Marmie Hess has been described as a quintessential western Canadian and her remarkably diverse range of skills, passions and life experiences illustrate this description. She has led a life as challenging and dynamic as the land she loves. Her contributions to Alberta and Canada range from her work in the fields of education, business and the environment, through her tireless promotion of Albertan and Canadian culture, art and history.
Marmie Hess was born in Calgary, Alberta on May 3, 1916. Early in life, she acquired the nickname “Marmie” and continues to be known by that name in the diverse circles of friends, teams and colleagues that make up her extended family. Marmie’s youth was equally shaped by the strong sense of community responsibility she received from her family and by her great love of the land.
After attending St. Hilda’s School and Western Canada High School in Calgary, Marmie attended the University of Alberta and then transferred to the University of Toronto where she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938. During WWII, she taught art at the Alberta Provincial Institute of Technology and the Banff School of Fine Arts before completing post-graduate studies at the University of Iowa in 1947. In the years that followed, Marmie put her education to use through her desire to find and preserve the art and history that surround us and her interest in how the land shapes us as Canadians.
Marmie’s academic career also focused on studying and preserving the art and environment of Canada’s Aboriginal people, including Western Plains, Dene, Pacific West Coast, Inuit and Circumpolar cultures. She became a respected lecturer, traveling around the world sharing her expertise. In 1970, Marmie opened Calgary Galleries Ltd. to share her love and encourage awareness of Aboriginal art. Over the years, she has donated considerable time and expertise to Albertan, Canadian and other national museums. In 1988, the Government of Canada recognized her contributions to the Inuit by naming the archeological site on Ekkalluk River the Hess Site.
While building her academic career, Marmie also found time to further her love of the western way of life. In 1952, she acquired the historic Spencer Creek Ranch in the foothills of Alberta and built its reputation as a successful horse breeding and cattle operation. She has played an active role as a founding member of the Kananaskis Citizen’s Advisory Board. In 1999, she served on the committee for the Re-enactment of the RCMP March West, where she proved both her love of the west and her mettle by taking part in the march at age 83.
Marmie’s contributions also extend to the area of education. The University of Calgary houses the Margaret P. Hess Collection, a nationally significant resource of historical books, journals, and pamphlets. She helped to establish the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary, as well as revolving fund in support of select University of Alberta Press publishing endeavours. Marmie has helped recruit international students for the University of Lethbridge and has served as a senator for the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.
Marmie’s record of community service covers a wide range of organizations, including the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, the Calgary Red Cross, the United Way, the Calgary Zoological Society, the Rotary Club of Calgary, the RCMP Committee for Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, the Calgary Regional Arts Foundation and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. She also continues to support St. Hilda’s School and served as chair for the St. Hilda’s/ Strathcona-Tweedsmuir Centennial Celebration in 2005.
Marmie was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 and an Officer in 1993. She holds an Honourary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Lethbridge, and Honourary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta. She received the Rotary International’s Paul Harris Fellowship in 1989 and is an Honourary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. In 2000, she received the YWCA Women of Distinction Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award and in 2004 received the Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Calgary.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence