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Calgary honours trailblazing city advocate and alderman, Virnetta Anderson

Calgary will honour the first Black person elected to city council, with the renaming of a key city meeting spot in her honour.

With the reveal on the historic Calgary city hall four-year-renovation Tuesday, the Calgary Power Reception Hall will move back to its original location.

The temporary Calgary Power Reception Hall is a meeting space immediately behind (east) of the Calgary City Council Chambers. It’s a place for collaboration, deliberation and information that’s used frequently by administration, members of council and the community.

The CPRH former location in the city municipal building will be now renamed the Virnetta Anderson Hall.

Anderson served Calgary on council from 1974 to 1977. Prior to that, Anderson was a member of the Mount Royal Ladies Auxiliary, she co-founded and was president of Meals on Wheels, and volunteered as a board member for the United Way, the Calgary Tourism and Convention Association and the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts.

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

“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.”

From LA to Calgary

Anderson came to Calgary in 1952 with her football-playing husband and Calgary Stampeders’ icon, Ezzrett ‘Sugarfoot’ Anderson. Sugarfoot played with the Stamps until 1958, but the family stayed in the city.

Both Virnetta and Sugarfoot worked tirelessly around Calgary for various organizations. That work earned tremendous respect for Calgary’s Black community – particularly when they spoke out about the double standards in Canada at that time.

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

“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.”

In 1974, Virnetta ran for a seat on council. According to information provided by the city, both newspapers of the day reported on her as a “housewife.” She was up against businessmen, an agent, a TV producer, a geologist and others. 

She won that election. Former Calgary Mayor Rod Sykes described her as one of the best aldermen he’d ever worked with. Anderson fought the Sarcee Trail extension across the Weaselhead and planted the first seeds for a light rail system that would eventually become the city’s CTrain.

“She never played council games… she was intellectual, honest and spoke common sense,” Sykes said.

Barry said his mother would be honoured by the renaming.

“My mother [Virnetta] had a deep love for the city of Calgary,” he said.

“To have this room, a room that will be used for collaboration and connection in order to serve Calgarians, reflects that same spirit that lived in my mother.”

Post politics for Virnetta Anderson

Former Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein appointed Anderson to the Citizen Advisory Committee after her council term. He wanted an independent female point of view.

Anderson went on to tackle several social issues: transportation, parking, Indigenous employment, downtown deterioration, affordable housing, prostitution and more.

In 1988, Anderson was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Calgary Rotary Club and was nominated for the YWCA’s Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2006, Anderson died at the age of 85.

“Virnetta Anderson left us with a great legacy to honour and she has been a role model for the generations that have come after her,” Mayor Nenshi said.

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