Baker, Mary (Shantz)


     The Mary Jane Baker story is about a woman, despite her short life, who held a prominent place in the community of Wetaskiwin. She was a member of various organizations, actively participating in community work. Mary Jane's daughter Oriole Wilson reminisces that her "mother would sooner go to a lodge meeting than cook" . Even so, she was a devoted mother and wife, who brought joy and laughter to anyone who was blessed to be in her presence.

     Mary Jane Baker was born in the town of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Nov. 27, 1893. It is said that she was the third white girl to be born in Wetaskiwin. She was the eldest of nine children born to Benjamin Franklin Shantz and Margaret (Wallace) Shantz. The family of five brothers and four sisters, were raised in town.

Family History

     To fully grasp Mary Jane's enthusiasm for family and community life, one must look at her family history especially how her mother inspired her, shaping her view of family and community involvement.

     Mary Jane's mother, Margaret, had been "one of the first white women to live in the Wetaskiwin district" when she arrived from Ontario with her parents, in 1890, at the age of 19. In 1892, Margaret married Benjamin Shantz who was then working as a city policeman. Benjamin's family had moved to Canada from Kansas, U.S. where Benjamin was born, settling in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. They were amongst the first pioneers to settle in the area.

     In 1910, Benjamin was promoted to Chief of Police. Unfortunately, on March 25, 1914, at the age of 50, Benjamin died suddenly from complication of a flu leaving Margaret with eight children to care for. This sad event took place three days after Mary Jane's marriage to David Samuel Baker.

     Mary Jane's mother was a resourceful woman. Despite her circumstance she managed to provide for her family by being a practical nurse, sewing and housekeeping. After the First World War, Margaret and the younger children moved in with her unmarried sons who took homesteads in the Lone Ridge area once returned from the war. By 1920 the sons had married and so Margaret moved her family to Edmonton. However, Mary Jane and Dave, remained in Wetaskiwin.

     Margaret always managed to have time to participate in community activities. She was an active parishioner and member of the McDougall United Church Women's Auxiliary. She was president of the Canadian Daughters' League Assembly 18 and later a lifetime member of the Northern Alberta Pioneers and Old Timers Association. Her mother's commitment to family and community surely set the standard for Mary Jane's own life journey.

Mary Jane's Early Life 

     Mary Jane grew up in Wetaskiwin surrounded by her younger siblings. No doubt Mary Jane would be called on to assist her mother with her chores and looking after her brothers and sisters. At the age of 10, Mary Jane enrolled to attend the Alexandra School when it opened in 1903. She especially enjoyed school sports activities. In 1909 she played on the ladies basketball team. Sports continued to be an important part of her life.

     After high school, Mary Jane began her career as a nurse. It is unknown where she received her training but we do know that she worked at the two storey brick Community Hospital on 47th Street. It is estimated that Mary Jane worked from 1912 to 1914 prior to her marriage. At that time it was not customary for women to work once they were married.

     March 22, 1914, Mary Jane Shantz married David Samuel Baker. David came to Wetaskiwin in 1911. He had previously spent four years apprenticing as a blacksmith in Ontario. At the age of 19, young and ambitious and without a penny to his name, David decided to head westward “sure the West had more to offer” . Upon arriving in Wetaskiwin, he was immediately hired by Bill Eggleston as a blacksmith. Two years later he took over the business. Despite his successful beginnings, he was lonesome and homesick. His daughter Oriole recalls her father saying that he cried for the whole first year after his arrival. Although David was shy by nature, it did not take long to fit into community life. A year after his arrival in Wetaskiwin he joined the fire brigade. "Part of his duties [were] to shoe the fire horses and keep them in good walking condition”. He remained a member of the Wetaskiwin Fire Department for 44 years, the last 23 years serving as chief. He retired in 1951 receiving a plaque of recognition from City of Wetaskiwin for his “stalwart service with the brigade”.

     Mary Jane and David Baker had four children, Oriole (1916), Earl (1918), Ross (1920) and Eva Marie (1922). The youngest daughter, however, died shortly after she was born in 1922. David Baker provided for his family by pounding on the anvil and he did very well. They never went without anything but the motto he and his family lived by was, “it isn’t what you need, it’s what you can do without”.

     Mary Jane was a Methodist and attended the Methodist Church that was located where the Queen Elizabeth Junior High School now stands. She and the children went to church every Sunday; however, David did not join them. Mary Jane was very active with the church. She loved to sing and was very involved with the choir once she joined the First United Church. There were always two church services in those days. The junior choir sang for the morning service and the senior choir sang for the evening service. Mary Jane sang in the senior choir. Since her daughter Oriole sang in the junior choir, Mary Jane found herself going to church twice on Sunday.

     Mary Jane not only sang, but acted as well. In the late 1920’s she participated in plays directed by Mrs. Cecelia Enman and performed at the Audien Theatre. Her daughter Oriole would often help her mother rehearse her lines.

     In 1931, when Oriole left the Girl Guide Company of Wetaskiwin, Mary Jane decided that she would lead the Girl Guides and became captain, the highest-ranking leader for the group. Assisted by the lieutenants, she was responsible for teaching the various skills outlined in the Guiding textbook. The meetings were held in the Anglican Parish Hall.

     She was President of the Wetaskiwin Branch of the Alberta Athletic Association. During her term as president, the Association held the Alberta Provincial Track Meet in Wetaskiwin, where Norma Chiddy McEachearn of Wetaskiwin won a medal. It should be mentioned that during the first half of the twentieth century, Wetaskiwin was a very important city, even surpassing Edmonton and Calgary.

     Mary Jane was also a charter member of the Royal Purple. She served as secretary-treasurer. The Royal Purple was a benevolent association connected to the Elks. Elks were the men’s association while the Royal Purple was the women’s. The Royal Purple assisted the Elks with various activities. Both associations did a lot of good work for the benefit of Wetaskiwin. They would raise funds in different ways like carnivals and dances. They had their own hall that was built with money David Baker loaned to them. He received all the money back with interest paid.

     Mary Jane Baker was a dedicated mother, wife and community member. In her short life she accomplished more then many accomplish in a lifetime. She embraced life and made the most with what she had. She gave of herself fully to family and friends, without concern for her own needs. No one knew that she was suffering from cancer until a few days before she died. On August 1st, 1933 at the age of thirty-nine, Mary Jane Baker died leaving behind her beloved husband David Baker, daughter Oriole and sons Earl and Ross. The over crowded church of family and friends who came to pay their respects is representative of the legacy she left upon the community.

Category: Wetaskiwin