"You had this sense of privilege that you were living in this a very special place, even though it was remote and not very important..”
Unless you were raised in the foothills of southern Alberta, you’ve probably never heard of Pincher Creek. Located in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the small farming town (population 3,600) is well off the beaten path and is best known for its ranches, rodeos and record wind speed. Yet over the past 100 years the remote community has quietly produced an impressive string of prominent Canadians, from judges and journalists to doctors, teachers and professional hockey players.
The roll call includes renowned CBC war correspondent Matthew Halton, NHL goalie Darcy Wakaluk, a president of the Canadian Medical Association and five Supreme Court justices including; Warren Winkler Chief Justice of the Ontario, Lawrence MacLean, who served on Alberta’s Supreme Court, and Beverley McLachlin Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. So, what’s the secret to the small town’s success?
“It’s physically a very beautiful place, with the mountains on the one hand and the prairie on the other,” says McLachlin, who grew up there during the 1950s. “I think that was something we appreciated every day. You had this sense of privilege that you were living in this a very special place, even though it was remote and not very important.”
Though it remains far from the province's centres of government and business, Pincher Creek still has the ability to stir up a strong sense of pride among its residents, with McLachlin being no exception. In person, she is an enthusiastic booster of her hometown and still maintains strong ties (she returns every summer for a vacation at her brother's cottage). Even her office in the Supreme Court building is not without a little nod to her birthplace: the oak-lined space prominently features a painting by Canadian artist Robert McInnes called Pincher Creek, which depicts the town’s trademark wheat fields.
Introduced in 2006, the Composite Learning Index (CLI) was created by CCL as a unique means of measuring learning conditions across Canada. This first of its kind in the world, the annual index is made up of 24 statistical measures that reflect the complex ways Canadians learn; in school, in the home, at work and in their community.
These measures—which include reading scores, high-school dropout rates and volunteerism—are combined to generate numeric scores meant to represent the state of learning in nearly 5,000 cities, small towns, communities and regions across the country. A high CLI score means that a community has the kind of environment that encourages social and economic success. To find CLI scores for your community, explore our interactive map.
To better understand how social and economic factors can affect a community's score, go to our CLI Simulator.
Modelled on the Consumer Price Index, the CLI is one of CCL’s major releases and comes out every spring. The success of the CLI in Canada has even generated overseas interest. Europe is in the process of developing their own version of the CLI, and is working closely with CCL to do so.
“There was always a strong emphasis put on literacy, reading and respect for learning,” she says in an interview in her office. “This really made a big difference in my life in a very concrete sense. There was a group of women who somehow got the funds, through bake sales and whatever else they did, to actually set up a library and manage to stock it with a reasonable amount of books. And that was literally my life when I was a kid. … Even though we were living in a small community we were living in a large world thanks to the library.”
Born in 1943, McLachlin was raised on a ranch in Pincher Creek with her four brothers and sisters and recalls a love of learning being as important a part of life as her daily chores. Her mother, who had to forgo her dream of being a writer to care for a sick family member, was “absolutely mad for learning” and made a point of encouraging her children to pursue higher learning opportunities. This was consistent with the rest of the community, which boasted a proud tradition of university and college achievement among its citizens.
“That was always big," she says. "I just always assumed that was the way every community was. I suppose it was a surprise to me to find out that it wasn’t the way that every community operated.”
After graduating from high school, McLachlin enrolled in the University of Alberta in the late 1950s where she earned her Masters in Philosophy. She was called to the Bar in Alberta in 1969, and following a few years in a private practice she began teaching law at the University of British Columbia in 1974. Her career as a judge began in 1981, when she was appointed to the County Court of Vancouver. Within seven years she was named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and a year later was named to the Supreme Court of Canada. She made history (and headlines) in January 2000, when she was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—the first woman in Canadian history to assume the country’s top legal job.
In the years since, she has earned a reputation as a soft-spoken person who according to Ottawa lawyer Eugene Meehan “has a fire for the law that’d burn through the pouring rain.” This passion is perhaps best summed up in her support of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms; which she also traces back to her years growing up in Pincher Creek, with its Hutterite and Mennonite communities, a nearby Aboriginal reserve and a strong Catholic and Protestant presence.
“I remember being confronted with human rights issues even when they weren’t a big thing, back in the 1950s. I would think about actual issues of religious and racial intersection and how those were thought about in the community…. Looking back, I think that was formative and an important influence.”
She also credits rural life with giving her self-discipline and a tireless work ethic, both essential skills for her job.
“If you grow up on a farm or a ranch you are part of the economic endeavor, and you learn from a very early age that you have a responsibility: everyone had their chores and their jobs. As Lorrie [Lawrence] MacLean put it in an interview once ‘I didn’t want to milk cows for the rest of my life, so I went to law school.’” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t milk cows, but I did understand that there’s no free ride and that I had to make my life.”
Haut de page
Droit d’auteur Politique de confidentialité