Teacher, Public School Board Member, City Councillor, Homemaker 1887-1963
Helena Walker was the “alderman” with no first name. Throughout her time as the first woman to ever sit on City Council, she was known only by her married name, Mrs. Ashley Walker. It was not until her death in 1963 that her real first name, Helena, was publicly known.
Helena Walker (maiden name Marsters) was born in 1887 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. She received a master’s degree in sociology from Nova Scotia University in Halifax before heading west in 1912. She became a teacher in Pense once she reached Saskatchewan. In 1914 she entered Normal School in Regina, specializing in mathematics. Eventually she would teach math at Central Collegiate before she met and married her husband, Ashley Walker, in 1920. Her marriage ended her teaching career – married women were not allowed to teach in Saskatchewan schools – so she began to channel her energies into public service work.
Her first political post was in 1925 when she was elected to the public school board. Within 2 years, she was the “chairman” of the board. Her zest for politics led her to enter the race for City Council in 1932. This was an unprecedented development – no woman had ever been elected to City Council before. But Mrs. Ashley Walker achieved what seemed at first glance to be impossible. She was elected to City Council and would spend the next 9 years serving the public as an “alderman.”
Mrs. Walker’s achievements while on City Council were remarkable and had long-reaching effects on Regina. It was at Mrs. Walker’s insistence, for example, that a female police officer was hired in the city of Regina. It was Mrs. Walker who arranged the city-wide block system and she was made chairperson of the block system committee. She was chief organizer and president of the Women’s Voluntary Services during the war and sat on the welfare services board and the collection of salvage committee.
Mrs. Walker also served as chairperson for the library in the 1930s and 1940s. She was president of the Local Council of Women, the University Women’s Club and the Women’s Canadian Club and all 3 organizations later made her a lifetime member. She was posthumously listed as a pioneering woman for Saskatchewan at the Expo ’67 roll in Montreal.
Helena Walker had a son and a daughter with her husband Ashley. Although her life took her into the public sphere she was very much a traditionalist, as her name indicates. It was not until her death that most Reginans learned Mrs. Ashley Walker’s first name was Helena. Although she was not a militant campaigner for women’s rights, she nevertheless shattered many barriers and stereotypes about women and their proper role in society. Walker Street and Walker Crescent are named in joint commemoration of her, Harry G.R. Walker, a former mayor and E.D. Walker, principal of Imperial School and an actor for the Regina Little Theatre.
(Helena Walker can be see in the group wall portrait below, last row, third from right.)