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Bye Bye Ogden Grain Elevator

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

AJ 1185

Ogden Grain Elevator, 1974

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1185

Sometimes even the ugliest structures evoke a feeling of nostalgia. I felt very sad when the Robin Hood elevator came down in 1973. It had been a landmark from my childhood – I liked to see the jaunty Robin as we made our way downtown. I was impressed that he was also on our flour bag at home. Nice, warm fuzzy for such a cold, concrete structure, eh? Its destruction netted 27,000 tonnes of rubble that was cleared away to make room for the new Gulf Canada Square. Admittedly, there is not much that can be done with huge concrete tubes, in the way of repurposing, but it is still sad to see these landmarks go.

The Odgen Federal Grain Elevator had that effect on a many people, as well. No less a person than Le Corbusier discussed the Dominion Grain elevators in his publicationToward an Architecture. He speaks of them as “not pursuing an architectural idea, but simply guided by the results of calculations (derived from the principles that govern our universe)… [they] stir in us architectural emotions, thus making the work of humanity resonate with the universal order.” (p. 106). Well, I guess that explains it. I was responding to the universal order when I cried at the loss of Robin Hood (I’m going to go with that explanation, it sounds like I know what I’m talking about). The illustrations of the elevators included in Toward an Architecture were considered so beautiful (or something) that they were reproduced as postcards. Years later, Yousuf Karsh would photograph similar elevators in Port Arthur, treating them, he said “just like cathedrals.”

The Ogden Elevator had an interesting history. Normally these huge concrete terminals were built in port cities. The prairie elevator, with which we are all familiar, was the tall wooden structure situated every five or so miles along the rail line. Those elevators, the prairie sentinels, definitely evoke warm fuzzy feelings. But the Dominion Elevators were designed for the much larger volumes of terminals and ports. The Dominion/Federal/Ogden elevator was designed by C.D. Howe and built in 1915 by the Dominion government to work in conjunction with similar elevators in Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, as well as with port terminals such as Port Arthur, Vancouver and Port Nelson. It would provide storage and cleaning facilities for 2.5 million bushels of Alberta grain and act as the shipping centre to the ports. It was a marvel of construction for its time. It was powered by electricity from the City of Calgary, channeled through a substation on the site to power the 53 engines required to work the machinery; there was a state of the art dust collection system installed and it could handle the loading of 36 railcars per hour. It cost one million dollars to build this massive concrete structure. It was such a wonder that it featured in a publication put together to promote business development in Calgary.

But what do you do with 56 cement silos? It was no longer efficient to run the elevator and its location in the heart of the city made it difficult for farmers to get their grain there. The Calgary Heritage Authority has been working with the owners of the site and has photographically recorded the interior and exterior of the building so there will be a record of its existence. But the old gal herself is gone. I read it took six seconds to bring her down.

AJ 1265

Robin Hood Flour Mills

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1265

Serendipity and the Search for Glenbow

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

Glenbow Residents

Residents of Glenbow Alberta, ca 1911-1913

Doreen Morden Family Archives

We have been helping and, frankly, watching in awe, one of the regular researchers who frequents the local history collection. She is working on a reconstruction of the town of Glenbow, a town that very few people have heard of. It was the centre of a quarry, which provided sandstone for several prominent buildings in the province. The town was five miles east of Cochrane on the north side of the Bow. The land was not really fit for farming as it was on a bench over the river but keen eyes noticed that in the outcroppings were seams of sandstone. Various attempts were made, starting in 1905, to set up a quarry to exploit the resources of the valley but it wasn’t until 1908 when an American, Chester de la Vergne, bought the property. He had wealth that had come from the family’s refrigeration business and soon he had excavated a town site, which eventually included a school. A post office was in operation from 1908 to 1920. De la Vergne loved the area and established the Glenbow Ranche as a home for him and his family. He built a magnificent house on the property.

At its peak, Glenbow quarry was thought to employ 500 men. By 1909 things were looking very good. A grain elevator was built in 1910 on promises that a bridge would be built over the Bow to connect the farm land on the south side with the town on the north side. But by 1912 the boom that had fueled the prosperity of the Glenbow quarry had bust. Building ground to a halt and there was no need for the fine paskapoo sandstone that had made Glenbow’s fortune. The bridge was never built so the elevator stood useless until it burned down in 1915. De la Vergne tried to start a brick making industry in order to give work to his employees, but this, too, was destined to fail. People were forced to leave the town, to look for work elsewhere. Buildings were removed or burned; equipment from the mine was sold as scrap. Three large homes, built by optimistic acquaintances of de la Vergne’s lay abandoned for many years and in the 1970s de la Vergne’s own house, empty for many years, was burned to the ground. Eventually, the Glenbow land was purchased by E.L. Harvie for farming. The land has since been donated to the Government by the Harvie family for use as a Provincial Park, but Glenbow the town has ceased to exist.

Our researcher’s task is to look for information about the town and the people who lived there as part of a volunteer effort to map the old town and quarry. Because there is so little left of Glenbow, the researchers are relying on information gleaned from any resource they can get their hands on. They are searching for the names of people who lived in the town, in hopes of finding as much information as they can. This is where serendipity has come in. (Although, serendipity does come after much hard work J)

Following a clue provided by the information on Glenbow in a local history, our researcher pursued the name of a woman whose child was put up for adoption after she died in childbirth. Using cemetery transcriptions, vital events records, online sources including Ancestry and Rootsweb, she was able to find contact information for a descendant of one of the family members. This person had a photo of some of the denizens of Glenbow standing in front of a building. That is the photo above. What we are hoping is that one of you may recognize someone in this picture. The more people that can be identified, the better chance there is of finding someone who has information. If you think you recognize anyone in this photo, please let me know. I will pass the information on to the researchers. You can post your information as a comment below (or you can contact us at

If you are interested in finding out more about Glenbow, you can check out the local history Acres and Empires either in print at the Calgary Public Library or online through Our Future Our Past. You could also think about attending a talk on February 28 at the Chinook Country Historical Society’s monthly meeting at Fort Calgary at 7:30. Brian Vivian and Susan Caen will be talking about the town site, the quarry and the area surrounding. (Check out the information here - click on 2011-2012 Monthly Program Details)

PC 255Land Titles Building (made with Glenbow sandstone)

Land Titles Building (built with sandstone from the Glenbow Quarry)

Postcards from the Past, PC 255

Birthday Wishes to Two of Our Branches

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

Calgary Public Library Archives

Exterior, Millican-Ogden Branch, 1980s

Calgary Public Library Archives

Next year is the big 100th anniversary celebration for Calgary Public Library. On January 2, 1912 we opened our doors to the public and have been going strong ever since. Our first branch was opened in the next year, October 1913, in Crescent Heights. It was a very popular branch, as all of our branches have proved to be. This month, two of our branches are celebrating anniversaries, Glenmore Square, which turns 25 and Shawnessy, which is 10.

Branches have been a very important part of the library system. Our first Head Librarian, Alexander Calhoun, believed that one central library could not serve the already widespread population of the city. Crescent Heights was a logical choice for a separate branch as it was cut off from the city by the Bow River. There were bridges spanning the Bow but the population, which was about 10,000 at the time, could not always easily reach the city centre. Remember that the magnificent Centre Street bridge which now spans the river, was not finished until 1916, the bridge that they used to get across to the city centre was the rickety “McArthur” bridge, which would eventually be washed away in a flood.

Calhoun was a great believer in bringing the books to the people. In 1914 he opened a reading room, aimed at the unemployed, in the Rex Theatre. In 1915 he sent library discards donations solicited from the public to the YMCA reading room, the Sarcee Military Camp and at Victoria Barracks. Actual branch expansion was halted until the 1940s when the Inglewood, Hillhurst and Glengarry branches were opened.

Our celebrants, Glenmore Square and Shawnessy are relative newcomers, reflecting the expansion of the city. Glenmore Square branch started its life as the Millican-Ogden branch in 1986 and Shawnessy opened its doors in 2001. Both branches are hosting celebrations in honour of their birthdays and would like to invite everyone to come and visit and celebrate with them. There are programs and storytimes (and probably cake) at both branches. Check out the schedules on our website under Programs and Events on the left side of the page.

Calgary Public Library Archives CPL 351-03-22

Shawnessy Branch Under Construction

Calgary Public Library Archives CPL 351-03-22

It's Archives Week in Alberta

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

File Cabinet

It is Archives Week in Alberta. It is not widely publicized and many people may shrug and say, “So what?” I know a lot of people think of archives as dreary, black and white kinds of places but they are, in fact, filled with exciting and valuable stuff. The theme this year, Archives in Living Colour, was chosen to draw attention to the fact that archives are more than just dusty repositories for old paper – they are living and vibrant and have relevance for all of us. We’ve all heard the adages about keeping touch with the past – well, archives fulfill that role. They are the, often overlooked, keepers of our history. Just check out their virtual exhibit . It includes images from 23 archives throughout the province including the City of Calgary, Glenbow, the Museum of the Highwood and the Whyte Museum. You will also be able to view virtual exhibits from past Archives Weeks.

In particular, family historians and genealogists should get to know their archives. In addition to keeping documents that are obviously of use to genealogical research, such as older vital event records, church records and census, local archives often collect the papers of people who lived in the area. They also collect information about the area that can include municipal records, including documents relating to land, taxes and businesses. Old newspapers can be found in archives as can employment records. Some archives collect family letters and photographs, and even genealogies and family trees. It pays to know about the archives in the area that your ancestors lived – they can be a treasure trove of valuable information. Here are a few titles to help you find and use archives in Canada:

Archives for genealogists (929.1072 BAR)

Researching Canadian Archival Centres (R929.1072 TAY)

and from our Government Documents collection on the Third Floor here at Central - Heritage institutions published by Statistics Canada (STATS CAN 87F0002)

13th Avenue Looking East

Postcards from the Past, PC 52

PC 52