January 15th, 2021

Anna McLaren: From waitress to labour leader

By Submitted Article on June 30, 2020.

Bobbie Fox

Lethbridge’s history has many examples of amazing women who have affected change in our community. One such woman was Anna MacLaren, who was a waitress at the Ritz CafŽ in 1946 when she became publicly involved with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. She started as the union’s secretary but quickly became the president later the same year. MacLaren became the first woman elected as the vice-president of the Alberta Federation of Labour in November 1946. During her time working with the union, Anna was a vocal advocate for the advancement of equal pay for equal work, better working conditions for women, and a 40-hour work week for all. She believed strongly that “unless women get organized and press for these things, they will never get them.”

MacLaren was also an advocate, in 1949, for the establishment of training schools for hotel and restaurant employees to hone their craft and standardize the profession. She argued restaurant and hotel work was as important a profession as nursing. As such, it needed appropriate training programs and apprenticeships. In 1950, Lethbridge City Council appointed MacLaren to fill a mid-term opening on the City Board of Health.

Her greatest achievement was her election as president of the Trades and Labour Council in Lethbridge in 1954. MacLaren was the first woman elected to that position in Canada. She held that position for a year then returned to her role as secretary of the Trades and Labour Council in Lethbridge. Even after her retirement, MacLaren continued to be heavily involved in the labour movement in Lethbridge.

The Galt Museum & Archives has multiple documents and objects in its care that can help you learn more about other fascinating women from Lethbridge’s past. You can browse our database at collections.galtmuseum.com.

Your old photos, documents, and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.

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