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Profiles of Alberta Women

Anne Anderson

Personal life

On February 3rd, 1906, on a river lot farm four miles east of St. Albert, Anne Anderson was born to Elizabeth (Betsy) Callihoo, a Cree woman and William Joseph Gairdner, who was of French-Scottish descent. When she was first born, Anne was a particularly small child, so much so that her mother made a bed for her in a shoebox lined in rabbit fur. When Elizabeth asked a medicine man to give her child strength, he told her that her child would both survive and grow to be a strong and accomplished woman.1 His words proved correct, and baby Anne soon outgrew her shoebox.

From childhood, Anne was raised to value her Indigenous heritage, particularly by her mother. Elizabeth, who had for a time been raised in a convent where children were beaten for speaking Cree, worked hard to teach her children the lifestyle and traditions of her people. She would take them gathering herbs, taught them beadwork, showed them how to treat and sew skins, and encouraged them to learn the Cree language.

[Speaking of her mother] She spoke to us and we had to answer in Cree. She said ‘the white lady at the school can teach you English but this Indian home must always have the Cree language.’”

Judy Shuttleworth, “Metis Historian and Teacher Retires at 85,” Windspeaker, January 31, 1992, 7,

From their birth, Elizabeth would speak to her children in Cree, and would encourage them to speak it while at home. Her act of defiance in the face of a colonial society that sought to shame the Indigenous peoples of Canada was formative for a young Anne, and became a driving force in her life. The love of the culture and language that Elizabeth instilled in Anne would stay with her throughout her life, and informed a decades-long career of writing, promotion, and education done in service to her heritage.

As a child Anne first attended Bellerose School in St. Albert. At ten years of age she was sent to the nearby Grey Nuns’ Convent, where she spent three years before returning to Bellerose. Her memories of the convent were not fond, as she experienced much of the same discrimination her mother had. She recalled being prohibited from speaking Cree, referred to by some people running the school as the ‘devil’s language,’ and had vivid memories of boys crying as their long hair was cut.2 After returning to Bellerose, Anne’s education continued until the tenth grade, at which point it was decided she had received enough education and she returned home to help with managing the farm. Her work to support her family became more crucial soon after, when her father passed away from acute appendicitis. Sixteen at the time, as the eldest daughter Anne assumed further responsibilities to help care for her family, including earning extra income by working on neighbours’ farms.

In 1926 Anne married her first husband, William J. Callihoo, and moved with him to a farm north of Spruce Grove. Together the couple had two children, Patricia and Herbert. William, who also suffered abuse and discrimination for his heritage, discouraged Anne from teaching their children Cree, instead saying they should let them “grow up as white people” to spare them the discrimination their parents underwent.3 In 1929 the family moved to Oregon, where they lived for several years before returning to Alberta.

In 1946 Anne and William were divorced, and the following year she married Joseph Anderson, who she met in Frog Lake after moving there with her children. While living in the area, Anne worked as the supervisor of the Fishing Lake Métis Colony and learned to type, a skill that served her in her future writing career. After their marriage, Anne and Joseph moved with her children to Edmonton, where she took a position working as a nurse’s aide, a role she served in for fifteen years. Later the two would divorce, and in 1979 Anne married Alex Irvine.


On the first of February, 1965, Elizabeth passed away at the age of 83. Before her death, Elizabeth implored her daughter to never forget the Cree language, a plea that sparked a fire in Anne to undertake a monumental task that would consume her life for the next thirty years.

Soon after Elizabeth’s passing, Anne was forced to retire from her career as a nursing aid due to a detached retina. After two corrective surgeries, Anne found herself retired and “so energetic I could hardly keep still.”4 Anne applied her energy and newfound free time to the preservation of the Cree language, first in the form of lessons, and then subsequently through researching and writing a host of educational and instructional materials.

In 1966 I had nothing to do, but, I [recalled] what my mother said to me just before she died. She said: ‘Don’t you ever forget that your mother is Indian, and she is very proud of it.’”

Bruce Cinnamon, “The ‘Grand Lady of the Métis:’ Dr. Anne Anderson’s Mission to Preserve the Cree Language,” Edmonton City as Museum Project, Edmonton Heritage Council, November 10, 2020,

Her career as a Cree language teacher began in the late 1960s with an ad placed in the Edmonton Journal for language lessons, an ad stating simply “Will tutor Cree.”5 Expecting to be able to teach a class of eight or ten students in her kitchen, Anne was overwhelmed when her ad garnered 50 applications by mail. Her courses soon expanded, and Anne began a series of partnerships and collaborations with various institutions in Edmonton as the need for her Cree language courses, and the lack of any comparable opportunities, became apparent.

Anne approached the Canadian Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton and established with them a course for instructing individuals who may work with Indigenous populations. Her students included professors, government employees, nurses, doctors, and other professionals who sought instruction in Cree. In addition to the Friendship Centre, in the early days of her instruction Anne established partnerships teaching university students with the extension department at the University of Alberta and instructing patients at the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton.

After the initial success of her lessons, Anne’s partnerships expanded and she went on to teach at other institutions including public schools, the YWCA, and Grant MacEwan Community College. In 1974, building on the success of night classes Anne had taught, Grant MacEwan Community College established a for-credit program in the Cree language and culture, a program thought to have been the first of its kind.6 The program was a full-time, one-year, 200-hour course that yielded a certificate, and seats filled up soon after it was established.7

In addition to post-secondary and community courses, Anne also taught Cree in public schools for many years, starting in 1968. In the early years, she encountered much apprehension and hostility from the educators and administrators. Speaking of that time, Anne said “The schools were terrible. I used to go to the Alberta Teachers’ Association and a lot of them, you know, they didn’t care. They were prejudiced and lots of things. I used to say your schools are not doing our kids a whole lot of good. They didn’t care if the children studied.”8 These experiences with public schools, alongside a desire to establish a space for Cree education and culture, led Anne to establish the Dr. Anne Anderson Native Heritage and Cultural Centre.

When I first became involved with the Cree language around 1968, I was teaching in the public schools but they would only allow a half an hour a day. The little Native kids wanted to stay longer in the classroom but they wouldn’t allow them to. I used to say, some day I’m going to have my own school and my own classroom and it’s evolved into what you see today.”

Judy Shuttleworth, “Metis Historian and Teacher Retires at 85,” Windspeaker, January 31, 1992, 7,

Taking its name from a nickname that Anne’s years of teaching had earned her, the Centre, on 124th Street in Edmonton, was created as a hub of Cree culture. The Centre hosted Cree language classes for both children and adults, maintained a library and a collection of cultural artifacts, and provided a storefront where arts and crafts from Indigenous creators were sold. The Centre also sold a wealth of instructional materials on the Cree language and Metis history, books that represented another side of Anne’s work to preserve the Cree language, her writing.


Simultaneous to her education efforts, Anne also embarked on a decades-long career preserving the Cree language in writing. When she first began teaching in the late 1960s, she was disappointed with the lack of learning resources available for teaching Cree. She reached out to reserves, schools, and churches seeking written materials, and eventually came across some materials created by missionaries in the 1800s.9

Recognizing these as insufficient, due in part to the fact that they were not created by the actual speakers of the language, Anne set to work writing her own instructional materials, publishing the first of her books, Let’s Learn Cree, in 1970. She began the work assembling the book at her kitchen table, accompanied by her niece, Elaine Rowe. Using paper grocery bags, cereal boxes, and whatever else was available, Anne set to work listing Cree words, drawing both on her memory and the memory of friends and family. Anne and Elaine together typed out the lists of words on an Olivetti typewriter, and Joseph would assist by binding the books with tape, resulting in an initial run of 70 copies of Let’s Learn Cree.

This first publication would be followed by many more, culminating in a bibliography of over 90 books produced over the rest of her life. While Let’s Learn Cree offered relatively basic instruction, her subsequent books expanded to address more complex linguistic topics, such as sentence structure and arrangement of paragraphs.10 Her materials were published by Cree Productions, a company Anne founded to publish her work, and reached educators across North America, including those in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, and Montana.11

Once I started writing, the words just seemed to come from everywhere. I am very spiritual, and the native way is spiritual, so I asked for help and I got it.”

Rolland Bremner, “Native-centre Founder Ready to Retire at 85,” Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB), Jan. 2, 1992.

In addition to linguistics, Anne produced books on topics such as pow-wows, cooking, herbal remedies, and other aspects of Indigenous life, creating educational materials that served to preserve heritage and culture as well as language. In 1982 she began to research her first book of history. With the assistance of some government funding and student researchers, Anne began to write the history of the Métis people. Drawing both on documentary sources, oral sources, and her own memory, in 1985 Anne released The First Metis: A New Nation.

However, Anne’s largest work, and the one for which she is best known, is her dictionary of the Cree language. Consisting of over 38,000 words assembled, translated, and defined over several years, Dr. Anne Anderson’s Metis Cree Dictionary began as a smaller dictionary in the Plains Cree Y dialect, published in the 1970s. With her continual additions and expansions, the final version of the dictionary bearing her name was published in 1997. In addition to that momentous work, Anne also produced a dictionary of Cree translations of medicals terms produced at the request of medical professionals who approached her, hoping for assistance in communicating with their Cree-speaking patients.12

In the late 1980s, the Dr. Anne Anderson Native Heritage and Cultural Centre was facing a financial crisis, and at risk of closure. When it was first launched, the centre operated on a combination of grant funding, volunteer work, donations, and Anne’s personal funding. While the success of Cree Productions provided one stream of revenue, government cuts to grants and denial of grants that had been previously provided put the centre at risk of closure.13 Although the 1980s saw Anne and her centre face financial risk, she was honored for her work when, in the mid-1980s an Edmonton park on 162 Street was renamed Dr. Anne Anderson Park.

In the early 1990s the Métis Nation of Alberta acquired the Centre as well as the rights to the materials from Cree Productions. Today, copies of The First Métis are still available for purchase from them. Having completed the revised version of her dictionary, and in her mid-80s, Anne entered into retirement. In 1994, ten years after the dedication of Dr. Anne Anderson Park, a metre high and metre-and-a-half long bronze statue of a buffalo was erected in the park. The statue had been a wish of Anne’s, to whom the creature represented survival.14 A few years later, on April 21, 1997, Anne passed at the age of 91. In 2021 Dr. Anne Anderson High School and Dr. Anne Anderson Community Centre were established in Edmonton.

With a writing and teaching career that began after a life spent working and raising children, Anne’s story is a testament to the things one can accomplish at any time of life. With a courage and dedication informed and driven by the lived experiences of herself and her mother, Anne found a path to preserving the knowledge and Cree language her mother feared would be lost and made invaluable contributions to her continuation of her culture and people.

Read more about Anne Anderson


1 Cheryl Petten, “Teacher, Author Makes Good on a Promise to Her Mother,” Windspeaker, February 2005,

2 “Her Fight Goes on for Indian Rights,” Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB), Oct. 6, 1979.

3 Judy Shuttleworth, “Metis Historian and Teacher Retires at 85,” Windspeaker, January 31, 1992

4 Lynne Bell, “She Teaches Cree to Teachers, Officials,” Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB), Feb. 21, 1969.

5 Rolland Bremner, “Native-centre Founder Ready to Retire at 85,” Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB), Jan. 2, 1992.

6 “Would You Like to Learn Cree?” Red Deer Advocate (Red Deer, AB), Aug. 21, 1974.

7 Ibid.

8 Shuttleworth, “Metis Historian and Teacher Retires at 85.”

9 Glennis Zilm, “Edmonton Grandmother Published Cree Dictionary,” Red Deer Advocate (Red Deer, AB), Mar. 9, 1972.

10 Bremner, “Native-centre Founder Ready to Retire at 85.”

11 Zilm, “Edmonton Grandmother Published Cree Dictionary.”

12 Rudy Haugeneder, “Her Dictionary Translates Medical Terms Into Cree,” Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB), Feb. 28, 1974.

13 John Morneau Grey, “Cultural Centre in Jeopardy,”

14 Carol Berger, “Savior of the Cree Language,” Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB), Oct. 31, 1994.

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