Malhiot, Alice Charlotte

MALHIOT, Alice Charlotte (1889-1968) holds the distinction of being the very first Canadian woman to graduate from an accredited School of Architecture in the United States. Her achievement took place in Rhode Island in 1910, and later that year she returned to her home town of Calgary, Alberta to pursue her architectural career.

Born in the French-speaking region of eastern Ontario on 13 August 1889, Alice was the daughter of Zephirin Malhiot (1856-1948), a civil engineer who worked for the railways in western Canada and who later became the Resident Engineer for the federal Dept. of Public Works, working from his local office in Calgary, Alta. His daughter Alice was ambitious, and at the early age of 17 years, she declared her interest in the profession of architecture. With the financial assistance of her father, she moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1907 and enrolled at the famous Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which had originally been established in 1877. She remained there for four years, and graduated from the school with a Diploma in Architecture on 25 May 1910 (Yearbook of the Rhode Island School of Design, 1910, 47, 66-67, list of students and graduates; inf. Mr. Douglas Doe, Assistant Archivist, Rhode Island School of Design; inf. Robert Hamilton, Hamilton, Ont.). At her graduation ceremony, she was presented with her diploma by Rhode Island Governor Aram J. Pothier, who was a relative of the Malhiot family (Saturday News [Edmonton], 11 June 1910, 8).

She returned to Calgary, Alberta in the summer of 1910, becoming the first woman who could claim to be a graduate from an American architectural school to work in Canada, and she was successful in landing a job in the busy architectural office of Lang & Major, Architects (Calgary City Directory, 1911, p. 500, listing for "Alyce [sic] Malhiot, draughtsman, Lang & Major"). She appears to have been employed on and off in that office for at least four years, from 1910 to late 1913. In September 1911 Alice travelled north from Calgary to Edmonton and enrolled as a student in the new Department of Architecture at the Univ. of Alberta which had been formed by Cecil S. Burgess, an architect who served as Director and lecturer at that School. With her architectural credentials from Rhode Island, it is unclear why she decided to pursue another professional degree in Architecture, but in 1914 her graduation from that university in Edmonton was heralded in both the local and international press which congratulated her on becoming “the first woman architect in Canada”. She was described as a woman who “...will shortly be a full-fledged architect” (article in the Calgary Daily Herald, 28 May 1914, 16; Edmonton Daily Bulletin, 29 May 1914, 3; and 7 July 1914, 3; Edmonton Capital, 6 July 1914, 6; Fort Wayne Daily News [Fort Wayne, Indiana], 12 June 1914, 10; Helena Independent Record [Helena, Montana], 23 June 1914, 3). In early July 1914, it was reported that Malhiot had passed her examinations (Edmonton Journal, 2 July 1914, 16), but just 4 days later, on 6 July 1914, page 6, the same paper printed a Correction which appeared in the society columns reporting that Malhiot had passed only a portion of the examinations, and that she "....intends coming up again next year to complete her exams" (inf. Ellen Schoeck, Edmonton; inf. Cate Alexander, Edmonton). No record of her final graduation from the Univ. of Alberta in either 1914 or 1915 has been found.

She returned to her hometown of Calgary, but the downturn in the economy, and the onset of WWI, made it difficult for her to find a job as an architect, and she was recorded as a clerk in the office of Consolidated Building & Investment Co, Calgary (in 1913-14), and later as stenographer with Swift Meat Co. in Calgary (1916). In 1923, Alice travelled to Winnipeg for a family visit, and the local press noted her arrival with an erroneous article on her past achievements as the first woman graduate in architecture in Canada in 1914 (Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 31 March 1923, 8). Her marriage to Hugh Ross, a lumber dealer in Duffield, Alberta, in early 1917 may have derailed her plans for a career in architecture, and for a brief period of time she worked from her home, providing designs and blueprints for houses for her husband's lumber business. After the death of her husband in 1944, she returned to the profession, joining an Edmonton construction firm preparing their designs for single family houses for a post-war National Housing scheme project. She enrolled at her alma mater in Providence, Rhode Island to conduct post-graduate work, and completed courses in interior design, landscape architecture, and town planning. In 1948 Malhiot outlined her plans to open her own office as an architect in Edmonton, in which she intended to concentrate on residential designs "... in the Colonial or Cape Cod style", for which she expressed a special fondness (see extensive biography on her career and work in the Winnipeg Free Press, 11 May 1948, 10, with port.).

Alice C. Malhiot died in Edmonton, Alta. on 10 June 1968 (obituary Edmonton Journal, 12 June 1968, 5; Star-Phoenix [Saskatoon], 27 June 1968, 10; Ottawa Journal, 27 June 1968, 53). She was later buried at St. Joachim’s Cemetery in Edmonton, in the same plot as her husband Hugh Ross. The Glenbow Museum in Calgary holds a small collection of manuscript material from her father when he was active in Calgary (Glenbow Museum, Malhiot Coll., Acc. 3851).