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Doll clubs a place to share treasured childhood memories

Doll clubs offer history, camaraderie and workshops, but mostly a shared love of all things doll.

Downsizing a loved one’s doll collection can be a surprisingly difficult ordeal. It may have been a parent’s lifelong passion or an inheritance, so taking it to the second-hand store may seem disrespectful.

“There is a sentimentality attached to dolls, even if no-one in your family has any interest in them. It can be difficult to throw grandma’s dolls in the bin,” explained Dawn-Marie Nokleby, past president and long-time member of the Doll Club of Edmonton. That's why the club offers a re-homing service for unwanted dolls.

“Dispersing a collection or repairing antique dolls is becoming popular,” she said. “It’s at least comforting for people to know they have gone to someone who appreciates them.”

“Dolls and such things as teddy bears--we grow a sentimental bond with them. I’ve never heard of that type of bond with toy trucks or skipping ropes or roller skates.”

The Calgary Doll Club has been offering an array of services and programs since it launched in 1978, including doll, miniature and teddy bear sales. Nearby at the Foothills Doll Club, members meet once a month in each other's homes, where they share doll history and enjoy each other's collections.

“Sometimes, someone will do a show and tell,” said Corrine Bridgett, a long-time member of the Foothills club.

Because the club's focus is antique dolls, Bridgett says members are always learning about doll makers and their specializations.

“A lot of the antique dolls are German and French, going back to the 1800s and earlier. And yet these dolls have survived all these years,” said Bridgett, adding the continuing attraction relates to historical connections and emotional ties. "Part of it is nostalgia. People remember their childhoods; they remember their playthings.”

A shared passion

In the central Alberta hamlet of Whitford, collector Virginia Workman has come to enjoy the community of devotees who share her passion.

“I do enjoy dolls and meeting people that tell me about their dolls,” said Workman, recalling one “wonderful woman” who shared her memories of the Great Depression when her parents couldn’t afford a doll.

“It must have been an instinct, to want a doll so badly,” said Workman. “Her mother told her, go out and get a stick. She wrapped it in a blanket, and that was her doll.”

After taking an interest as an adult --including the Tiny Tears dolls that were part of her childhood--Workman expanded her passions to now include action, ball-joint and animé dolls. It's even grown into a small enterprise, Doll Quest & Toy Treasures. (See Facebook page for more).

Since its beginnings in 1981, The Doll Club of Edmonton has outgrown space in members' living rooms to offer doll restoration services and contacts for supplies. The club attends events as far as Seattle, Saskatchewan and Montana, plus the United Federation of Doll Clubs annual conventions. 

The Edmonton club meets one Sunday a month, fall through winter, at the Central Lions Seniors Centre. Meeting topics range from learning about doll types to accessories and doll preservation techniques. The club's annual doll show and sale will run Sept. 10, 2023 at the Italian Cultural Centre, with a portion of proceeds donated to charities including Edmonton's Food Bank. Email [email protected] for more on the sale.

“Charitable donations have been part of our club since the very start,” said Nokleby. “We’ve donated to a wide variety of causes, from the Zebra Child Protection unit to our current support for Ukrainian refugees.”

The Edmonton and Calgary clubs also take turns hosting a doll and miniature gathering ever year, just to share their passion with other enthusiasts.

“The biggest and most important benefit by far is the opportunity to meet and befriend other collectors,” said Nokleby, whose own favourites are dolls that young girls on the Canadian prairie might have owned, much like her late mother.

“Ordinary dolls treasured by ordinary children. You cannot help but wonder what those children went through; what their lives were like,” she said. “Dolls are silent witnesses to the lives of their owners and that has always fascinated me.”

Visit the Calgary Doll Club on Facebook, and the Doll Club of Edmonton at or the Facebook page, Doll Club of Edmonton.