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Who Was Lindsay?

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

1907 Map of Calgary

1907 Map of Calgary showing Lindsay's Estate

From Historic Maps of Calgary and Alberta CALG 6

With the snow still pelting down and the arrival of spring weather seeming less and less likely, I thought I would write about Dr. Lindsay. Now this is a convoluted path of reasoning, but quite logical (to me, anyway). One of my fondest summertime memories is of the rope swing near my school. We would skip class and watch the bravest souls swing out over the Elbow and drop, fully clothed, into the river. Though we said we were going to go back for the last class, we knew that once we were soaked, there was no going back. “I fell in the river and I couldn’t go to class all muddy and wet!” Rarely worked, but it was worth it.

The swing and the tree it was attached to were in the waste ground behind St. Mary’s school. We knew then that it had some kind of railroad connection as the school’s next door neighbour was the old CNR station. There was no development to speak of in the area, until after we were out of school, when Lindsay Park was developed. So who was Lindsay?

Dr. Neville James Lindsay was an Ontario born physician who came out to Calgary when it was still essentially a tent city. His office in 1883 was little more than a sheet strung across four poles. He took to the fledgling town and was quickly elected to the first town council and founded a Masonic Lodge. His medical practice grew and he was soon appointed the physician to the nearby First Nations reserves. He was also the CPR surgeon for the area.

He was a bit of an adventurer (I suppose anyone who came to Calgary in 1883 must have been something of an adventurer) and by the turn of the century, he was seeking his fortune in the Yukon, along with hundreds of other adventurers. Because of his medical knowledge and his experience with the First Nations people, he was able to find gold and copper deposits that others didn’t.

This wasn’t enough for Neville, though. Returning to Calgary he turned his hand to real estate investment. Calgary was booming prior to the First World War and adventurers found another thrill ride in the city’s economy. This was when the good doctor procured the land on the edge of the city that would become first “Lindsay Estate” and then Parkview. Although he subdivided the land for development, he never followed through. He sold the land to the Canadian Northern Railway. He then purchased the Knox Presbyterian Church on Centre Street. This was close to Lindsay’s old stomping grounds as his office and home were at 503 Centre Street. His plans for the church did not include taking up residence there, however. He was going to build a commercial development on the site, but he was going to take the sandstone of the church and build himself a beautiful mansion overlooking the Elbow River.

Dr. Neville James Lindsay

Dr. Neville J. Lindsay

From A History of Alberta by Archibald MacCrae

He got as far as building the foundations and some of the walls when something happened. Stories vary; one has him losing his shirt in the economic downturn caused by the advent of World War I, another story is that the house started to sink as soon as walls were erected. The least plausible is that in grief over the death of his wife, he could not continue with their dream home. This one is patently wrong because his wife Florence outlived him by a number of years. It was Florence who had to surrender the property to the city because she could not pay the taxes. The walls of the house stayed mostly intact until the 1950s. The site, sometimes called “Lindsay’s folly” became a popular trysting place, providing shelter for necking teens and young knights and ladies playing castle.

Herald Photo March 31 1950

Lindsay's Folly

Taken from the Calgary Herald, March 31, 1950

Dr. Lindsay was a very interesting man and there is quite a bit of information available about him. The portrait is taken from A History of the Province of Alberta by Archibald MacCrae, which can be viewed in the Local History room (in all its engraved glory) or online through Our Future Our Past. There is also an excellent collection of newspaper clippings and a research article by Harry Sanders in the clippings files in Local History. Drop in to see us.

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by Tess
Interesting article!

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