Canada’s first woman architect identified

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Researcher Robert Hill, editor of the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950, has uncovered evidence of a Canadian woman graduating from architecture school in 1914, making Miss Alice Charlotte Malhiot (1889-1968) Canada’s first woman architect.

“Robert Hill’s discovery that Alice Charlotte Malhiot graduated in 1914 from the University of Alberta is significant news because we have always believed the first woman graduate to be Esther Marjorie Hill from the University of Toronto in 1920,” says architectural historian Annmarie Adams, Professor at McGill University. “The error comes from the fact that Toronto newspapers reported Hill as the first in the country, rather than the first from University of Toronto.”

Born in the French-speaking region of eastern Ontario in 1889, Alice Charlotte Malhiot was the daughter of a civil engineer who worked for the railways in western Canada. The family moved to Calgary sometime in the coming decade, and in 1911, Malhiot travelled to Edmonton and enrolled as a student in the new Department of Architecture at the University of Alberta. Her graduation from the school in 1914 was heralded in the local press, which congratulated her on becoming “the first woman architect in Canada.”

“Malhiot graduating in 1914 is interesting because it is in another era—before World War 1—and also brings Canada more in line with other countries,” says Adams. “In England, the first woman registered with the RIBA was in 1898; the Architectural Association didn’t take women until 1917. The first woman architecture graduate in the United States was much earlier: Mary L Page in 1878.  Malhiot is still a whole generation after Page, but at least we are a little closer.”

“It also shows how historical sources can lead us astray.  Many researchers, myself included, have written about Hill’s graduation as the first in Canada, citing the newspapers as sources.  This kind of mistake makes me very happy. Who knows, maybe future researchers will find women graduates that even pre-date Malhiot,” she adds.

Hill’s research suggests that Malhiot pursued further studies at the Rhode Island School of Design and spend four years as an apprentice or draftswoman in an architect’s office in Calgary, perhaps between 1919-23. She married in early 1923, which may have derailed her plans for a career in architecture, as no evidence has yet been uncovered of her work past that year.

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