Latest Posts

  • Oct 15 - The Empress of Ireland - This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. Her legacy in Canadian immigration lives on
  • Oct 7 - World War I Remembered - Calgary Public Library is offering some great programs to commemorate the start of WWI
  • Sep 30 - The Cecil Hotel - The Cecil Hotel is in the news again and its not looking good for the old fella
  • Sep 23 - Fall is the Season for Heritage Programs - There are a lot of very cool heritage events taking place over the next few weeks
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Smoke, Sweat and Tears: The Calgary Fire Department

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC1068

Aerial Ladder, Calgary Fire Department (1906 or after)

Postcards from the Past, PC 1068

I have seen a lot of firefighters in the last few days, what with the news of grass fires and arson and house fires (and, possibly because of the fire we had on the third floor of our library) so while I was casting about for an idea for this blog, I started thinking about the history of our Fire Department. I have had a deep and abiding affection for firefighters, not just because they run into burning buildings while we run out, but because of an event when I was a wee girl. My mom was newly widowed with four kids. One night we smelled smoke and called the Fire Department. They arrived with their lights blazing, in their fire gear and quickly found the source of the smoke – a component in our TV cabinet that was melting. The TV was hauled into the back yard and we were safe. But the firemen didn’t just go away. When they found out my mom was on her own, they checked her insurance policy and informed her that she needed to up her coverage, they searched the back yard for my new kitten who had escaped during the fracas (it was something to see this small ball of fur settled into the enormous glove of the fireman who found him) and they checked to make sure everything was in order. They didn’t have to do that, but they did it anyway. So, for this, and all the other reasons, firemen have always been my heroes. (Police and EMS, too, but that’s for a later blog.)

We haven’t always had a Fire Department, although in a place where buildings were mostly of wood and were heated with fires and lit with candles and gas lamps, the need for a volunteer fire department was quickly recognized. When the great fire of 1886 broke out on the morning of November 7, church bells were rung, to call the volunteers and other citizens, men, women and children, to form a bucket-brigade. The fire, believed to be started by an “incendiary” would eventually consume at least 18 of the city’s wooden buildings. It also prompted the mayor to throw the doors open to a vigilante group which could deal with the culprit “as you like.” It was this fire that encouraged people to build with the local sandstone, earning Calgary the nickname “The Sandstone City”. It was also the impetus for the reorganization of the Hook, Ladder and Bucket Corps into two divisions, a ladder division and a hose division, each with 30 men, the purchase of a steam engine and the building of a fire hall. “Cappy” Smart (then just James or Jack) volunteered for the fire brigade in 1885 (before that he was the town’s first funeral director). In 1898 he became the first paid fire chief for the city. The firefighters were still volunteers, however, and had to pay $18 of their own money for their uniforms. It wasn’t until 1909 that the fire fighters were paid. They were given $70 a month with 10 hours off each week. Men lined up to join what was touted as the most advanced fire department in the country. The Calgary Fire Department is still recognized as a world leader in firefighting.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of firefighting in the city, we have a wonderful collection of photos, like the one above, in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. We also have a good collection of books in the Local History room (and on the third floor, once the fire damage is cleaned up.) Notable are Yours for Life , 100 Years of Smoke, Sweat and Tears by Grant MacEwan, and Milestones and Mementoes, 1885-1985.

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The Webb Car, CFDs First Piece of Motorized Equipment, Cappy Smart is at the Wheel

Postcards from the Past, PC 936

We Say Goodbye to a Great Man

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

analecta 1947

Central Collegiate Institute Hockey Team, 1947

from Analecta, 1947

Peter Lougheed passed away last week. We have lost a great man. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at an awards evening and at other events and I always came away from those speeches inspired and proud of my province. He was a member of one of Calgary’s oldest and most notable families, but he treated every one he encountered as an equal. He has earned a place in the hearts of most Albertans, not just for his accomplishments, which were great, but also for his qualities as a person.

I wanted to write something about Mr. Lougheed that spoke to these qualities. I remembered a question we had had, shortly after I started working with the Local History collection. We use this story to illustrate how parts of the local history collection can be used for genealogical research. A customer had called asking us to find out, if we could, what Peter Lougheed had done in high school: what clubs he belonged to, when he graduated, what sports he played, etc. We knew that he had attended Central (it was called Central Collegiate Institute at the time) and that we had some of the yearbooks, the Analecta, in our collection. (I know it is kind of a dirty trick to pull someone’s high school yearbooks and look at the photos – I never tell any of my colleagues the year that I graduated, because we have my high school yearbooks here in the collection, and the last thing I want them to see is me in my teenaged glory. But I am not one of the great leaders of our century, so this is different). We have the Analecta for the years that Mr. Lougheed attended. He was called Pete then and he was a handsome and richly accomplished young man. His is a yearbook to be proud of. The photo above, is of his year on the Central Hockey team. (I like this one in particular because one of his teammates is a man that my father worked with and who lived next door to us when I was growing up.)

That year St. Joseph’s, a school in Edmonton, wanted to have an unofficial “Alberta Interscholastic Hockey Championship” and the only Calgary school that answered the call was Central. It was proposed that the two teams play a two-game, total-point series. St. Joseph’s took the first game, played April 11, 1947, 6-5. Pete Lougheed scored an unassisted goal late in the third, but it was not enough to push Central to victory. The next night Central came out shooting. Lougheed scored one in the second which helped Central score 8 goals to St. Joseph’s 5, giving Central the “mythical title” (as the Herald put it) of provincial high school hockey champs.

This is just one example of Pete Lougheed’s many accomplishments in high school. He lettered in Activities and Athletics in 1946, serving on student council (he was president in 1947), participating in Hi-Y, playing basketball, hockey and rugby, doing track, coaching football, working on the Analecta, and participating in Naval Cadets. His nickname was Chief. Prophetic, perhaps?

When I think of Peter Lougheed, I do so with affection. Although I’d met him only a few times, I felt I knew him, maybe that is how we all felt. Under his leadership, Alberta realized that it was a great province. Looking at his record of accomplishment in his youth, it is obvious he was destined for greatness, but perhaps that is because he did not see anything as impossible. It seemed nothing was beyond his capabilities. He made us feel that way about ourselves, about our province. That may be the greatest gift he has given us.

PC 1957

Central High School

Postcards from the Past, PC 1957

 

Upcoming Heritage Events

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

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Fall is here, I’m pretty sure. The way we tell it is autumn at the library is by the re-emergence of programs. Not that there was any shortage of interesting stuff going on in the summer. We had our very successful Century Homes presentation and, of course, a great Historic Calgary Week, just to name a few. But it's fall when things really start to happen.

First on the list will be a presentation using Ancestry Library Edition to get some relevant information about your family. In spite of what the ads say, it isn’t as simple as typing in grandpa’s name. Ancestry is a large and powerful tool for genealogy research, but its size and scope can make it challenging to use. We will present an introduction to Ancestry LE as well as do some hands on searching. This will take place on September 21 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. It is a drop-in program so you don’t need to register in advance, but bring your library card as you will need it to access Ancestry LE. I am sorry to announce that due to the fire on the 3rd floor of the Central Library, the Ancestry program has had to be cancelled. We will try to reschedule.

In October, we are going to be hosting our annual Heritage Weekend and, I must say, they just keep getting better and better. One of the highlights will be a program about Freddie McCall, one of Canada’s legendary aviators. That takes place on the Friday night, October 19 at 7:00 p.m. in the John Dutton Theatre. This will allow you to come to the Heritage Matters program, which also happens on Friday night, at 5:30 p.m. This program will be about the remarkably successful Century Homes project, a grassroots movement to recognize and record the history of Calgary’s heritage homes.

Saturday will be packed with programs, including a meet and greet with members of various heritage organizations, a Heritage Roundtable on the various heritage sites right here in the city, a look at “unbuilt” Calgary, what the city might have looked like, if various plans and schemes had been realized. There will also be a wonderful program involving some of our very best storytellers, Hugh Dempsey, Harry Sanders, Nancy Townshend, Max Foran and our very own writer-in-residence Brian Brennan, all of whom will tell stories of Calgary’s colourful past. I am really looking forward to this weekend. Check out the list in our program guide, in paper at all library branches and online.

And we are not the only game in town. There will be a Sandstone School bus tour offered by the Calgary Heritage Initiative (more information TBA) and then, of course, DO YYC Naked on September 29 and 30, a Doors Open initiative that will take participants behind the scenes at some of Calgary’s coolest venues (you can see the sites included here.

So, there will be no shortage of things to do “heritage-wise” in Calgary this fall. I will keep you posted as more comes along. Enjoy!

Maps, maps, maps

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Calg 4

Calgary, NWT, 1884

Community Heritage and Family History Map Collection CALG 4

In passing, in an earlier blog, I mentioned that we are undertaking a project which will digitize parts of the collection of maps that is held in the Community Heritage and Family History room. We have been looking forward to this day for a very long time, as maps are such great resources, but such awkward things to use. They are even more awkward to store, and this sometimes makes accessing them a bit of a fight. (Not that the fight isn’t worth it!)

Well, with our new project, cranky maps are going to be a thing of the past. We have digitized a small number of early Calgary maps, but, and this is a way better thing for a library-geek, we have entered the information on all of our maps, even the ones that aren’t digitized, into the database as well. What this means is that the entire collection can be searched by keyword and the date of the map shows up as well. This is a vast improvement over trying to find the maps by looking at the red duo-tang which held the list of maps (in no particular order) or by browsing the collection, which didn’t work either, as more than half the collection is not in the map cabinet at the front of the room. (I told you they were awkward to store!)

The upshot is that we hope to see many more users of our map collection and many more requests for particular maps. In my last blog entry I talked about how important maps can be to genealogists. Aside from the directory maps of rural areas, which include names of landowners, maps can tell their stories about the place and the people. When we do tours of the local history room for schools, I like to show a wonderful map we have from 1913 (the Harrison & Ponton map of the city – which is digitized on the site) and point out the wonderful names of the districts of Calgary: Deer Park, Silver Heights, Poplar Grove, and the location of the proposed university, just west of the Banff Motor Coach Road. This map tells a story about Calgary and the people in it. We were coming off one of the greatest booms in our history; we had annexed miles of land and laid out neighbourhoods for the coming population boom. We were determined to be a city of substance. We were going to have a university, just on the western edge of the city. So what happened? We don’t have a Silver Heights or a Poplar Bluff, or a Happyland for that matter. And we know that the university isn’t west of the Banff Coach Road. Well, just as we are today, we were a city with our eyes on the future. But the future was going to be a little further off than we thought, because by 1913 the boom that we are celebrating this year, with all the building that occurred in 1912, had bust. The city did not grow to be the huge, sprawling metropolis that we had anticipated in the early part of the 20th century. This is the story behind the map.

So, check out our map collection and let us know what you think. You can post a comment at the bottom of the page. And when you’ve found the map you’d like to see, come down and visit us on the 4th floor of the Central Library. We would love to take you on a tour of our delightful (yes, now it is delightful) map collection.