Alberta book club hits 90th anniversary by keeping things interesting

A book club in southern Alberta is celebrating its 90th birthday.

The club, comprised of 24 women, hit the milestone Wednesday, decades since its first meeting on Sept. 19, 1928.

"Do you know, I think it's lasted so long because we have embraced the traditions," said Joanie Gilchrist, who has been a member for 10 years.

The Riverside Book Club is named for the Riverside neighbourhood in Medicine Hat, the home of all 24 members except a local school teacher, who was allowed to join despite living "up the hill."

In years past, most of the women wouldn't have worked outside their own home, so the club was a chance to share their love of books.

"There would have been a lot of sort of the day-to-day stuff that mothers and wives do," Gilchrist said. "Housework doesn't provide a lot of intellectual stimulation, I find.

"And I'm sure that they wanted to just go out and talk about something that wasn't related to their house, to their children and just expand their horizons."

Riverside Book Club

To this day, that friendship and intellectual stimulus holds many women's attention.

The original members are long gone but the eldest currently is 98 years old. Fellow members drive Kaja Westgrath to the meetings so she doesn't miss any.

"We cherish her," Gilchrist told the Calgary Eyeopener in an interview to mark the anniversary. "She's been in the book club since 1952, two years longer than I've been on the face of the earth. I tell her I want to be just like her when I grow up."

Medicine Hat Museum, Esplanade Archives

The secret to the group's longevity may be that the club has run continuously and its members are sticklers for traditions set back in 1928.

They still meet on the third Wednesday of the month, have exactly 24 members and follow the original meeting agenda.

At the gatherings, each member shares new interesting tidbits on an assigned topic.

"Just a little snippet about what's happening today or, 'did you know about cumulus clouds?' I love the lady who does the one on royalty because she's a real royalty buff," Gilchrist said.

Throughout each year, members read a wide variety of books — usually ones you wouldn't pick yourself off the library shelf. But at roughly one every two weeks, it's not mandatory to complete them all.

Comments are saved for a particular meeting, where favourites, least favourites and challenges are shared.

'Always learn something'

The group also holds periodic "programs" where members present on interesting topics, like the stories behind book dedications.

"I always learn something from the books, from the people, from the programs that are presented," Gilchrist said.

This month, they're celebrating with a dinner, a display at the library and a talk with author Sharon Butala, who's written many books, including a recent one about aging.

If the group lasts another 90 years, those future members will be able to know the club's history. Members have meticulously saved each book list and meeting minute diary, all of which has been donated to the Esplanade Archives.

With files from Kathryn Marlow and the Calgary Eyeopener.