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Mary Belle Barclay


Member of the Order of Canada

"A former teacher and an ardent conservationist, this Calgary resident was a co-founder, with her late sister, of the Canadian Youth Hostel Association in 1933. From a shaky beginning with a horse, two cars and a tent, the Association has become a network of some sixty shelters [now called hostels], serving Canadians and visitors from around the world." [Governor General of Canada, June 1987]

Mary Belle and Catherine Barclay

 Mary Belle Barclay and her sister Catherine were special people who were courageous Western Pioneers and together they officially founded and then registered the Canadian Youth Hostel Association in 1938 (now HI-Canada). Both sisters were pragmatic dreamers who got things done.

Mary gave credit to her sister Catherine for bringing the concept of hostelling from Europe to Canada, but it was Mary's dream and determination that really made it happen in 1933. The first hostel was at Bragg Creek, Alberta and consisted of a $19 tent. Mary later wrote "it was the right idea that once seen can never be destroyed".

You can read more about Mary's life in the book "Mary Belle Barclay", written by Evelyn Edgeller. Click here to download the pdf version.

Awards and recognitions

In 1973, Mary and Catherine Barclay were honoured by the City of Calgary as Citizens of the year, and in 1975, the two sisters received the Richard Schirrmann medallion and scroll from the International Youth hostel Association in Germany (DJH) for their work as the founders of the youth hostel movement in Canada.

Mary also received the founders award  - Isabelle and Monroe Smith award  -from our neighbours to the south, formerly the American Youth Hostels Association, now HI-USA. Then, in 1987, the Canadian government recognized Mary's pioneer work and dedication to the advancement of the youth hostelling. Mary received her country's highest tribute, bestowed upon a citizen, the Order of Canada.

Mary Belle Barclay's Legacy

First conceived as a dream by Mary and her sister in 1933, it is now a national network of youth hostels owned and managed by a community of travellers. Today the Canadian hostelling network, stretches across the country and affordable HI hostels can be found in every province from sea to sea.

Mrs Evelyn Edgeller, in the epilogue of her book "Mary Belle Barclay", wrote: "Many of the homesteaders, like Mary Barclay and her family, rose to the challenge and showed greatness in courage, hard work, moral fibre and understanding." And in the closing comments of her own biography Mary said "May I hope that this little volume on my life and work might inspire readers to undertake their own pioneer work towards uplifted thinking, true education, greater understanding, and the pursuit of peace with all people."

In September 2000, Mary passed away, just a few months short of her 100th birthday.

Mary has left us a legacy, a legacy that is measured in more ways than just a financial bequest from her estate. She has left us her vision of the future, that special adaptable and noble pioneer spirit filled with enthusiasm and determination to succeed. She embraced change and made things happen. The legacy of Mary Belle Barclay is one and the same as HI-Canada's mission:

"To help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of peoples, places and cultures through hostelling."

 Barclay family fonds - at the Glenbow Musem in Calgary:
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