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A Calgary Soldier's Story

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1478I.O.D.E. War Memorial outside Memorial Park Library

I’m a little late with this post. We were in the throes of preparing for our Historic Calgary Week presentation “A Calgary Soldier’s Story” which we delivered successfully (whew!) at beautiful Memorial Park Library last night. We told the story of Joseph A. Convery, an Irish immigrant who came to Calgary from Belfast at the age of 16 and made a success in his farming endeavours, which allowed him to bring his parents and sister to live with him. He was a brave young man who, possibly sensing that the war was coming, joined the 15th Light Horse, a militia unit in Calgary, became a Lieutenant, and then enlisted in the CEF. His bravery and daring (how else would you describe a man who came alone to the barren prairie at 16) led him to the Royal Flying Corps, those Knights of the Air, who were so important to the success of the forces in Europe. Sadly, he lost his life when his plane went down near Arras just before the last major German offensive of the war.

As usual I learned a lot about many different things when I was researching this gentleman. I found out about the Canadians in the RFC/RAF, whose fearlessness allowed them to climb into these canvas and wood crates and fly over enemy territory, sussing out the lay of the land and dropping bombs from the cockpit. Some of the great men of Canadian history passed through the RFC/RAF including Roland Michener, Lester B. Pearson, Kenneth Irving, and other men of note. This fact leads me to wondering what would have become of our intrepid Irishman had he survived the war.

Joseph’s story was just one of many and I was honoured to be able to bring it to life and share it with everyone. Our history (and I know I harp on this, forgive me) is the history of people just like Joseph Convery, who came and made something of himself and the offered all that to the defense of his adopted home. It is the story of people like Joseph that is the story of this country – the pioneers who came and stayed, even though the weather sucks and the animals will kill you. We are something else, aren’t we?

It's Historic Calgary Week!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 126415th Light Horse Band

Actually, Historic Calgary Week starts Friday, but I wanted to let everyone know ahead of time so you can get it in your calendars. The theme this year is Reflect and Remember, as this is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. There will be a plethora of history programs with some of our very best historians filling you in on all kinds of history, not just that of Calgary in wartime. There are genealogy related programs, building history programs, walking tours, a ghost tour, cemetery walking tours, a tour of the Beltline with particular reference to the gay history of that area, a look at some of Calgary’s heroes and heroines, and, well, just too much good stuff to list here. Check out the brochure at the Chinook Country Historic Society website.

As our contribution to Historic Calgary Week, Carolyn and I will be doing a presentation called “A Calgary Soldier’s Story” which looks at the life of a young Irish immigrant, who came west to make a life for himself and his family. When war came he didn’t hesitate to answer the call. We will also look at the history of his house, which still stands on Memorial Drive. His story is unique, but it is also the story of many young men from this city who joined up when his country went to war.

PC 1989I.O.D.E. War Memorial outside of Calgary Public Library

The week kicks off this Friday, July 25, with the publication of the humongous historic Calgary crossword puzzle by Jennifer Prest in the Calgary Herald. The paper will also include a list of the week’s programs. If you miss the puzzle in the paper, you can download it from the Chinook Country Historical Society’s website.

One glance at the list of programs and you will see that history is about more than just bricks and mortar. Calgary is a city rich with stories, and this week is our chance to hear just a few of them.

The C-Train: One of the 10 Triumphs of Canadian Transportation

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

PC 1333Calgary, looking along Memorial Drive, showing the new, modern LRT

What do the Avro Arrow, the Canadian Pacific Railway, Pearson Airport and the C-Train have in common? They are all on the list of 10 Triumphs of Canadian Transportation as chosen by the Transport Association of Canada in honour of its 100th anniversary. At least two of the above are resounding successes (sorry Pearson) and both the Railway and the C-Train have had a huge impact on our city.

The coming of the railway to Calgary is a pivotal point in the city’s history. Becoming the hub of the rail system west of Winnipeg insured that Calgary would be a “big city”. It was the starting point for settlement and was also the place where those settlers came to pick up their goods and machinery and deliver their products. This started the first of the city’s great population booms. Without the railway, we would not be the city we are today. The railway was so important to the people settled around what would become Calgary that when the location of the station was announced, folks packed up their homes and moved them to be closer to what was going to be the centre of the town.

PC 604The Imperial Limited arriving at Calgary

The C-Train also changed the landscape of our city. I remember when we got around the city on electric trolley buses. While great, they did not allow for rapid movement so commutes could be nightmarish (especially in the winter, when the slip-sliding trolleys would lose their contact with the overhead lines on a frighteningly regular basis). We became a city of cars, but not, sadly, of roads that could handle them. Rush hour was sometimes traumatizing – more than once a commuter, trapped in his or her vehicle in unmoving traffic, leapt from their car in a claustrophobic panic. The coming of the C-Train, fraught as it was with conflict, allowed us to move further and further away from the core (for good or ill) and has allowed the city to grow to over a million people. The C-Train just came to my neighbourhood and I am in total agreement with the Transport Association of Canada that it is a triumph (but that’s just my personal opinion)

PC 969Streetcar accident at the corner of 14th St and 17th Ave SW, 1919

The Community Heritage and Family History department has a lovely collection of early transportation images online as well as an outstanding collection of books and other documents about the history of both the railway and the transit system in Calgary. One of the newest books we have on how the railway could have shaped Calgary, had we followed their plan, is Development Derailed by Max Foran. Copies are available in the Local History room as well as in the general collection.

Yahoo! It's Stampede Time Again

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

1977 Stampede Poster1977 Stampede Poster from our Collection

Stampede time is upon us once again. The Parade went off without a hitch (at least I think it did) and we are now all kitted up in our very best cowboy gear. I love this time of year! Stephen Avenue is alive with visitors and weekend cowboys (and some real cowboys, too). There are buskers and vendors and food trucks and it is all being enjoyed by people from all over the world. They are here to partake of Calgary's unique personality as dazzling urbanite meets small town prairie good old boy. Yahoo, dawg.

 

1923 Stampede Poster1923 Stampede Poster from our Collection

 
 

Things were not much different 100 years ago. In early July of 1914 the Industrial Exhibition was under way. There were 7000 entries, surpassing the previous year’s numbers by nearly 2000. Over 700 babies were entered in the baby show (yes, that's what I said) and the Tuesday of the exhibition was "Better Babies" day. There were interesting performances, including an acrobatic troupe, an aeronaut who dropped a bomb from his balloon which, when exploded, "emits the aeronaut" and the "greatest number of musicians in the assembled bands that have ever appeared." The papers listed the all the winners of the competitions, see this link for a list of the winning chickens Right alongside the half page spread of prize poultry was an ad for shares in the Turner Valley Oil Company Ltd. ($1.00 a pop – a lot less than you'd pay for a prize hen) In fact, the newspaper was filled with advertisements for oil companies, punctuated with prize lists and race results. For the first time, oil derricks were set up around the grounds, primarily as advertisements for the companies drilling in the area. Salesmen were on hand to convince fairgoers that this was their chance to make it big. "Oil offices sprung up like magic and frantic representatives of the up town magnates were this morning dashing about in advanced state of frenzy, vainly attempting to get carpenters to do a dozen things at once.” Then, as now, the two worlds of Calgary existed side by side.

While our collection doesn't hold much about the 1914 Industrial exhibition, we do have an extensive collection of Stampede memorabilia including postcards, programmes, reports and posters, as evidenced by the two that grace this posting. The Stampede Archives has the poster for the 1914 exhibition and it eloquently sums up the two sides of this city; the fashionably clad young lady, with her equally fashionable collie, gazing lovingly at her prize winning horse. Need I say more.

1914 Industrial Exhibition poster1914 Calgary Industrial Exhibition from Calgary Stampede Archives

The Calgary Stampede Archives is a treasure trove of information about and images of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Check out their wonderful collection to see more.

Trains, Again

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 412At the Summit of the Rockies, 1908

I was digging around the University of Alberta Press site looking for a particular book, when I happened on the Atlas of Alberta Railways Online, a resource that lit up the heart of this railroad junkie. This resouce includes tons of information and pictures and documents about the history of railways in Alberta (hence the name, I suppose). I hate to admit my ignorance, but it looks like this site has been up for years and I have never used it. It is much more than a traditional atlas because, in addition to maps, there are photos and documents, plans (such as the plan of the typical prairie grain elevator) and news clippings.

There are also essays on the history of the railways and bits and pieces of interesting trivia. For example, did you know that many of the men who laid the tracks on the Calgary to Edmonton railway were of Scandinavian origins and that they could earn up to $3.50 a day? Well, according to the Edmonton Bulletin of September 1, 1883, them's the facts!

 

PC 424Four Engines Driving a Passenger Train to the Summit

We have a great collection of railway stuff in the Local History collection at the Central Library as well. We have photos and postcards, which you can see in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library but we also have a lot of ephemera, which is just a fancy name for the kind of things you generally throw away once you've finished using them. This includes menus, brochures, timetables and other promotional material.

The collection also has personal stories of people who worked on the railway, original documents relating to the railways in Canada and Alberta, like some of Sanford Fleming's reports and other really interesting works on railroads. This is a great resource for railway nerds, but it can also be a goldmine for genealogists as well.

Promotional material, pictures, settler's guides (like the one shown below) were published by the railways to encourage and aid settlers on the Prairies. Adding this information into a family history would give rich detail to your family's story and lead to a greater understanding of the motivations and expectations of prairie settlers.

 

Settlers GuideCPR Settlers Guide to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1912