In the beginning, in Cranbrook as in all of British Columbia, women for the most part had insignificant roles in public life. They were not allowed to vote, not allowed in public drinking establishments and had little voice in community affairs. Gradually that began to change, with women using all the assets at their disposal to force the change. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and many other groups provided platforms for people such as Nellie McClung to add a different voice to the public debate. Women began to be recognized in sports and the arts as legitimate contenders for honours. Incrementally women gained a foothold in the public sphere of community life.
In East Kootenay the Fernie Swastikas women’s hockey team challenged and obtained supremacy at the Banff Winter Carnival. Dalhia Schagel of that team was also voted Queen of the Carnival in 1924.
In Cranbrook the Misses Ida and Sophie McGregor claimed the Red-haired Trophy Contest at the Elks Kiddies Day Picnic in Vancouver in August of 1926. A year later Miss Madeline Woodman of Cranbrook, a skilled swimmer and diver, ice skater and skier, won the Miss Victoria beauty contest, and the right to represent Victoria in the Miss Canada contest. The Victoria Times reported that:
“Besides valuable gifts she has won a seven weeks’ contract to appear at the theatres of the Capitol circuit. She will go to Vancouver to compete with the prize beauties of all western Canada for a ‘Miss Canada’ title to represent this country at the international bathing beauty contest at Galveston...”.
Miss Woodman was successful in Vancouver, became Miss Canada, and went on to represent Cranbrook and Canada at Galveston, Texas at the “Second Annual Pageant of Pulchritude (Beauty) and Eighth Annual Bathing Girl Revue.” Miss Woodman placed sixth overall and won a consolation prize of $100 and a live-appearance tour contract with Capitol Theatres. Cranbrook also claimed a moment of fame in 1986 when Rene Newhouse captured the Miss Canada title and was made a Freeman of the City.
Kimberley had early women’s badminton and tennis teams, particularly at Chapman Camp. In the late 1930s the Kimberley Ski Club was formed and by 1939 Kimberley was electing Ski Queens. And always there was the “Queen of the May”, in communities across the Kootenays.
Popularity contests some might say, unfair evaluation of physical attributes others claimed. The bottom line was, however, that women pushed forward into the public sphere, eventually achieving the vote, seats on elected bodies and a clear voice in community affairs. Community, regional and national contests were one form of assistance in making this happen.