich historic record they worked to create in the raw prairie town of their birth.

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Margaret (“Marmie”) Perkins Hess

Margaret (“Marmie”) Perkins Hess was the oldest of the three. She was born in Calgary in 1916, the only daughter of lumber magnate Frederick Hess and his wife Ina Perkins Hess. After early schooling in Calgary at St. Hilda’s and Western Canada High School, she went east and earned her BA from the University of Toronto. There, she developed an abiding interest in art history and Canada’s magnificent Group of Seven.

Marmie returned to Calgary to teach, first at the Alberta Institute of Technology, and then at the Banff School of Fine Arts. While living in Banff, she often hosted parties with Group members A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris. She became famous for her buffalo steak barbecues and Mount Rundle cocktails.

Marmie moved to her parents’ mansion in Calgary’s Mount Royal, and eventually opened Calgary Galleries in 1970. She also ran the Spencer Creek Ranch and volunteered for every major Calgary institution, from the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, to the Red Cross, the Calgary Zoological Society, and of course, the Glenbow.

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Joy Harvie Maclaren

Joy Harvie Maclaren was born in Calgary in 1922, and loved her childhood weekends on the family’s Glenbow Ranch. Her prairie lawyer father Eric, and mother Dorothy Southam Harvie, owned the mineral rights to the Leduc oilfield, which ‘came in’ on Feb. 13, 1947. Overnight this discovery transformed the Alberta economy, and the lives of the Harvie family.

At a Sunday family dinner, the Harvies decided their good fortune was truly not theirs alone, and had to be shared with Canada. The Glenbow Foundation and Museum were born of this decision.

As the oldest child, Joy was specially trained by her parents in the duties and responsibilities of great privilege, and over her lifetime she became what her Ottawa Citizen obituary called “a quiet social activist throughout Canada.”

While a prairie girl at heart, Joy married an eastern Canadian, Donald Maclaren. Their family grew to include sons Duncan, Rodney and Charlie, and they lived in Buckingham, Que., on the family farm, later moving to Ottawa in retirement. Joy practised a unique philanthropy that especially benefited indigenous people (she received the Blackfoot name “New Sun” in 1995), the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, and her beloved Glenbow.

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Zahava Hanen

Zahava Hanen, the youngest of the trinity, was born in Calgary in 1928. She died in London at age 87 after a long life of environmental activism, ranching on her treasured Rumsey Ranch, and curating beautiful books of poetry, prose and photography.

Like both Marmie and Joy, Zahava left Calgary to study, in her case Art History and Hebrew Studies, in New York and London. Her diligence in Hebrew Studies was inspired by her maternal grandfather, Alberta’s first rabbi.

Returning to Alberta, Zahava’s parents Samuel and Lena encouraged her environmental ethic, and enabled her to acquire the Rumsey property. Here she became a prominent rancher, experimenting with Scottish Highland cattle and passionate about conservation of prairie fescue grasslands.

Her devotion to Glenbow started with major archival donations of her environmental research and legal papers, and those of her brother Harold Hanen, a visionary Calgary city planner who studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West.

She is survived by her sister Ayala Manolson, and the Samuel Hanen Society of Resource Conservation continues her work.

While acquainted with each other, Marmie, Joy and Zahava connected more directly with the spiritual values of the Glenbow. Calgary’s museum pursued Eric Harvie’s Scottish intellectual passion for interdisciplinary study. Books, archival fonds, prairie and mountain art, and artefacts from indigenous and settler societies were combined in his vision to celebrate the magic of the old West.

Marmie, Joy and Zahava exemplified this legacy in their generation. It’s our turn now.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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