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  • 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
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Harnam Singh Hari

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

From Sodbusting to SubdivisionHunam Singh and his son Ujugar, taken from Sodbusting to Subdivision

Calgary commemorated its first Sikh settler on the weekend, naming a park in honour of Harnam Singh Hari, in Kingsland, the community that occupies the land where he established his farm in 1909. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know this man’s name or the history of the Sikhs in Alberta. I remembered, however, that I had come across the name Singh while I was searching for soldiers who had enlisted for service in the First World War and was surprised to find them there. To remedy my ignorance I went digging in our Local History collection. (Luddite that I am, I always start my research with books). I found Splintered Dreams: Sikhs in Southern Alberta by Jaswinder Gundara that tells the stories of several Sikh families including that of Harnam Singh Hari.

The stories of our earliest non-European immigrants are always inspiring to me. People came to Canada in spite of a hostile environment and sometimes even more hostile communities. Chinese immigrants were charged a head tax, other Asian immigrants were required to have at least $200 with them while immigrants from Europe were only asked to have $20. Women and children under 18 were prohibited from immigrating, meaning that a lot of the Punjabi men came to Canada alone, leaving their families behind. In spite of all of this, people still came to Canada and men like Harnam Singh Hari worked hard and flourished. After purchasing several sections in what would become the Kingsland area, Harnam Singh and his son, Ujugar, purchased more land in the DeWinton area. The family is still farming in the area, and were chosen as Farm Family of the Year in 2011.

Harnam Singh returned to India in the 1950s taking with him ideas for the improvement of his home village and a share of stories to tell. His great grand-daughter has written a moving article about him for the Indian Quarterly. He passed away in India in 1969 but, thanks to the park that bears his name, he will not be forgotten.

Happy Anniversary, Princess Patricia's

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1673Currie Barracks "this is the cook"s house..."

For many years the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was stationed here in Calgary at the Currie Barracks. They were back last week, as part of the Memorial Relay in which soldiers are running from Edmonton to Ottawa carrying a baton which contains the names of all 1,866 members who have fallen in active service.

The PPCLI was formed in 1914, in response to the declaration of war. Hamilton Gault, of Montreal, offered to raise and equip a regiment. In honour of the daughter of our then Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, the regiment was named the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Princess Patricia personally designed its badge and colours for the regiment to take overseas to France. As the regiment's Colonel-in-Chief, she played an active role until her death. The PPCLI Colonel in Chief today is Adrienne Clarkson, our former GG

PC 1568Princess Patricia"s Mum and Dad, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, 1912

Raised in August of 1914, the regiment was in France by September of the same year. They were the first of the Canadians to serve in that theatre of war. By December they had lost 238 men and their original Commanding Officer. In May of 1915 the Patricia’s saw action in the Ypres salient, meeting the enemy in the battle of Frezenberg. In mere hours, 175 men had died. The baton being carried in the relay will be taken to Frezenberg to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle known in the regiment as the “Death of the Originals.”

The PPCLI came to Calgary after the Second World War and were stationed at Currie Barracks. Shortly after their arrival, they were converted from a Regular Army brigade to an Airborne Mobile Striking Force. This change was enthusiastically received as many of the men had served in the First Parachute Brigade in WWII. The Patricia’s became Canada's first peacetime parachute battalion. If you would like to read more about the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, you can check out their website or read any one of the great books written about them. Maybe start with David Bercusons' recent publication, The Patricia's : A Century of Service

The PPCLI was an active part of the Calgary community until the decision was made to reduce the number of bases so the battalion was moved to Edmonton. We welcomed them back, though, with open arms

Government Documents - A Treasure Trove for Genealogists

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Genealogy Records

One of my very first jobs at Calgary Public Library was as a summer student, sorting through the government documents collection on the third floor. It was a very interesting experience, albeit one I did not wish to repeat (although I did enjoy reading the pamphlet on mink ranching.) It wasn’t until I started doing serious genealogical and historical research that I came to see the value of these documents. I am often asked to talk about “obscure sources” and these are what come immediately to my mind. At Calgary Public Library, government documents are held in two locations, for the most part. Local History has a collection of documents relating to the history of Calgary, including planning documents, documents from the Geological Survey, reports relating to industry, governance, etc. The Government Documents collection holds the bulk of the material and it is located on the third floor.

Certainly, when we talk about resources in genealogy one of the first sources we talk about is actually a government document. The census was not taken for the benefit of future genealogists. It was actually taken by the government to get an idea of what the population of the country looked like at a given time. The genealogical value is just a bonus. The same holds true for the military records I have been using for the Lest We Forget program and other presentations I have been doing to mark the anniversary of the start of WWI. The Department of Defense took and kept the information, making this treasure trove a gov doc (as we call them in the biz).

I recently took a little tour of the third floor gov doc collection and found some other, less likely, resources that genealogists might find useful – or at least interesting. For example, I did not know that, in the 1950s at least, the annual report of the Calgary Police Department included information about notable cases that include the names of victims and perpetrators. There is also a list of cases that needed photographic evidence which includes the name of the accused. It also includes the names of people killed in fatal traffic accidents. So, if you have an ancestor who is a bit of a baddie, or someone who was a victim of a baddie, you may want to have a look in the police reports. The dates given could help lead to newspaper articles and other documentary evidence. (Call Number is CA4AL C PO AR date)

PC 968Calgary Police Dept. in front of City Hall, 1912

Another little gem I discovered were reports documenting the claims made following WWI by people who wanted reparations paid for various losses incurred during the war. I didn’t expect to find this is our collection, since there was no fighting in Canada, but there it was. I hadn’t thought about it, but Canadians were affected by enemy action. There were Canadians aboard the Lusitania when it was sunk. And the reaction to the sinking of the ship led to rioting and destruction of the homes and businesses of Canadians of German origin. There was also the explosion in Halifax harbor for which people sought reparations. Soldiers and their families sought payment for the loss of personal effects sent home by the military. There are also claims such as the one by a gentleman in Daysland who claimed that a certain person of German origin set fire to his grain elevator. The proceedings are indexed by name, so it is easy enough to check to see if one of your ancestors suffered a loss for which they later sought payment. (call number is CA 1 WC REP 1930) Again, who would have known, eh? Yet another hidden resource for genealogists, researchers and nosey folk like me.

The Newspapers Have Arrived!

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

PC 841Newspaper Office in Daysland Alberta

After more than a year waiting patiently for our microfilmed newspapers to arrive, we are happy to be able to say that we finally have a mostly complete collection of the Calgary newspapers including the Albertan, the Sun, The Calgary Herald and some of the other, earlier newspapers such as The Eye-Opener. They are all living on the 4th floor, happy in their little cabinets alongside our brand new microfilm readers.

My colleagues are concerned about my joy surrounding these new arrivals, thinking that I’ve gone completely off the deep end into a chasm of nerdiness, but we have all felt the lack of this collection since we lost it in the flood last year. I can't tell you the number of times I have said “that would be in the newspaper” only to realize that we had no way to gain quick access to this resource. Yes, the Calgary Herald is on Google Newspapers, but it is incomplete. There are also early newspapers on Our Future Our Past, which has been our saving grace for the years prior to the 1940s, but past that we had nothing until 1988, when the Calgary Herald starts full text on Canadian Newsstand. And even then, the classifieds are not included, which means that obituaries and birth announcements are not included. We hadn’t realized how much we depended on the microfilms until we were without them.

So, nerdy or not, I am delighted that this collection is now available for all of us to use. Newspapers are unparalleled in the insight they can give about people and their times. When I am researching an event I often take a wander through the papers of the time to get a sense of how people reacted and what they found important. We used the newspapers extensively when looking for stories for our Flood Story website. Having the stories of individuals who were affected by the floods gives more substance to the statistics and dry descriptions found in official reports.

Linton Ad 1897Ad for Photos of the 1897 Flood from Calgary Herald