1858 engraving of Victoria

Colonial History Vancouver Island

Maureen Duffus - Author and Historian


Women's History

Forgotten Pioneer Women of Dance in Canada

Olga Valda Kavaner (Madame Valda)

Madame Valda at her convocation
Image courtesy of the University of Calgary Archives 82.011_06.47_2

The University of Calgary includes Madame Valda in their Memory Makers column in the Spring 2006 edition of U Magazine. Alex Frazer Harrison writes:

"Madame, as she was known on campus, was 76 years young when she received her BA, capping a busy life that led from her birthplace in London to the stages of Europe ... Valda came to Calgary in 1949 and enrolled in the university in 1961, studying art and archaeology and teaching ballet on campus."

The writer describes her as a role model for lifelong learners everywhere, and quotes her as saying "I have proven what I always felt - that grey matter has no age or sex."

Madame Valda with male dance students
Image courtesy of the University of Calgary Archives 82.009_03.02_1

Photos from the University of Calgary Archives show her at convocation, often with the university chancellor and other officials, very much a special graduate. Another set of photos shows her as a teacher, trying hard to turn two large sporty gentlemen into dancers - perhaps for a University show.

It is thought that her performing career was interrupted when the Paris Opera was forced to close for a few years during World War I, at which time she found her way to Victoria.

Valda died in March, 1973, at age 80. The Madam Valda Bursaries still offered at the University of Calgary were established from her estate for students 'preferably of Native Canadian ancestry, based primarily on financial need with academic merit also considered.'

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