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Calgary's "Kate" Connection

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 187

Normal School (home to No. 2 Wireless School during World War II)
Postcards from the Past, PC 187

The new Duchess of Cambridge has ties to Calgary – tenuous though they may be. It seems her grandfather Peter was a flight instructor for the RAF during the Second World War. He was with the No. 37 Service Flying Training School, which was situated at McCall Field, which is now part of the Calgary International Airport. This school was part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which saw pilots from the RAF and RCAF train pilots at 107 schools across Canada.


Calgary was actually home to a number of training schools for the BCATP. No. 3 was an RCAF training school which operated at Currie Field. After the end of the war the airstrip was used to train NATO pilots until 1958. At that time it was decommissioned but kept open as an emergency landing strip. When I was young, we used to go to the old strip, which was by then on the grounds of Mount Royal College, and learn how to drive (actually, we learned how to drive fast as we used the area as a drag strip). Some of the hangars, which are on the Currie Barracks site, are still standing and until recently the Calgary Farmer’s Market occupied one of them.

The No. 4 Training Command was moved to Calgary from Regina to Calgary in 1941. They set up shop in the newly renovated sixth floor of the Hudson’s Bay Building downtown. They stayed there until 1944 at which time they were amalgamated with the No. 2 in Winnipeg.

Another part of the BCATP was the No. 2 Wireless School. It occupied what is now Heritage Hall on the SAIT campus and an airfield near Shepard. Two BCATP students flying out of the Shepard substation were killed in an accident in a Tiger Moth and received the George Cross, the highest non-combat award for courage. In the years after the war, the air strips became drag strips, known as Shepard Raceway. The hutment, originally built to house the troops as they were training became emergency accommodation for returning veterans after the war but conditions became so unhealthy, they were demolished, amidst much controversy, in the 1950s.

There is a lot of information available about the training schools. We have newspaper clippings and books about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan at the library. Maybe you would like to brush up before the visit of the Duchess to her grandfather’s old stomping grounds.

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No. 2 Wireless School Float in the Stampede Parade, ca. 1941

Postcard from the Past, PC 87

Heritage Matters: Calgary's Chinatown

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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Chinatown, along Centre Street, 1967

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 0509

We have been very lucky to be the host of some excellent programs in the Heritage Matters series. The next one may be the best yet. On Thursday June 2 during the lunch hour we will be hosting Mr. Victor Mah, the Honorary Chairman, Calgary Cultural Centre and Chinatown Centenary Community Champion.

He will talk to us about the history of Chinatown and the plans for its future development. Our Chinatown is the fourth largest in the country and has been an integral part of the city since the beginning. It has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – but that was only the anniversary Chinatown in its current location. There has actually been a Chinese area in Calgary since it was a NWMP fort when unemployed railway workers, denied the money to return to China, set up restaurants, grocery stores and laundries roughly where the Glenbow is now.

Calgary’s second Chinatown was on the other side of the railway tracks in the area around 1st Street and 10th Avenue SW. This one didn’t last either. As Calgary boomed in the early part of the 20th century, the railway depot was put up on 9th Avenue SW and the price of land in the area skyrocketed. Because the Chinese were tenants, not owners, they had the land sold out from under them. It was then that the land around Centre Street was purchased by Chinese merchants and the Chinatown we now know and love began to develop. It was not without controversy, however, as the racism that was evidenced in the 1890s during the smallpox epidemic had not diminished. Cooler heads prevailed (the police chief and the medical health officer, for example) and the Chinese were allowed to remain.

This wouldn’t be the only challenge faced by Calgary’s Chinatown, but over the years, it has continued to flourish and today is a vibrant reminder of the Chinese pioneers of Calgary.

So join us in the New and Notable area on the Main Floor of the Central Library at noon on June 2 for Mr. Mah’s presentation. You can register in person, by phone at 403-260-2620 or online at

(You can read about the history of Calgary’s Chinatown in Paul Yee’s book Chinatown: an illustrated history of the Chinese communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary… well as other titles. Find them by searching the catalogue using the terms Chinatown Calgary history)

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Dragon Float in Chinatown, 2008

Judith Umbach Photography Collection, JU 000923-8

Why genealogy?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Diary from iStock

I have been invited to give a brief presentation to a local service club on the why’s and wherefore’s of genealogy. The how-to stuff will be easy. What I have been pondering is the “why” of genealogy. I think I know why I am researching my family. I am nosy – I love gossip. Even gossip that is 100 years old, which is probably why I enjoy reading the society pages of the old newspapers. You wouldn’t believe the stuff they’ll tell you! I suppose I am also curious about how my family got here. What would cause people to pull up stakes and come to a country that was essentially a wilderness? When my ancestor came to Ontario, he had to clear the land on which he would settle. His experiences would have been very similar to those of the Catherine Parr-Traill and Susannah Moodie. And by their accounts it was not a lot of fun.

We can never know the “why” for sure. In genealogy, unless you are blessed to have generations worth of correspondence or diaries from your ancestors, the best we can do is guess. There are resources to turn to, however, to give us a better idea of what life was like for our ancestors and maybe even shine some light on their own reasons for doing what they did. I mentioned Catherine Parr Traill and Susannah Moodie. Their accounts of settling in Ontario, The Backwoods of Canada, Roughing it in the Bush and Life in the Clearings, paint a very colourful picture of what life was like in the backwoods of Ontario as their families struggled to establish themselves in a relatively inhospitable climate. While my ancestor’s experiences may have been a bit different (he certainly wouldn’t have been trying to maneuver through the brush in a full length dress, say – at least I think not) they would have been similar enough to give me an idea of what he had to face just to get started.

So, even if your ancestor didn’t leave boxes of correspondence or volumes of diaries, you can still extrapolate from what we have to give yourself an idea of what their motivations were and the hardships they faced. We have an excellent collection of first-hand accounts of life in early Alberta. You can find many of them by using the search term ‘pioneers’ in the catalogue. You can also try ‘correspondence’ (with the name of place) or ‘diaries’. A quick search turned up the following: The First Dutch Settlement in Alberta: Letters from the Pioneer Years; Wilderness Outpost: the Fort Vermilion Memoir of Mary B. Lawrence and Letters from Rupert’s Land . These are just a few of the first-hand accounts we have of the settling of Canada. We also have a good collection of explorers’ journals, which can give a very interesting view of the country at the point of first European contact.

All this research and reading really helps to flesh out the story of our ancestors. And really, for many of us, isn’t that what family history is all about?

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New Settlers, Their First House, Western Canada

Postcards from the Past, PC 1649

Cars, cars, cars!

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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A demonstration by the 100,000 Club, Calgary along Centre Street, ca. 1912

Postcards from the Past, PC 1270

Those who know me are aware of my little obsession with cars. I love them (which is a good thing because I am married to a serial collector of weird and wonderful vehicles). We live in a very good place for car addicts because Calgarians love their cars and have since their invention. I suppose it is an extension of the range mentality, the love of horses that still pervades the culture in Calgary.

We went to the first show and shine of the season last week at the Deerfoot Mall. Car aficionados and their vehicles were out in full force. I was reminded (because I am a history geek) of a photo we have in our collection of a very similar exhibition in the early part of the twentieth century. The picture above is of the motor cars of the 100,000 club, a group of city boosters who wanted to see the population of Calgary hit 100,000 by 1915. They put together a number of events to draw attention to the city. Cars, being the novelty they were, were always a good draw.

Tony Cashman, in his book A History of Motoring in Alberta states that Calgarians really embraced the automobile and its attendant clubs because of the lure of Banff. The mountains sat there seemingly at the edge of the city, calling to the intrepid to pack their lunches and head for the town just 85 miles distant. What we didn’t have, however, were the roads on which to travel. Cars need very different surfaces than carts with horses.

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The cars in this picture are, I believe, 29 members of the Calgary Automobile Club preparing for their “motorcade” trip to Banff. The task had been achieved by Norman Lougheed, in his father’s touring car in the summer of 1909. He made it in seven hours with only one flat tire. The Calgary Automobile Club group left at 9:00 am and 25 of the 29 cars had arrived by 4:00 pm. The other four cars had to be left where they broke down.

A trip to Edmonton, which was a very daring proposition, could take several days by car. Add into the mix the lack of service stations (the first garage in Calgary was Calgary Novelty Works who specialized in typewriter and automobile repairs – in the ‘teens it was located just about under where I am sitting right now at the Central Library.)

The car has had a very interesting history in this province. The Community Heritage and Family History Digital library includes many photographs and postcards in which the automobile features prominently. We also have a good collection of books that document our love of motoring. Among them are the Tony Cashman book mentioned above, Roaring Lizzies: a history of Model T Ford racing in Alberta by Kelly Jane Buziak and an official tour book produced by the Alberta Automobile Clubs in the early part of the 20th century.

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Calgary Auto Club Clubhouse, Bowness (formerly the Hextall House)

Postcards from the Past, PC 941

East Village Jane’s Walk is on Saturday

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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Calgary Public Market, 3rd Street SE ca 1920s?

Postcards from the Past PC 1375

Well, the day is at hand. We will be starting a Jane’s Walk of the East Village on Saturday May 7 at 10:00 at the Central Library at 616 Macleod Trail SE. Join us on the main floor for introductions and then we will proceed out into the neighbourhood with Walk Leader Clayton Buck, who is a dedicated promoter of this wonderful community of ours. We will also have the opportunity to visit one of our neighbours, the Drop-In Centre, thanks to Jordan Hamilton, from the Centre. We all know that a key risk factor for homelessness is a lack of community. Both Clayton and Jordan are working to build that sense of community here in the Village. I, myself, am very impressed with their efforts. I have worked in the Village for most of my adult life and I can attest to the fact that we now really feel like a community. We are the heart of old Calgary but also the core of the new, hip Calgary. It is a very exciting time to be involved with East Village. Join us on Saturday to get a street level view of what is going on in Calgary’s newest oldest community. (And it looks like the weather will be on our side as well.)

For information click on this link:

There are other walks going on as well. Memorial Park Library in the newly renovated Central Memorial Park is the starting point for “From Sandstone to Skyscrapers” and the Alexander Calhoun Library launches “South Calgary and Marda Loop” led by Harry Sanders and Marje Wing (head of both Memorial Park and Alexander Calhoun libraries) Some of the other neighbourhoods involved are Bowness, Brentwood, Edgemont Ravine, Sunnyside, Hillhurst and Chinatown. There is an edible tour of Inglewood and Ramsay led by Julie van Rosendaal, there is a walk led by Marilyn Williams on “Complete communities by traditional design.” This is just a sampling. Click on this link to get a list of all the walks happening this weekend.

My only regret is that I can’t do them all! See you this weekend.

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East Village from Bow Valley College, 2004

Judith Umbach Photography Collection, JU 041101-25