Calgary’s 1st Black city council member to be honoured in municipal building

A photo of Virnetta Anderson, the first Black member of Calgary's city council. Calgary Archives

The memory of Calgary’s first Black member of city council will be honoured with the Virnetta Anderson Hall in the city’s municipal building.

The move comes following the completion of restoration work to the Historic City Hall and the relocation of the Calgary Power Reception Hall to the restored city hall.

“Virnetta was a champion for the city,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a statement.

“It’s only fitting that a space in the municipal building, right near council chambers where decisions about our community are made, should be named after her.”

In addition to serving as an “alderman” on city council from 1974-1977, Anderson was a member of the Mount Royal College Ladies’ Auxiliary, co-founded and was president of Meals on Wheels, and volunteered as a board member for organizations like the United Way, the Calgary Tourist and Convention Association and the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts.

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Anderson moved to Calgary from Los Angeles with her husband Ezzrett “Sugarfoot” Anderson in 1952, after “Sugarfoot” was recruited by the Calgary Stampeders in 1949. One of the first Black players in professional football, Ezzrett was the only player to wear “00” for the Stampeders and retired in 1955.

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“It wasn’t easy for my parents,” Anderson’s youngest son Barry Anderson said in a statement.

“There weren’t many Black faces in Calgary in those years, but my parents encouraged me to embrace that and stand out; ‘being unique and different is a good thing,’ they’d say.”

According to a City of Calgary press release, Anderson was described as simply a “housewife” in newspapers and on the election ballot in 1974.

“While on council, Anderson fought a proposed extension of Sarcee Trail across the Weaselhead natural area and planted a seed within council to bring a light rail transit system to the city, similar to the C-train we have today,” the city’s release said.

“Former mayor Rod Sykes described Anderson as a one of the best aldermen he ever worked with. ‘She never played council games… she was intellectual, honest and spoke common sense.'”

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“Her place in our history and her role in shaping this city is something to be lauded,” Black Lives Matter Calgary said in an emailed statement to Global News. “This small gesture is a step in the right direction towards celebrating her achievements and those of other Black folx in Calgary.”

But the group’s president Adora Nwofor pushed for more to be done to recognize the history of Black Calgarians.

“The legacy of Black womxn in Calgary’s municipal government begins and ends with Virnetta, so what’s next?” Nwofor said.

An undated photo of Virnetta Anderson (L). Calgary Archives

Following her time on city council, Anderson was appointed to the Citizen Advisory Committee by then-mayor Ralph Klein, was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Calgary Rotary Club in 1988.

Anderson died in 2006 at the age of 85.

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“Her impact on Calgary continues to be felt today,” Nenshi said. “I am thrilled we are recognizing her contributions in this way.”

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