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Irene Comes to Canada

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. Walter Parlby, 1910In 1896, Irene visited the Westheads who owned the only big house in the district. Apparently it was a haven to which all the young bachelor's flocked for a social life. At Westhead social gatherings, Irene met Walter Parlby, in whom she recognized a kindred spirit.

An Oxford graduate with an M.A. in the classics, Walter had spent 3 years as a tea planter in Assam, India. Thus, Irene and he could talk of books and theatre and life in India. Both loved the freedom of Canada and appreciated the natural beauty of the countryside. Charles Westhead's house, Alix, Alberta, c. 1893 They were both flower lovers too. In front of his log shack, Walter had planted portulacca seeds and Irene, who inherited a love of gardening from both of her parents, was quick to appreciate his efforts.

Walter Parlby, Alix, Alberta, c. 1900-1903 They married on March 15 at the Westhead house, and when spring came, Irene began her work on the flower garden at Dartmoor, as the Parlby home was named. Irene was passionate about her flower garden, believing that: "Pleasant places make pleasant people. If you want to accomplish sweetness, serenity, graciousness, these things must find their service in your home life and surrounding, and no home is really sweet or gracious or pleasant which has not some kind of flower garden round it."

Irene Parlby's home near Alix, named ManadonEven the cows appreciated her gardening efforts, often raiding her plot in the evening. A piercing yell of "Cows in the garden!" awakened Walter Parlby—on more than one occasion—so that he might banish the marauders from Irene's cherished flowers.

Humphrey Parlby, Alix, Alberta, c. 1904 In 1899, at the age of 31, Irene returned to England for the birth of their son Humphrey—an event that gave her an immense sense of fulfillment: "....for after all, what greater adventure and joy in life can any woman desire than to watch and encourage the delicious unfolding of her child's mind and character?"

Six years later, following a visit to his daughter's home, Colonel Marryat moved his family to Canada, bringing all but the two oldest boys. Mrs. Irene Parlby in the farmyard with the baby, Humphrey, in a baby carriage, Alix, Alberta, n.d.

House parties, dances, theatricals, and sing-songs, as well as coyote hunts, hockey, gymkhana, and polo games made up the social activities of the district, keeping the Parlbys, Westheads, Marryats, and others in the community joyfully occupied.


Video: The Reluctant Politician
"In the spring of 1896 a young English women named Irene Marryat made a long journey to the frontier western Canada. Touched by the sudden beauty of the west and its freedom, Irene would adopt this new country as her home." Watch Now
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