Although we drive down the major roadways in Red Deer on a regular basis, we rarely ask how it was that these thoroughfares got their names. In our city, most are named after prominent residents and/or long time families.
Also, generally in Red Deer, when streets and avenues are named after individuals, only the surname is used. There are two exceptions to this rule. One is Kerry Wood Drive. The other is Molly Banister Drive in the Bower Place subdivision.
Madeleine Elizabeth (Molly) Manning was born in Newmarket, Ontario, on August 21, 1925. She grew up in Kenora, Ontario, where her father was a high school principal. In 1948, she graduated from the Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing in Toronto and then commenced nursing at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. That same year she married Robert (Bob) Banister, a student from Red Deer, Alberta, who was studying optometry at the University of Toronto.
In 1949, the Banisters moved to Red Deer to start their careers and to raise their family, which eventually consisted of three daughters, Joan, Madeleine and Barbara. Molly and Bob also soon became very involved in the community.
Molly became active with Gaetz United Church, serving as a member of the Board of Stewards, president of one of the local branches of the United Church Women (U.C.W.) and member of the manse committee. She also served as a Brownie leader and later as a Girl Guide commissioner from 1965 to 1970. Together with her husband Bob, she was active with the Alberta Council for Crippled Children.
In 1969, Molly and Bob helped to organize the Red Deer International Folk Festival, with Molly serving as the chair of the Ethnic Arts and Crafts section for many years. In the 1970’s Molly helped to found the Red Deer and District Museum Society. She became the chair of the fundraising drive to build a museum building, which quickly exceeded its $175,000 target by tens of thousands of dollars. Following the completion of the Museum and Archives building, Molly became the founding chair of the Waskasoo Museum Foundation.
In April 1977, Molly was named Woman of the Year by the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority. However, the day before she was named for this honour, she underwent her first surgery for cancer. It was a disease which she was to battle for the next seven years. In keeping with her strong spirit and desire to help others, Molly helped to found a local chapter of CanSurmount, a support group for people with cancer and their families.
Despite her illness, Molly remained active in many community organizations and projects. Although she was very modest and claimed anything that she accomplished was the result of a team effort with others, her volunteer work continued to win her major recognitions and honours. In 1978, she was named Red Deer Citizen of the Year by the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce. In 1980, she received a citation from the American Association of State and Local History for her role in creating a museum in Red Deer. In 1983, she was given the Heritage of Nursing Award from the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses.
In 1984, it was announced that Molly Banister had been named to the Order of Canada, our country’s highest honour. Shortly thereafter, she passed away from cancer on June 7, 1984. However, in a rare move, her Order of Canada was still presented, posthumously at a ceremony at Government House in Ottawa on October 3, 1984.
In February 1986, City Council decided to rename 28 Street “Molly Banister Drive” in recognition of this outstanding community volunteer and all of her many accomplishments.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.