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A City on Two Rivers

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 610

Elbow River in Flood, 25th Avenue W Bridge, 1923

Postcards from the Past, PC 610

I don’t want to bring this up, really, but flood season will soon be upon us. Since the founding of the city, where the Bow River meets the Elbow, flooding has been a reality for Calgarians. The first major flood occurred in 1884 but caused little damage because of the limited population and structures in the settlement. But floods occurred regularly and in both winter (usually caused by ice jams) and summer. Many of us, over many generations, have been the victims of Mother Nature. A flood in 1923 washed out the gas line near High River that supplied Calgary with gas. The Albertan of June 2 said: “Ham and eggs were at a premium in local restaurants last night. There was no gas to cook them.” Water flooded the basement of the city power house and there was no power to the city. The flood was caused by a heavy rainstorm in the mountains. The Elbow was yet to be controlled by the Glenmore Dam, which wasn’t built until 1931, and rose nearly five feet. The Bow also rose to within inches of the high water mark of the 1915 flood.

What is really interesting in all of this is that there are postcards showing the rivers in full flood. Most of the postcards in our collection were created to show off the city to friends and relatives back home. We often joke that very few postcards show Calgary in the winter. But there is a series of postcards showing bridges and homes threatened by the floods of the city’s two rivers. The two I’ve used to illustrate this entry are from the flood of 1923. Is this akin to the t-shirts we wore bragging that we survived the blizzard of 1999?

PC 613

Flooded Residential Street in Calgary, 1928?

Postcards from the Past, PC 613

To find out more about the city and its relationship with the rivers that run through it you can check out the chapter on floods in Calgary: Spirit of the West by Hugh Dempsey (971.2338 DEM) or our newspaper clippings file (there are actually 3 files) called “Floods – Calgary” in the Community Heritage and Family History room. You can also search our library catalogue for books and other items about the two rivers that make our lives here wonderful and difficult. And, as always, if you’d like to see more pictures of floods in Calgary and Southern Alberta, just search our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (link on the left) with the term ‘flood’.

St. George's Island

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1755

St. George's Island Park, Calgary

Postcards from the Past, PC 1755

I don't know what you did on Victoria Day but I'll bet a large number of Calgarians celebrated by visiting some of the city's fine parks. This photo shows a large crowd of people in the park on St. George's Island. St. George's Island was a park long before it housed the Calgary Zoo. Originally the island was a stopping point for itinerant travellers, but by 1890, the city had obtained a lease on the islands, St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick, from the Federal Government on the recommendation by William Pearce. The lease stipulated that the city upgrade the islands for use as parks by the citizens of Calgary. A ferry service was provided from 1892 to 1900, when a footbridge was constructed. In 1907 a by-law was passed to raise $25,000 to build the Algoma steel bridge that exists to this day. It was completed in 1908.

Calgarians loved the park. There was a bandstand and a biergarten (constructed without checking about the legality of selling beer in a public facility - so it became a teahouse). The top floor of the biergarten was a dancehall. Cinder pathways were laid and fire places installed for picnickers. Average turn outs for the band concerts were estimated, in a Calgary Herald article from 1911, to be 1,500 to 2,000.

There had been a few attempts to start a zoo in Calgary. Citizens thought that the island would be a perfect setting. After a few false starts, the zoo's collection began with two wayward deer that had found themselves in the big city and were corralled in the cages the dog catcher had set up near the biergarten. The display became so popular that the fledgling zoo, under the direction of parks superintendent William Reader, began to grow.

We now have a zoo that is known the world over. St. George's Island continues to be a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike.

To see more photos of St. George's Island and the early years of athe zoo, check out the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. The link is on the right side of the page. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the Zoo, you can check out the CHFH collection on the 4th floor of the Central Library. The resources I used in researching this entry were the Summer 1979 issue of Dinny's Digest (590.737123 DIN Winter - Fall 1979); Ark on the Bow River, a bound manuscript by Catherine Phillip (590.744 PHI) and The Evolution of the Calgary Zoo by Taylor Trafford (590.737123 TRA). We also have newspaper clippings in our files as well as a number of other interesting items. Drop by, we'd love to see you.

Land Records

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 261

A Homestead on the Boundless Prairie, Western Canada

Postcards from the Past, PC 261

I can't explain my fascination with land records. The majority of my ancestors were working class people and not landowners. Unlike many of the people I encounter in my work with the genealogy collection here at the Central Library, I cannot go back and find the homestead land. The one ancestor who did apply for a homestead didn't stay. There was, of course, my ggg grandfather, the original immigrant to Canada, who got land from the Canada Company. Boy, I was excited when I finally found the entries for his property in the Ontario Land Records index (available at the library, of course). It wasn't long, though before his family up and headed west to work on the railroad in British Columbia. Not a farmer in the bunch!

Despite the paucity of information in the land records for my family, I have found that for people who settled and stayed, land records can tell you a whole lot about your ancestors. Homestead records can contain pages and pages of information about the land and the people who filed for the homestead. At the very least, land records can help you place your people, which can be an important key to finding other records about them. At Calgary Public Library we have a number of resources to help you track your ancestors' land records. For example, we have the Ontario land records index, the index to Crown land grants in Quebec, and the microfilm finding aid to Alberta homestead records, which includes the township registers. (The index is also available online at the Alberta Genealogical Society website(

Our postcard collection includes some interesting examples of promotional cards created by the Canadian government as advertisements for the land available to settlers in Alberta. The card illustrating this entry is just such a one. The verso reads:" 160 Acres Farms in Western Canada Free. Good Schools. Splendid Climate. Rich Soil. Splendid Pasturage. Land for Cattle. Excellent Dairying. Particulars may be obtained from any Canadian Government Agent or from Mr.W.D. Scott. Superintendent of Immigration.Ottawa. Mr. W.T.R. Preston, Commissioner of Emigration, 11-12 Charing Cross, London W.C. England." We've noticed that none of these postcards is a winter scene.

Influenza and the Isolation Hospital

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 755

Bird's eye view of Calgary, 1906 (Isolation Hospital in foreground)

Postcards from the Past, PC 755

It is interesting, the images that stay in one's mind. Watching the news reports about the outbreak of the new influenza A strain I remembered the photos I had seen in the newspapers (I mean the old newspapers, I read them more frequently that the current ones, I'm embarrassed to say) of Calgarians during the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919. The Alberta government had passed legislation requiring people to wear face masks when out in public. Spitoons and cuspidors were banned, as was spitting on the street. In Regina, one could be fined for coughing or sneezing. Faced with a global outbreak of a deadly disease and with no antibiotics or effective vaccines, health professionals and legislators fought back in the only way they could. That meant isolating those with the flu and keeping them from the healthy population.

That explains the photograph used to illustrate this entry. It is from our postcard collection and is, actually, the oldest postcard in the collection. It shows a view of the city to the north. The building in the centre foreground is the original isolation hospital which was situated on 13th Avenue SE on the riverbank. That is very near where the remains of the second General Hospital, the Rundle Ruins, are located near the Stampede Grounds. The Isolation Hospital was used for patients with communicable diseases such as, measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and typhoid. It was small, but generally adequate until the outbreak of the Spanish influenza at the end of World War I.

During the outbreak of the flu, the old General Hospital, which had been replaced in 1910, was reopened for influenza patients. Schools were also pressed into service as influenza hospitals as well. Schools had been closed during the worst of the epidemic along with theatres and other places where people congregated. You can see Victoria school at the centre of this photograph. Victoria school was was one of the schools pressed into service. The library, too, was closed. When it reopened on November 21, customers were promised that all books would be fumigated before they were circulated again.

There are lots of interesting books about the history of the hospitals and the history of the Spanish influenza epidemic in Alberta. For a history of the General Hospital, pick up Hospital: a portrait of Calgary General by D. Scollard. For an interesting view of the Spanish influenza outbreak, I found the chapter by Stephanie Keer in The Great War and its consequences 1914-1920 in the series Alberta in the 20th Century to be very informative. You can find both of these titles in the Calgary Public Library catalogue.