Effort to research and write new book a long journey says editor

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Shifting through a century worth of official documents, handwritten notes, scrapbooks and old photographs would be a daunting task on its own. Add to that a year and a half of compiling all the material, self-publishing a book based on it, and the end result is a labour of love.

Creating Cornerstones: A History of the YWCA of Calgary is a pictorial and written account of the YWCA of Calgary‘s first 100 years, pioneering women’s and children’s rights, in addition to tackling issues such as domestic violence, health care and homelessness.

Lee Tunstall, the book’s editor and project manager, along with authors Pernille Jakobsen and Antonella Fanella, officially launched the book during a public event held at Fort Calgary.

The group received a grant from the Calgary Foundation to do the centennial project in 2009. They, along with the Calgary YWCA board decided that a history of the organization was in order.

A big project

Creating the book was no small undertaking, said the book’s editor.

“We self-published, so that involved finding a book designer and making sure the layout was proper as well as acting as both fact-checker and editor,” said Tunstall.

The project, which got underway in early 2010, took roughly 18 months from concept to publication. An interesting part of the book is the relationship between the history of the YWCA and of Calgary itself, said Tunstall.

“One of the main things we wanted to do was document a chapter of women’s history in Calgary,” she said. “This is an important social agency in the history of Calgary as it focuses on women. That was why we wanted to do this book.”


Antonella Fanella (left) and Pernille Jakobsen co-authored Creating Cornerstones: A History of the YWCA of Calgary, a book published to celebrate the organization’s centennial milestone.
Photo by: Karry Taylor
Jakobsen wrote the first three chapters and did a great deal of the primary research. Her work focused on the early period of the YWCA, from 1907 to 1969.

She said as a historian, the material she worked with reinforced an image she had of early 20th-century women, not as stereotypical “do-gooders” but as “intelligent and savvy business women, who were out to promote the good of the women around them.

“There were lots of instances of them asserting themselves and trying really hard to make their objective known. Even in the period before they had the vote,” she said.

YWCA’s work reflects a changing society

Fanella, responsible for writing the final two chapters of the book covering the period from 1970 to 2010, noted the social changes that began in the 1960s had a significant impact on both the YWCA and Calgary.

“There were very strong parallels with what was happening with the women’s movement and social issues in Calgary and how the YWCA was coping with the issue,” said Fanella. “For example, family violence came into the spotlight in the 1980s and the YWCA became involved with the Sheriff King Home [a women’s shelter].”

Fanella said her involvement in the project left a great impression.

“What really hit home with me was how prevalent family violence was,” she said. “Having grown up in Calgary, it was always something that was hidden and not talked about.

“I was struck by how it affected not just the family but how it affects the community.”

The design of the book was crafted to appeal to a wide audience said Tunstall.

“We wanted something that was accessible – that people could dip in and out of,” she added. “It had to be highly readable with lots of pictures, and yet a historical, women’s based record.

“We didn’t want it to be an academic book. We didn’t want it to be full of footnotes, but it had to be properly researched. And I think we found a pretty good balance.”


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