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Themes - Government

The Hon. W. Helen Hunley

Portrait of The Hon. W. Helen Hunley

O.C., LL.D.

First woman Lieutenant Governor of Alberta
First woman cabinet minister with a full portfolio
First woman Solicitor General of Alberta
First woman mayor of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
First woman International Harvester dealer in North America
First woman president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta

The Hon. W. Helen Hunley

Born in Acme, Alberta on September 6, 1920

Political Affiliation: Progressive Conservative

Legislative Career: Alberta Legislative Assembly (Rocky Mountain House district), elected in 1971. She served as minister without portfolio from 1971 to 1973, as Solicitor General from 1973 to 1975. Re-elected in 1975, she served as Minister of Social Services and Community Health from 1975 to 1979.

Honours and Awards: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta (1985); Dame of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (1985); Officer of the Order of Canada (1992)

Helen Hunley has been described as a "Renaissance woman" who had an extraordinary career, having worked as a businessperson, a volunteer, a military officer, a politician at the municipal and provincial levels, in addition to serving in one of the highest posts in the country, that of Lieutenant Governor of her home province, Alberta. Her personal accomplishments in non-traditional roles in various sectors are a positive contribution to women's participation in general. She was often the first woman to hold several of the positions and offices she performed over the course of her career.

Wilma Helen Hunley was born in Acme, Alberta on September 6, 1920. She attended rural schools in Southern Alberta and entered the Rocky Mountain High School in 1936. She paid her way through high school by working as a telephone operator, after which she served in the Canadian Women's Army Corps from 1941 to 1946 as a lance corporal, a training sergeant, and a lieutenant, the rank she held upon discharge. Her military service included duty overseas in Great Britain from 1943 to 1945. She stated, "Service in the military, especially when I was posted to wartime England, was to me as valuable and enlightening as a university education." (Aspenland, p. 62)

Upon completion of military service, her business career began. First as a bookkeeper at the International Harvester dealership in Rocky Mountain House, then later as a partsman and salesperson of machinery, vehicles and general insurance. She was able to acquire the business in 1957 and held the International Harvester franchise for Rocky Mountain House to 1968. She holds a Journeyman's Certificate as a Partsman. She also owned and managed her own insurance company from 1956 to 1975, Helen Hunley Agencies Limited.

Helen entered politics in 1960 first as a municipal councillor, then later as the mayor of Rocky Mountain House from 1966 to 1971. In 1971, she was elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly representing the Rocky Mountain House district for the Progressive Conservatives. She gained admission to the cabinet and served as minister without portfolio from 1971 to 1973 and as Solicitor General from 1973 to 1975. Re-elected in 1975, she served as Minister of Social Services and Community Health from 1975 to 1979, when she retired from politics.

Helen continued to serve on various committees in both government and the private sector. In June 1980, she was appointed Chairman of the Alberta Mental Health Advisory Council. In 1984, she served as President of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. In 1985, she was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, a position she held until 1991.


Aspenland, 1998: Local Knowledge and a Sense of Place. Edited by David J. Goa and David Ridley. [Red Deer, Alta.]: Central Alberta Regional Museums Network, 1998, p. 61-68.

Elash, Anita and Alan Hustak. "A New Lieutenant-Governess: Ex-Minister Helen Hunley Chalks Up Another First." Alberta Report. (December 17, 1984), p. 14.

Francis, Lesley. "Humour's a Hunley Soft Spot." Edmonton Journal. Section "Brunch." (Sunday, December 1, 1985), p. B4.

Hunley, Helen. "A Sense of Vocation." Women of Aspenland: Images of Central Alberta.
(accessed August 17, 2005).

McDonald, Pat. "Hunley, Helen - Renaissance Woman." In The Days After Yesterday: Rocky Mountain House/Nordegg and Area History. Rocky Mountain House, Alta.: Rocky Mountain House Reunion Historical Society, 2003, p. 344-345.

McDonald, Pat and Anne Belliveau. "W. Helen Hunley." In Where the River Brought Them: 200 Years at Rocky Mountain House & Area. [Rocky Mountain House, Alta.: Town of Rocky Mountain House, Bicentennial History Book Committee], ©2000, p. 298-300.

McDougall, D. Blake, and John E. McDonough, and Kenneth W. Tingley. "The Honourable W. Helen Hunley, 1985-1991." In Lieutenant-Governors of the Northwest Territories and Alberta, 1876-1991. Edmonton: Alberta Legislature Library, 1991, p. 69-71.

McDowell, Lynn Neumann. "The Daughter of a Homesteader is the Queen's Representative." Western People: A Supplement to The Western Producer. (May 21, 1987), p. WP5.

Palamarek, Michael. "W. Helen Hunley." In A History of Women and Politics in Alberta, 1900-1988: A Report for Senator Martha P. Bielish. [Canada?: s.n.], 1989, p. 108-110.

Note: The author interviewed the Honourable Helen Hunley by telephone on August 17, 2005.