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The Cowtown Dilemma

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1394

Cows on the Bow River, Calgary 1903

Postcards from the Past, pc 1394

I was cruising through the newspapers, looking for something genealogical or locally historical to talk about in the blog. I thought I’d hit something when I read an ad for cholera medication. On second thought that seemed a bit grim for the beginning of summer, so my next idea was to see what was going on in the city in 1912 but Harry the Historian has that covered, so that one was out. Then I decided to take the advice of a historian who I admire and look at what was happening in Calgary in 1913 – the year after the big boom. And I found this in the Calgary Daily Herald’s Query Column on January 2.

Question 777: Kindly inform me if there is any bylaw prohibiting people from letting their ducks and hens come on your lawn. I live right in the centre of Calgary and my neighbour’s hens come along the walk…and when the door is open they go into the house. Can you kill the hens…?

Ans. A person who keeps fowls in the city is obliged to keep them shut in. …You are not allowed to kill them. You should keep your door shut.

It was forty years later that poultry farming was made illegal within the city limits. I’ve written before about my sister’s “farm” – I spent a lovely week out there helping her build a bird coop so her chickens, pheasants and, particularly, the peacock (I know, but it is Vancouver Island!) wouldn’t go into the neighbour’s yard. Now, granted, a peacock isn’t everyone’s idea of livestock, but she does live in a rural area , so having wandering animals is not unusual. But Calgary is now a major urban centre with a population of over 1 million, very far from our rural roots.

However, I am constantly reminded that we are not so far from those roots as we may think. I still remember farm houses sprinkled through the neighbourhoods at the west edge of the city when I was growing up. The Pony Palace riding stables were out there within smelling distance. And there were farms just over the rise where Christie Estates now stands. If I faced west, I could see horses grazing on the hill, when I turned east, I could see the towers and office buildings in the downtown core. This is the very nature of Calgary. I remember reading an article in which the writer proposed that instead of the white cowboy hat, we could be wearing oil derricks on our heads. It is a valid point.

The Stampede turns 100 this year. Even at its start, the Stampede was a celebration of a way of life that was passing. It was supposed to be a one-time event, so the space for the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth was leased from the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. In 1923 the Exhibition would merge with the Stampede to become The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, thus uniting the rural past with the industrial present. We have always had our feet in two worlds and this may be what gives us our unique character. I am planning on whooping it up big time during this special Stampede week, maybe even while wearing an oil derrick, a la Flare Square, on my head.

Chickens

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