Virnetta Anderson Hall

Municipal reception hall renamed in honour of former alderman's legacy

With the completion of the four-year heritage rehabilitation of Historic City Hall, the Calgary Power Reception Hall (CPRH) is reverting to its original home in the 109-year-old building. With this change, the temporary CPRH located in the Municipal Building will be renamed the Virnetta Anderson Hall, honouring the first Black person elected to Calgary City Council, and the legacy she left for our city.

“Virnetta was a champion for the city,” says 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.”

Anderson was deeply involved in church and community service. She served in many roles within the United Church, was a member of the Mount Royal College Ladies’ Auxiliary, co-founded and became president for Meals on Wheels, and volunteered as a board member for several organizations, including the United Way, Calgary Tourist and Convention Association and the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts, to name a few. Most notably, she became the first black woman to serve on City Council from October 1974 to October 1977.

“My mother [Virnetta] had a deep love for the city of Calgary,” says Barry Anderson, Virnetta’s youngest son. “If she were with us today, I know she would be honoured by this. 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.”

Calgary became a place Anderson called home after moving here from Los Angeles with her husband, Ezzrett “Sugarfoot” Anderson in 1952. Sugarfoot was recruited to the Calgary Stampeders in 1949 and played with them as a pass catcher until 1958.

“It wasn’t easy for my parents,” recalls Barry. “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.”

The Anderson’s work within the community garnered respect for Calgary’s Black community, especially when they began speaking out about the double standards prevalent in Canada at that time. According to her husband, Sugarfoot, in an article published in the Calgary Sun in 2009, it was Calgary’s tolerance that encouraged Virnetta to step out into society more and champion what she believed in.

At 54 years old (in 1974), Anderson then decided to challenge the male-dominated city council and put her name forward on a ballot as a candidate for Alderman. Although both newspapers of the day and the election ballot reported her as just a “housewife” among businessmen, an agent, TV producer, geologist, investment dealer, and a construction estimator, Anderson went on to win the election and serve on City Council for the next three years.

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

After her Council term, she was appointed to the Citizen Advisory Committee by former Mayor Ralph Klein to offer an independent female point of view, not normally heard from citizens, regarding issues facing the quality of life for citizens. She tackled such issues as transportation, parking, social issues, indigenous employment opportunities, downtown deterioration, affordable housing, needs of youth, prostitution, ethnic concerns. In 1988, she was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Calgary Rotary Club and was a nominee for the YWCA’s Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award for community service in 1992 as well as the Canada 125 Commemorative Medal.

Anderson passed away in 2006 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 Naheed Nenshi says. “Her impact on Calgary continues to be felt today, and I am thrilled we are recognizing her contributions in this way.”