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Joan Mary Harland

(1914 – 2016)

Joan Harland was born in Leeds, England on December 10, 1914, shortly after the start of the First World War. Her parents lived at 1120 Grosvenor Avenue in Winnipeg, adjacent to the present site of St. George’s Anglican Church, a building project with which Harland would later have close involvement. After attending nearby St. Mary’s Academy, Harland took her degree in architecture at the University of Manitoba, having learned that the Architecture School at McGill University did not admit women. Harland graduated in 1938, earning the Gold Medal in her class.

After graduation, she interviewed for a position with an architecture firm in Winnipeg, only to be told that her training would make her a good secretary for an architecture practice; she instead found work with the famous Winnipeg office of Brigden’s catalogue and art company. Shortly after, the young designer started working in the School of Architecture as the first instructor in interior decorating classes at the university. She joined the only two other instructors, Dean Milton Osborne and Professor John A Russell, lecturing on a variety of subjects and forming the basis of the first specialized program of its kind in Canada.

In order to continue her university teaching career, Harland completed a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University in 1948. Her biography notes “Harland continued to build her department into a full Department of Interior Decorating by…convincing the University to develop the program within the School of Architecture into a four-year Interior design degree, in 1949. …Harland became first the chairman of the department and later, department head” serving in this role for 23 years. The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation also lauds Harland for leaving her mark in building up the Interior Design Educators Council of Canada (IDEC) and serving as president of the Manitoba Institute of Interior Designers.

Harland’s impact on the community can also be seen in her involvement in the 1958 expansion of St. George’s Anglican Church on Wilton Street and the redesign of the interior of the Ralph Connor House, home of the University Women’s Club of Winnipeg.

Harland’s obituary notes that after retiring in 1980, she returned to the University of Manitoba as a student and obtained 52 credits in Religious Studies and went on to create an impressive body of published writings, including The History of Interior Decoration/Design at the University of Manitoba 1938-1997.

While receiving the St. Mary’s Academy Marian Award for Excellence in 2008, she remarked, “I was born into a far different world than yours. I was born before women were given the vote in Manitoba…I found that my education and training I received at St. Mary’s stood me in good stead and that I could tackle and mostly succeed in doing the things I really wanted to do and was willing to work hard to achieve.”



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