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Central Memorial Park

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Central Park prior to planting

Central Park Prior to Planting

This week is Historic Calgary Week. We here in the community heritage and family History department at Calgary Public Library are doing some things to celebrate (see our earlier blog entry about that) but there are loads of other things going on as well. One we’re particularly interested in is the Central Memorial Park Walking Tour on Tuesday July 27 at 7:00 pm. Heritage architect Lorne Simpson will be leading the tour of the newly restored park.

We have an attachment to the park as our first library sits proudly at the east end. It might not have been so had some members of City Council had their way. The matter was put to a plebiscite and on August 12, 1908, the site in Central Park was chosen over Sharple’s Corner by a vote of 193 to 157. I don’t know exactly where Sharple’s Corner was, but the Sharple’s Block was at 123 8 Avenue East. (If that’s the case, we would have started out very close to where we ended up!). At the same time the good people of Calgary voted 336 to 115 to give $20,000 to build the new library. At the time the library was built, Central Park was just an uncultivated green space originally set aside as a park in 1899. When the library’s chief librarian first saw it in 1911 he said it was “an unsightly wilderness of sand and scrub.” This may have been partly due to the construction work on the library, but planting had not begun (see photograph above), though the bandstand was in place by 1909.

Early in its history the park had been used as a tree farm by the city. In 1899 maple trees were brought from Brandon Manitoba and sold for 15 cents to Calgary ratepayers. In 1901 other varieties of trees were brought in. There was a windmill to pump water and a man hired to take care of the trees in the park (and on the boulevards). By 1912, however, Central Park was a showpiece. Plans, some of them carried out, included a South African War Memorial and two large fountains and plantings in front of the library that included a statues of Amazons. Now, the fountains did not come to pass, although the plumbing for them was discovered during the excavation of the garden for its renovation and the fountain was finally built during that restoration. The South African War Memorial and the Amazons, however, were put up in the garden. The memorial remains but the Amazons have disappeared. One can only wonder at the reaction to the half-naked ladies in the garden was, although it is possible that because it was in front of a cultural institution, it may have been tolerated, much as the statue of David at the top of the stairs in the Memorial Park Library was tolerated. (The story was told to me by a lady who used to visit the library when she was a child. She loved the fancy washrooms and the naked man at the top of the stairs!)

PC 961

Central Park, ca. 1910s

Postcards from the Past, PC 961

The park has been restored to its original glorious state and is a very important feature in the neighbourhood. I have heard Lorne Simpson talk about the park and I can highly recommend his walking tour. For more information you can visit the Chinook Country Historical Society website where you can look at the brochure as well as a schedule of events. Historic Calgary Week is a great opportunity to get to know your city. I hope to see you at some of the events.


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