On display in the library at Barnett House is a frame containing two photographs. The top picture, taken July 27, 1920, on the lawn in front of Calgary's Memorial Park Library on Twelfth Avenue SW, shows the newly appointed executive members of the newly minted Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF), posing for the official photograph. Seated front and centre is Harry Charlesworth of Victoria, CTF's first president. On his right is Miss Arbuthnot of Toronto, secretary-treasurer, and on his left, Miss J. V. Miners of Saskatoon. Outboard of these, respectively, sit W. H. Huntley of Winnipeg and the Alberta Teachers' Association's own John Walker Barnett.
Barnett, I think, is looking rather pleased, and with good reason. It was largely through the work of Barnett and Charlesworth that the Canadian Teachers' Federation came to be. Basking in Barnett's glow in the back row of the photo are fellow Albertans T. E. A. Stanley of Calgary, H. C. Newland of Edmonton and C. E. Peasley of Medicine Hat, who, along with Barnett, made up four of the ATA's Big Five, as they were then known (the fifth being G. D. Meisner of Calgary). Interspersed amongst the Albertans in the back row are G. B. Stillwell of Moose Jaw, J. A. Lister of Vancouver and C. F. Fraser of Toronto. While appearing sanguine in this image, Barnett would suffer pangs of uncertainty over the next few years concerning how the country's fledgling teacher associations would embrace this new national organization.
Endlessly organizing local associations and travelling to represent teachers were the mainstays of provincial general-secretaries' lives in the early part of the last century. In a late letter of response to Charlesworth, Barnett explained his tardiness by writing, "I have the same excuse as you have—I am the general-secretary of a provincial teachers' organization. Difficulties have been as thick around me as guns were around the Light Brigade at Balaclava." Nevertheless, pushing forward the organization of a national body for teachers came naturally to the men and women who had worked so hard earning respect and dignity for the teachers they represented.
Toronto's Charles Fraser, charged with organizing the second CTF annual meeting, identified the biggest challenge facing Canadian teacher-leaders when he wrote seeking suggestions for the program:
"One of the great difficulties, we feel, is the continental extent of the land and we are almost strangers to one another. Such conferences or annual meetings as the one we refer to should extend our acquaintance and add to our circle of friends—friends whom we can have confidence in and whom we can support with a heartiness that cannot but tell for good."
Around this time, the Edmonton high school teachers' strike had become a major challenge for the fledgling ATA and was front-page news across Canada. Similar strikes by teachers in New Westminster and Moose Jaw helped unify the country's teaching profession. Charlesworth wrote, "The teachers in these places had fought battles which involved principles for which the whole Canadian Teachers' Federation stood—the right to negotiate, the right to recognition and the right to collective bargaining." At the Toronto general meeting, delegates voted to provide financial support for the teachers involved in these strikes.
The money was slow in coming. The Ontario teachers' organizations and Manitoba didn't ante up all at once. In another letter to Charlesworth, Barnett wrote:
"Our members are getting somewhat restless concerning any funds which are forthcoming from the CTF towards off-setting the loss to Edmonton High School Teachers. As I said in my speech before the CTF executive, we accepted at their face value the telegrams from Manitoba, Ontario and elsewhere, which were sent during the period of open battle in our midst. Nothing has been heard of the action taken on the vote to reimburse the teachers of Moose Jaw, New Westminster and the Edmonton teachers. The meeting at Toronto was, to us, very disappointing and the attitude manifested by Manitoba and Ontario did not a little to give us to believe that these two provinces at least have far too provincial an attitude."
The second picture in the frame shows CTF's leaders at the 76th annual meeting of the organization, posed just as their predecessors had been in front of Calgary's Memorial Park Library. The Association hosted CTF's annual meeting in Calgary in 1996, billing it as the start of the second 75 years of the organization. As part of the program, delegates attended a reception at the site of the founding meeting. The doubts that Barnett once harboured about the efficacy of the national organization had long since evaporated. In 1933, challenged by the hardships and difficulties of the Great Depression, he wrote:
"My own personal opinion is that the CTF is absolutely necessary and its dissolvement would finally prove to be an irreparable loss to the prestige of the teaching boy of the Dominion. Now is the time for increasing the functions of the Dominion Organization—not for chanting its requiem—and I am delighted that there seems to be a determination on the part of the majority of the provinces to hold the 1933 conference 'or bust'."
The Association's connection with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, as evidenced by these photographs and the time since, now spans nearly 90 years. CTF has provided a remarkable linkage between the teachers of Alberta and those of all other provinces and territories and, indeed, between Albertans and teachers worldwide. Through CTF's annual general meeting, representatives of most of the country's teacher organizations share views and set priorities and policies for the national body. Through CTF's international programs, members of provincial and territorial organizations work with colleagues overseas to improve the delivery of teaching and ease the task of learning for children in disadvantaged countries. Project Overseas, one of Canada's finest contributions to international education, sent 10 Albertans and nearly 40 other Canadian teachers overseas for the 45th project this past summer.
While CTF has proven itself as a force for professional unity amongst many teacher organizations across the country, some Canadian teachers are not represented through this national body. In Québec, only teachers who are members of the Québec Provincial Association of Teachers belong. Most Québec teachers are members of either CSQ (Centrale des syndicats du Québec) or FSE (Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement). In Ontario, secondary school teachers also find themselves outside the national professional collective. During the years of the Mike Harris regime, Ontario teacher groups found themselves sharply at odds with a provincial government bent on destroying unions and imposing draconian measures to control the professional lives of teachers. The approach of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) was to enlist all education workers within its organization. Aides, secretaries, maintenance workers, bus drivers, school social workers and university support staff, among others, swelled the ranks and helped amplify the OSSTF voice when speaking in opposition to initiatives of the Ontario government. The perceived advantages of a firm anchorage within the harbour of the Ontario labour movement at the time convinced Ontario's secondary teachers to abandon the Canadian Teachers' Federation and join the Ontario Federation of Labour.
In July, I attended the 2007 CTF annual meeting in Toronto as a member of the Alberta delegation. As I extended my acquaintance and added to my circle of friends—friends whom I can have confidence in and whom I can support with a heartiness that cannot but tell for good— images of those photographs in our Barnett House library crossed my mind. I was thankful for the resilience, resourcefulness and courage of so many Canadian teachers who have supported and maintained this unique Canadian institution for nearly 90 years.