Gladys Reeves (1890—1974)
Gladys Reeves arrived in Alberta with her parents and older siblings in 1904 – the year Edmonton became a city. She was 14 years old, and promptly enrolled at the school where Walter Ramsay, soon to be Edmonton’s most prominent florist and nurseryman, was the principal.
Within a year Reeves began to work for celebrated Alberta photographer, Ernest Brown. By 1920, she and Brown had become discreet but lifelong partners, and she had set up her own photography business, The Art League, on Jasper Avenue.
But if photography was her vocation and source of income, city beautification was her mission: Gladys may have done more than any other Edmontonian to promote tree-planting and gardening as expressions of citizenship.
In 1924 she was elected the Edmonton Horticulture Society’s first female president. In one dynamic term of office she oversaw a mind-boggling array of accomplishments. All these were carried out, in Reeves’ words, “with a view to making Edmonton a “city beautiful”, by the planting of trees, laying out grounds, and rewarding the quality and perfection of garden products in the Edmonton Bench Show and encouraging the love of gardening by promoting competition in garden contests.”
Four thousand people attended the bench show that year, 1,311 vacant lots were rented to Edmontonians for gardening purposes, seven free lectures were offered to the public, a garden competition was staged and many other initiatives were undertaken.
Reeves brought the same enthusiasm and energy to the Edmonton tree-planting committee, of which she was charter member and secretary. Gardening and tree-planting were, for Reeves, acts of faith in the future. She must have been pleased to read about herself in a May 1931, issue of the Montreal Daily Star: “She has given hours of her time, and boundless energy to the beautification of her city, with no other remuneration than the knowledge that the world will be a more gracious place, Edmonton a more beautiful city, because of her work. Some stranger in days when this young city has grown old may find friendship and refreshment in a strong and stately tree and the influence of Miss Reeves. Members of her indefatigable committee and all those who have planted trees in this and past seasons on Memorial Drive, city boulevards, public grounds and their own property, will reach bravely into the future while a tree stands in Edmonton.”