"Heritage preservation is important because it provides you with a perspective and a road map of where you’ve been as an institution, a community or a country. And it’s the launch point for new roads ahead."
Morris Flewwelling is dedicated to making a difference. Whether as an effective and energetic educator, leader, volunteer or elected official, his is a legacy of preserving Alberta’s cultural heritage and natural history.
Francis Morris Flewwelling was born on June 2, 1941 to Marjory (Clack) and Ross Flewwelling. Morris, as he is known, grew up in the central Alberta community of Mirror, where business and social life centred on the town’s status as a Canadian National Railway divisional station. Soon after Morris was born, his father left to join crews that were building the strategically important Alaska Highway. Shortly thereafter, he journeyed overseas to serve in the Second World War, leaving Morris and his mother to establish a quiet routine set apart from the local railway families. He found a valued mentor in a neighbour who owned the town’s only library. Morris immersed himself in books, which fed his passion for learning about plants and animals and informed the many hours he spent exploring nature. After his father returned from the war, the family lived in Trochu and Three Hills before settling back in Mirror. A daughter, Heather, joined the family in 1948. Both Morris and Heather were instilled with a strong sense of citizenship from both parents, who were active volunteers, and from their grandfather, who was a founding member of the Mirror Town Council.
Education was also a focus in the Flewwelling home. Morris attended the University of Alberta where he earned a Bachelor of Education degree. He began his career in 1964, teaching in Alix and then Red Deer. He continued to further his education with post-graduate studies and transitioned into duties as a guidance councillor. During this period, Morris also renewed his acquaintance with Hazel Waldburger, who had been a fellow education student. They were married in 1968 and later welcomed sons Michael and David to the family.
In 1968, Morris started the first alternative school in Alberta, a junior high program to reach students who were often bright but struggling in traditional classroom settings. He designed the program’s objectives and taught academics and life skills to youth who otherwise would likely have given up on school altogether. Morris found the work highly rewarding but heartbreaking due to the challenges his students faced. Despite the demands of the job, Morris found time to explore his passion for heritage preservation and the arts as a member of the Red Deer and District Museum Society and the Heritage Canada Foundation, and as a founding director of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. He further served as a member of the University of Alberta Senate and still found time to test the waters of political life with a term as a Red Deer City Councillor.
By 1978, Morris was ready to turn the entire community into a classroom by making heritage preservation his new career. In his new role as the city’s Director of Museums, Morris led the construction of a superb new Red Deer and District Museum that would grow into an operation widely regarded as a model museum for its size in Canada. Morris’s duties included managing the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and the Gaetz Lakes Wildlife Sanctuary. In 1981, his love of biology further made him the ideal founder of the Ellis Bird Farm Limited, an initiative built upon the lifelong work of Charlie and Winnie Ellis. The farm has since grown into the largest bluebird conservation effort in North America.
Morris’s long list of accomplishments over the course of his career in heritage preservation also includes his work in the early 1990s to develop new protocols for Canadian museums. The protocols grew out of public reaction to the way Aboriginal artifacts were housed and curated at the time. As the president of the Canadian Museums Association, Morris invited Phil Fontaine, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to co-chair a conference with 400 representatives to develop new and better ways to preserve and share Aboriginal history. Those protocols have become the worldwide standard adopted by the Canadian Museums Association, the American Museums Association, the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) and the International Committee of Museums.
In 1999, he founded the Heritage Community Foundation and led the organization’s development of the Alberta Online Encyclopedia. The outstanding electronic resource is the largest of its kind in Canada. Gifted to the University of Alberta Libraries in 2010, it provides invaluable access to an extraordinary collection of materials. Morris Flewwelling’s sterling reputation as a leader in heritage preservation has been further cemented by his service as a Governor for the Heritage Canada Foundation, founder of the Central Alberta Regional Museums Network and the Waskasoo Museum Foundation and co-founder of the Central Alberta Chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta. He has provided valued guidance as a leader and volunteer with countless heritage organizations including the Alberta and Canadian Museums Associations, the Canadian Nature Federation, the Lougheed House Conservation Society, the Western Heritage Centre and the Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums
In 1995, Morris retired from his duties at the Red Deer Museums and returned to public office. He was elected to Red Deer City Council and served for three consecutive terms before becoming Mayor in 2004. By the time he retired in 2013, Morris Flewwelling had established yet another remarkable legacy of service and civic leadership. He brought his strong focus on the arts, culture and historic preservation to the office and also tackled important social issues. During his tenure, Morris spearheaded a highly successful homelessness initiative that resulted in nation-leading results for Red Deer for a full decade. His extensive list of contributions to community life in Red Deer and region also includes his service as founder of the Red Deer Leadership Centre and the Red Deer and District Community Foundation, as well as his volunteer contributions to a wide range of initiatives including the Red Deer Hospital, Red Deer College and the Institute of Canadian Citizenship.
He has received extensive honours, including the Alberta Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Heritage Preservation (2007), the Prix Roger Motut (2006), the Alberta Centennial Medal (2005), and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee (2003) and Diamond Jubilee (2012) Medals. In 1997, he became a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2014, he received an Honourary Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, which was the first honourary degree ever conferred by Red Deer College. The same year, Morris had the honour of being adopted into a Cree family and was given the name Asiniw-waci Kihiew, which means Mountain Eagle.
Morris Flewwelling’s many admirers describe him as energetic and focused, approachable and trustworthy and, above all, an eternal optimist with a true Alberta ability to see possibilities on the horizon. He has served his province and nation with distinction and, in doing so, has played a role in shaping the very history that he has so carefully and passionately championed throughout his career.