Merry Christmas from the Carnegie Library, Calgary, Alberta
Postcards from the Past, PC 152 ca 1912
Whew, we’ve made it. It has been a year packed with lots of great events. This was the year of our 100th birthday, as well as the 100 year celebrations for many of the structures that were built during our 1912 boom. We were the City of culture for 2012 and we hosted a special edition of the Bob Edwards awards. The Mayan calendar came to an end and we are all still here, so all in all, the year was a great success. This will be my last chance to talk about the heady days of 1912 – and since 1913 marked the end of the boom, I am going to close out the year talking about what people were doing for Christmas in that year.
The weather was a bit chilly. The temperature was expected to go up to -1C after an overnight low of -13C.
Charity was a great part of Christmas in Calgary. The Morning Albertan’s Santa fund was over a thousand dollars and The Salvation Army was distributing over 100 food hampers (flour bags filled with necessities for a Christmas celebration) to needy families and providing pastries to people in jail. They also held a Christmas dinner for needy single men.
But giving was also on the agenda, as always. The Calgary post office was overwhelmed with letters and parcels from the Old Country (England). Three special trains were sent west with parcels from the Empress of Ireland.
Pryce Jones stayed open until 11 o’clock on the 23rd and 24th to accommodate those last minute shoppers. The store was offering a new and chic accoutrement for the autoists (i.e people who had cars) – foot muffs. These intriguing little goodies would fit both tender feet of the “fair autoists” (i.e. girls in cars) and would swathe them in fur, to keep them from freezing in the unheated and mostly open automobiles. These little luxuries ran from $3.00 to $12.50 depending on the amount and quality of the furs used. You could have these gifts delivered to your door on Christmas Eve.
Hudson’s Bay was even more modern, offering gift certificates for those who just couldn’t decide on what gift to give.
Senator Lougheed announced that “Miss Calgary”, our dear city, was getting some great presents including a new million dollar post office, a customs warehouse, immigration building and an armory.
As a reaction to this frenetic holiday season a group was formed in New York calling itself, SPUG, the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. The idea spread like wildfire among the young, fashionable club men and women who believed that society had moved away from the fun and good times spent with family and friends and focused too much on the money one spends.
Food, as much a part of Christmas celebrations as Useless Giving, was very much on the minds of our Calgarians, albeit with a bit of a different twist. Restaurants were getting ready for the rush of Christmas diners. Some didn’t change their menus much, except to add turkey, but the Club Café had an unexpected delicacy to offer, a black bear cub. Many homemakers were planning to roast a fat capon, in lieu of the expected turkey as the capons were less expensive and tastier and the leftovers could be used to prepare various chicken dishes and dainties. The secret to a good capon was the use of fatty bacon as a wrapping as well the liberal application of butter (I think you could probably roast a cardboard box with fatty bacon and butter and make a passable meal!) Stuff that with bread crumbs and a half pound of truffles which have been soaked in Madeira, a goose liver and, of course, bacon and you will have a feast fit for a king.
So, it seems that nothing has really changed, eh? We are still rushing about in the cold, desperate to get that last minute gift and falling back on the gift certificate when we just can’t make up our minds. Young people are still objecting to the commercialization of Christmas, while homemakers are still trying to find the best way to cook a peculiar and rather unpleasant bird to make it palatable. We are still faced with the fact that not everyone will be able to have a happy Christmas, but we are still showing what a great city we are by giving to charities that try to ensure a decent Christmas for the less fortunate. So, my wish for you is that you enjoy the holidays, however you may spend them.