St. George's Island Park, Calgary
Postcards from the Past, PC 1755
I don't know what you did on Victoria Day but I'll bet a large number of Calgarians celebrated by visiting some of the city's fine parks. This photo shows a large crowd of people in the park on St. George's Island. St. George's Island was a park long before it housed the Calgary Zoo. Originally the island was a stopping point for itinerant travellers, but by 1890, the city had obtained a lease on the islands, St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick, from the Federal Government on the recommendation by William Pearce. The lease stipulated that the city upgrade the islands for use as parks by the citizens of Calgary. A ferry service was provided from 1892 to 1900, when a footbridge was constructed. In 1907 a by-law was passed to raise $25,000 to build the Algoma steel bridge that exists to this day. It was completed in 1908.
Calgarians loved the park. There was a bandstand and a biergarten (constructed without checking about the legality of selling beer in a public facility - so it became a teahouse). The top floor of the biergarten was a dancehall. Cinder pathways were laid and fire places installed for picnickers. Average turn outs for the band concerts were estimated, in a Calgary Herald article from 1911, to be 1,500 to 2,000.
There had been a few attempts to start a zoo in Calgary. Citizens thought that the island would be a perfect setting. After a few false starts, the zoo's collection began with two wayward deer that had found themselves in the big city and were corralled in the cages the dog catcher had set up near the biergarten. The display became so popular that the fledgling zoo, under the direction of parks superintendent William Reader, began to grow.
We now have a zoo that is known the world over. St. George's Island continues to be a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike.
To see more photos of St. George's Island and the early years of athe zoo, check out the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. The link is on the right side of the page. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the Zoo, you can check out the CHFH collection on the 4th floor of the Central Library. The resources I used in researching this entry were the Summer 1979 issue of Dinny's Digest (590.737123 DIN Winter - Fall 1979); Ark on the Bow River, a bound manuscript by Catherine Phillip (590.744 PHI) and The Evolution of the Calgary Zoo by Taylor Trafford (590.737123 TRA). We also have newspaper clippings in our files as well as a number of other interesting items. Drop by, we'd love to see you.