Latest Posts

  • 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
  • Oct 7 - World War I Remembered - Calgary Public Library is offering some great programs to commemorate the start of WWI
  • Sep 30 - The Cecil Hotel - The Cecil Hotel is in the news again and its not looking good for the old fella
  • Sep 23 - Fall is the Season for Heritage Programs - There are a lot of very cool heritage events taking place over the next few weeks
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Your New Year's Resolution - Trace your Family Tree

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Files

So, was one of your New Year’s resolutions to get started on your family history? If it was, great; if it wasn’t, why not? Researching your ancestors is one of the fastest growing hobbies (although I hesitate to call it that) in North America. Companies like Ancestry and Findmypast are making genealogical records available, and making money while doing it. Who would have thought it would come to this? When Calgary Public Library purchased a collection of census records on microfilm, it made the papers, now those very records can be searched by name online. It is nearly painless – or so it would appear at the outset. However, if you have made a resolution to start your family history, I want to give you a little bit of advice so that you can fall in love with genealogy research, rather than becoming so frustrated that you completely abandon it. The wealth of information available on the internet and through subscription services like Ancestry is both a blessing and a curse. That we have this information at our fingertips is the good part. The bad part is that we have ALL this information at our fingertips, and it can be quite overwhelming to sort through the 20,000 hits you get from your first search attempt on Ancestry. So here are a few pointers for you newbies out there:

  • Start with yourself. This seems kind of silly when you already know everything about yourself, but recording all of your information can provide important clues to where to look for the information about those who went before. It is a lot easier to look for information when you have a specific question in mind. So, write down your data - name, birthdate, spouse, children, parents. It helps to have it in a pedigree chart, so that when you are asking for help, or need to remind yourself of what you’re doing, you have the relationships and basic information at a glance. You can find blanks of pedigree charts all over the internet but the Canadian Genealogy Centre has a nice, clear chart that contains the basic information you will need to proceed.

  • Start organizing before you have anything to organize. It pays to have an organizational system in place before you collect so much information that entering it or filing it becomes an overwhelming chore. (Trust me on this one) You may choose to use software to keep you organized and you may want to keep your records as paper copies. Either way, it really does help to have a strategy in place for storing and retrieving before you actually get started.

  • Once you have all that you know written down, decide what information you would like to find out about which ancestor. Write these questions down so you will have something to help you focus on task and less likely to be sidetracked by all the cools stuff you will find.

  • Find a good how-to guide for the area you are researching. You will need to find out what kinds of records are available, where they are and how you access them. Keep in mind that not everything is digitized. I can’t tell you the number of times I have come across a defeated genealogist who has been searching online sources in vain for information that simply is not there. Check the websites of genealogical societies in the area or check out mega-sites like Cyndi’s List to see what is out there.

  • Document your sources. I know this sounds like high school but when you want to go back to your records, because your research has lead you to believe that the person listed on the page below your ancestor is actually in your family tree, you will want to find that source again. We have, on occasion, been able to identify the source of a photocopied page for a customer, but that is sheer luck, and while luck can’t be discounted in the pursuit of ancestral information, it most often comes to the well prepared.

  • Finally, keep in mind that a problem shared is a problem solved. There are any number of places where you can meet like-minded researchers who will only be too glad to help you. We are obviously your first choice <grin>. We offer Family History Coaching on the last Saturday of the month from 10 to noon on the 4th floor of the Central Library. Volunteer coaches and library staff are available to help you with your questions, no matter what your level of research. Our volunteers come from the Alberta Family Histories Society, which is also a great resource for genealogists. You can attend their meetings on the first Monday of each month or you can do research at their library and get help from the dedicated volunteers there. Check out their website for details. There is also help to be had at the Family History Centers in Calgary. These are connected with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose efforts in finding, preserving and making available (free of charge) records from around the world are making genealogy research a much less daunting task. Check out their site. In addition to the records themselves, they have a great wiki that can help you learn about all aspects of genealogy in most countries of the world.

PC 1046

Details of a personal postcard "Greetings from Calgary"

Postcards from the Past, PC 1046

So, there is your New Year’s Resolution tied up. Come visit us at the Central Library for information, assistance or advice. We are always glad to have you.

A Bookless Library...and Other Wonders

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Microphotography

 

Professor Fessenden's Photographic Dictionary

Daily Herald, December 29, 1896, p3

Viewed on Our Future Our Past

With the New Year approaching, I was at loose ends as to what my first blog entry of 2013 was going to be. In effect, I rung out the old year in the last post and I wanted to find something, well…weird…to start off a year that seems to portend some bad karma (not that I’m suspicious, or anything, but there are two Friday the 13ths in 2013 and I feel maybe we just jumped the shark with that Mayan calendar thing).

So, I reverted to form and started reading the newspapers to see what I could find that was weird and wonderful. The first article that caught my eye was an article written in December of 1896 that referred to a ‘bookless library’. Publishing houses were churning out huge amounts of literature and libraries were bursting at the seams (some things don’t change). An inventor was offering a solution – a device that would record information on photographic plates and then project them on a wall. Reginald A. Fessenden, a Canadian-born scientist, had developed form of microphotography which would allow large volumes of material to be stored in a small space. With the invention of such technology, what would become of the libraries? Books as we know them would cease to exist and libraries would be stocked with microform. Sound familiar?

Interestingly, I read about this on Our Future Our Past, in a digitized version of the microfilm copy of the Daily Herald. It is interesting that with the arrival of e-books and digital formats we are facing the same questions in the 21st century as did in the 19th. It is also, perhaps ironic, that we are still talking about preserving collections of microfilm, which, for many, remains the most durable of the storage formats. Anyone who has attended my genealogy presentations knows my old joke – if 2013 proves to be the end of the world as we know it, the cockroaches will read about us on microfilm.

Bicycle buggy

 

 

I couldn’t end this post on such a glum note, so I included this invention, the Bicycle Buggy, said to be sure to scare any self-respecting horse which encounters it. (Calgary Daily Herald January 5, 1891 p 2 viewed on Our Future Our Past)

Merry Christmas, 1912 Style

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 152

Merry Christmas from the Carnegie Library, Calgary, Alberta

Postcards from the Past, PC 152 ca 1912

Whew, we’ve made it. It has been a year packed with lots of great events. This was the year of our 100th birthday, as well as the 100 year celebrations for many of the structures that were built during our 1912 boom. We were the City of culture for 2012 and we hosted a special edition of the Bob Edwards awards. The Mayan calendar came to an end and we are all still here, so all in all, the year was a great success. This will be my last chance to talk about the heady days of 1912 – and since 1913 marked the end of the boom, I am going to close out the year talking about what people were doing for Christmas in that year.

The weather was a bit chilly. The temperature was expected to go up to -1C after an overnight low of -13C.

Charity was a great part of Christmas in Calgary. The Morning Albertan’s Santa fund was over a thousand dollars and The Salvation Army was distributing over 100 food hampers (flour bags filled with necessities for a Christmas celebration) to needy families and providing pastries to people in jail. They also held a Christmas dinner for needy single men.

But giving was also on the agenda, as always. The Calgary post office was overwhelmed with letters and parcels from the Old Country (England). Three special trains were sent west with parcels from the Empress of Ireland.

Pryce Jones stayed open until 11 o’clock on the 23rd and 24th to accommodate those last minute shoppers. The store was offering a new and chic accoutrement for the autoists (i.e people who had cars) – foot muffs. These intriguing little goodies would fit both tender feet of the “fair autoists” (i.e. girls in cars) and would swathe them in fur, to keep them from freezing in the unheated and mostly open automobiles. These little luxuries ran from $3.00 to $12.50 depending on the amount and quality of the furs used. You could have these gifts delivered to your door on Christmas Eve.

Hudson’s Bay was even more modern, offering gift certificates for those who just couldn’t decide on what gift to give.

Senator Lougheed announced that “Miss Calgary”, our dear city, was getting some great presents including a new million dollar post office, a customs warehouse, immigration building and an armory.

As a reaction to this frenetic holiday season a group was formed in New York calling itself, SPUG, the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. The idea spread like wildfire among the young, fashionable club men and women who believed that society had moved away from the fun and good times spent with family and friends and focused too much on the money one spends.

Food, as much a part of Christmas celebrations as Useless Giving, was very much on the minds of our Calgarians, albeit with a bit of a different twist. Restaurants were getting ready for the rush of Christmas diners. Some didn’t change their menus much, except to add turkey, but the Club Café had an unexpected delicacy to offer, a black bear cub. Many homemakers were planning to roast a fat capon, in lieu of the expected turkey as the capons were less expensive and tastier and the leftovers could be used to prepare various chicken dishes and dainties. The secret to a good capon was the use of fatty bacon as a wrapping as well the liberal application of butter (I think you could probably roast a cardboard box with fatty bacon and butter and make a passable meal!) Stuff that with bread crumbs and a half pound of truffles which have been soaked in Madeira, a goose liver and, of course, bacon and you will have a feast fit for a king.

So, it seems that nothing has really changed, eh? We are still rushing about in the cold, desperate to get that last minute gift and falling back on the gift certificate when we just can’t make up our minds. Young people are still objecting to the commercialization of Christmas, while homemakers are still trying to find the best way to cook a peculiar and rather unpleasant bird to make it palatable. We are still faced with the fact that not everyone will be able to have a happy Christmas, but we are still showing what a great city we are by giving to charities that try to ensure a decent Christmas for the less fortunate. So, my wish for you is that you enjoy the holidays, however you may spend them.

Christmas Picture

Write That Family History, Already!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Remember

With the holiday season now upon us (where on earth did November go, anyway?) we are turning our focus toward the family and spending time with those closest to us (for good or ill.) The holiday season is a great time to spend time with our elders, talking about the past and finding out about our family’s history. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard “I wish I’d talked to my [aunty, grandma, great-uncle] about her/his family, but I didn’t” or “I wish I’d paid attention when granny talked about her childhood”. Don’t be one of those genealogists! Now is the time! Get out your smart phone, set it on record and have that chat with granny or Auntie Jean or Great Uncle Herb. Their stories are the important ones, the ones that can’t be found in census records, birth certificates or city directories. This is what makes your family unique and these are the stories that many genealogists are striving to recreate.

If you need some questions to spur your family member’s memory, there are some great books out there to help you. One in particular isTo our children’s children: preserving family histories for generations to come by Bob Greene. This book has some very good suggestions for questions that spark memories, like, “Did you ever skip school? Did you get caught? Were you punished? How?” Questions like this encourage reminiscing around specific incidents and can get you much more than “Tell me about your school days.”

Once you have done some genealogy and have gotten what stories you can, you may want to write a family history or a memoir. We are having a Writers’ Weekend on February 2nd I’m very excited that one of our programs will be Writing Memoir and Biography with Brian Brennan. Brian is a brilliant storyteller and his skills at bringing a person alive on the page are unparalleled. If you're going to learn you might as well learn from a master. You can register for this free program here or by calling 403-260-2620.

James and Bridget

My Family, ca 1890

Governor General’s History Awards Announced

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

House in Elbow ParkOne of the participating homes in the Century Homes Calgary project


Century Homes Logo

If you read this blog regularly you may remember a post about the Century Homes project. This is a grassroots initiative of the Calgary Heritage Initiative Society, fuelled and supported by individuals and organizations who value the heritage of this beautiful city of ours. The Community Heritage and Family History department’s own librarian was involved in this project and I am delighted to be able to say that the winners of the Governor General’s History Awards have just been announced and the Century Homes Calgary project won in the category of Community Programming. So now I can say I personally know a Governor General’s Award winner (or two).

The project was started in 2011 and grew from there to an extremely successful endeavor, so that by July over 500 Calgarians had researched the stories

of their homes and created banners to tell the rest of us what they had discovered. During Historic Calgary Week thousands of Calgarians toured the homes and read the stories. It was such a success that it will be repeated next year.

At the library we saw a huge jump in the use of our Local History room as customers flocked to us to find out who had lived in their homes. We were delighted to have the chance to talk to customers about what they had found and to help them dig a little deeper into the history of not just their houses, but the people who lived in them, the communities that had grown up around them and the history of the city. We offered programs in conjunction with the City of Calgary Archives to show people the resources we had available in all three repositories within the Heritage Triangle and how to use them.

Calgary Public Library is also involved in the longer term goal of this project, which is to create a legacy database, which will include photographs of the homes and the information and stories that the homeowners have created. This will be an important addition to the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library as it will document, not just the project but the history of some of the century buildings in the city.

We really enjoyed our part of the Century Homes Project and are looking forward to helping even more researchers next year. If you are interested in participating in next year’s Century Homes Calgary, visit this website for more information. To find out more about the Governor General’s History Award, follow this link.

Congratulations to the all of the volunteers and homeowners, the Calgary Heritage Initiative, the City of Calgary Corporate Records, Archives, Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association, Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association, Calgary Heritage Authority, Calgary Public Library, Chinook Country Historical Society and The Federation of Calgary Communities.

Vive le papier! or, It’s not all available on the Internet

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

paper

I have given many a genealogy seminar on the wonderful online resources available for family history research. But I have also given a lot of talks to beginning genealogists and many are surprised to find that not everything is available electronically.” What”, you say, “not everything is online!!!?” Sad, but true, and possible the best example of this comes from this very province. Access to vital records like births, deaths and marriages in Alberta still requires a request for a search through a registry office. There is no online access to the records at all. However, there is a paper index which covers events prior to 1905.

Before we had newspaper and magazine indexes online (that would be back in the days before there was such a thing as online) we used print indexes to find articles. Even now, with our wonderful collection of online resources for finding magazine articles (have a look in the E-Library to see some of the great databases) there is still very limited coverage prior to 1988. So, we still have the paper indexes on the third floor. Since my library experience dates from the “cardaceous” period, when card catalogues roamed the earth, I am familiar with these indexes and actually use them to find information that predates the electronic age. One such bit of research involved a customer who was looking for an article that was written about a friend’s grandmother and was published in a Canadian magazine, perhaps Maclean’s. The woman had started her own temp agency and was profiled because it was such an unusual thing for a woman to be an entrepreneur and the head of a successful business. The customer was pretty sure that the article was a cover story and thought he remembered photographs. The date of the article was some time in the 50s or 60s. We had the name of the company and the name of the owner. Nothing turned up in a search of the internet or in any of our online indexes. We had no clipping files on the business in Local History and we were going to give up hope but we remembered our old CPI.Q and rushed down to have a look. Sure enough, we turned up a reference to a Maclean’s article from 1954 which included photographs. A quick trip to the basement, and we had the article.

This is a good reminder to genealogists, and all researchers, that we are still a long way from having everything available at the click of a mouse. There are still valuable resources available that can’t be accessed through Google (or even Ancestry). The following indexes, housed on the third floor of the Central Library, are prime examples: Reader’s Guide, Canadian News Index and Canadian Periodicals Index can be used to find articles in magazines and newspapers that haven’t yet made it online. Check them out and see if your family made the papers.

Calgary Public Library Card Catalogue in the 1970s

Calgary Public Library: Our Story in Pictures, CPL 235-05-11

CPL 238 05 11

Matters of Money

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

 

1913 Muncipal Manual

City of Calgary Municipal Manual

Currently on display on the 4th floor of the Central Library

 

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least amount of hissing.” Jean Baptiste Colbert, 1619-1683

City Council is meeting this week to discuss the next budget and it looks like our taxes may be going up again. Governments have to get their money somewhere, and taxation and fees are generally the way they go about it. This topic came up when I was talking to the students at King George School. They will be doing a project to celebrate their school’s centennial and I wanted to tell them what life was like in Calgary in 1913. I consulted the Municipal Manual for that year (we have a complete collection of the manuals in the Local History Room at the Central Library) to find out general facts about the city and found some of the fees and taxes charged in 1913. Things were not much different then, we paid taxes based on a mill rate which was based on the assessed value of the house. Citizens could challenge their assessments if they felt they were out of line. We were charged for water, fees for taxis were set out as were fees that chimney sweeps could charge. What is a little different was how these fees were calculated. For example, annual water rates were calculated first by the number of rooms in the dwelling starting at $5.00 for five rooms and going up $10.00 for 15 rooms with 50 cents charged for each additional room. Added to the base rate were charges for each “additional convenience” such as a sink, toilet or bathtub ($1.00 for each of these). You were also charged $1.00 for a lawn and $1.00 for the first horse or cow and 50 cents for each additional animal. There were separate rates for commercial customers, hotels, churches and other concerns ($40.00 for a public skating rink for example)

The city government also raised money by charging for licenses. To hold a circus on a public holiday or during exhibition week, the license cost $500. At other times of the year it w as $200 unless the daily entrance fee was under 25 cents, for which the license was only $100. It was $4 to register your female dog, $2 for a male. Junk stores (remember those?) had to pay a license fee of $50 while a rag and bottle man paid only $5.

These fees are only meaningful if we have a look at what other things cost at the time. A lot in Capitol Hill was listed at $400 while a lot on 13th Avenue W (a much tonier neighbourhood) was $2200. A seven room bungalow-style house in Mount Royal, on a 53 foot lot, was listed at $8500 (and even then the lot was advertised as being very good site for an apartment block) while homes in the Ogden district were selling for $1600 to $2000. The going rate for a general, all-round servant was about $30 a month and employment in the new field of movie projectionist would net you about $25 a week. A good man’s suit could be had for $15 and a pair of ladies Radium brand stockings sold for 50 cents. Twenty pounds of sugar cost $1.10 while a pound of English coffee (don’t know, I’ve had coffee in England and that isn’t a recommendation but…) was 24 cents.

1913 was the beginning of the end of one of Calgary’s famous booms. Land speculators who had pinned their hopes on the expansion of the city to the north of the Bow would sell their land at bargain basement prices and growth would be stalled. Fees didn’t go down, though, and new ones were added ($25 a year for a gumball machine license in 1916). Then, in 1917 a temporary measure was introduced to help finance Canada’s part in the First World War – the income tax – and we are still waiting for that one to be revoked.

PC 50

 

Eighth Avenue Looking East, ca 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 50

Calgary's Chequered Past: Auto Racing in the Stampede City

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1270

Demonstration by the 100,000 Club

Postcards from the Past, PC 1270

I had the immense joy of being at Phoenix International Raceway for the infamous Sprint car race that saw a huge brawl in the pits after one driver deliberately forced another into the wall. It was a melee worthy of the sport. The race was only a part of the experience, however. NASCAR in the south is a cultural event and there were food vendors, beer gardens, souvenir shops, you name it and you could probably buy it at the track, for a wildly inflated price. You can visit the paddock and see the cars in their stalls and talk with the folks who make the cars go. What it really reminded me of was the Calgary Stampede without the barn smell.

That got me to thinking – the Calgary Stampede should think about having car racing as part of their events. What a novel idea, except, it has already been done. Back when cars were a novelty, the events at the Calgary Exhibition included a race on the half mile oval at Victoria Park, where horse racing normally took place. The first race was at the Exhibition of 1917 and included at least one driver who had competed in the Indianapolis 500. Also scheduled was a race between an “aviatrix” in her airplane and George Clark, the Indy 500 racer. This was cancelled due to high winds but would be on the minds of organizers into the next decade, when they scheduled Freddy McCall to race his plane against an automobile. This event was also cancelled, as Capt. McCall had been forced to land his airplane on top of the merry-go-round on the midway during a demonstration flight the day before.

Auto racing brought in hundreds of excited spectators and would be a large part of the Exhibition for several years. When the Exhibition merged with the Stampede in 1923, the track and infield area were given over to rodeo events and the car races put off to the end of the fair. But by then the novelty of car racing had worn off. Victoria Park would be used for car racing again, in the 1940s and 50s but as cars became more powerful, dirt tracks, especially those used for horse racing as well, could not accommodate them. A number of purpose-built tracks and tracks adapted for motor racing (such as the Chinook Jockey Club track which became Springbank Speedway) would be opened and closed in Calgary over the years. For more information about racing in Calgary, have a look at The Speediest Land Traveller by Richard McDonell

CDH July 1919

Panoramic view of the auto races at the 1919 Calgary Exhibition

Calgary Daily Herald, July 7, 1919 p12-13

Give Me Shelter: Civil Defense in Calgary

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Calgary Herald photograph

Civil Defense Headquarters bunker

Calgary Herald, March 29, 1955

I had the privilege of hearing some of this city’s great historians at the Heritage Weekend. Max Foran, Hugh Dempsey, Nancy Townsend and Harry Sanders all spoke about great Calgary characters and events. The highlight of the afternoon had to be Brian Brennan talking about Paddy Nolan and finishing up with “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, a song that Paddy may have enjoyed himself. All the presentations were excellent, capping off a really great weekend of heritage programs.

Dr. Foran spoke on an event which is somewhat amusing, but also speaks to the fears faced by many during the Cold War years. I had originally done some research on this story when I was looking for information about the fate of the air-raid sirens that were scattered throughout the city. There had been one in the yard of my kindergarten (which was held in the community hall) and I always wondered what they were for. Digging into the clippings files in the local history room, I found a wealth of information about civil defense and, particularly, about Operation Lifesaver, the topic of Dr. Foran’s talk.

The idea behind Operation Lifesaver was to practice an evacuation of a portion of Calgary, to simulate what might happen in the event of an enemy attack. So, the Civil Defense Authority planned the evacuation of a quadrant of the city, requiring the population to pack up and move to designated safe spots outside of Calgary. This was planned for September 21, 1955 and the quadrant chosen was the northeast. The population of that area was about 40,000 people at that time. Most were expected to participate. The populace was asked to fill out cards (such as the one below) to indicate whether they had a car, how many people the car could hold, whether they were physically capable of participating, ages of any children etc. Calgary Herald

Calgary Herald, May 5, 1955

The headquarters of the Civil Defense Authority were in a specially built bunker in the Municipal Golf Course (now Shaganappi Point). The photo above isof the interior of the bunker taken from the Calgary Herald of May 29, 1955.

In the end, Operation Lifesaver was postponed due to bad weather (it snowed quite heavily on September 21). When it took place, a week later, smoke bombs were detonated and the air-raid sirens wailed. Only 10,000 (as reported in the papers, but some estimates put it at only 3000) of the 40,000 population participated, but it was still hailed as a great success. It was the first of its kind, where citizens were directed out of the city, and cities across North America took note.

This would not be the last civil defense drill Calgarians would be subjected to. By the 1960s the focus had changed from preparing for an enemy invasion to surviving a nuclear detonation. To that end, the government released the pamphlet “Your basement fallout shelter”. This booklet, pictured here, includes a message from our PM, John Diefenbaker and complete plans for the building of a fallout shelter and instructions on how to live in it after the nuclear disaster. It is made clear in the instructions that this is not a bomb shelter, so it wasn’t advisable to hide in the shelter to escape explosions; it was designed to protect the homeowner from nuclear fallout, assuming they survived the initial blast.

Pam file

So in the next exercise, in November of 1961, the sirens sounded to alert the population to a mock nuclear attack. Most of downtown was unaffected. The people, having not heard the sirens, continued on about their business. Some sirens didn’t sound at all. An investigation blamed dirt for the malfunction.

If you would like to find out more about Canada’s civil defense policy, Andrew Burtch has just published Give Me Shelter which examines the effectiveness (or lack thereof) Canada’s policies during the Cold War. (This title is on our NextReads History and Current Events newsletter. You can sign up for it here.) CBC was on hand to film the exercise. The video is available through their archives. You can see the clippings and the booklet on building a fallout shelter in the Community Heritage and Family History Room on the fourth floor of the Central Library.

Bob Edwards

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Eye Opener June 15 1907

Cartoon from The Eye Opener, depicting editor Bob Edwards

Saturday June 15, 1907 p1

The Calgary Public Library Foundation is hosting the 37th annual Bob Edwards Award Gala this week at the Fairmont Palliser. This year’s winner is Mary Walsh who is best known for her own brand of journalism in This Hour has 22 Minutes. The Gala will raise funds for the Calgary Public Library Foundation.

Bob Edwards, for those of you who may not have heard of him, was the publisher of the newspaper The Eye-Opener, in various incarnations and locations, from 1902 until 1922. The newspaper was published in High River, Calgary, Port Arthur, Winnipeg and Calgary, again, on a fairly erratic schedule. It was unlike any other newspaper in town. Alan Fotheringham, in his introduction to Irresponsible Freaks, Highball Guzzlers & Unabashed Grafters: A Bob Edwards Chrestomathy says that The Eye-Opener “frightened the bejeezus out of Calgary….It could – and did- make or break politicians.” Edwards pulled no punches. The publisher of the Calgary Daily News, Daniel McGillicuddy, called Edwards “a ruffian, a moral leper” and “a skunk…” He also promised to prove that Bob was “a libeler, a character thief, a coward, a liar, a drunkard, a dope dealer and a degenerate.” Only the drunkard part could probably have been proven; Edwards’ relationship with alcohol was well known. If The Eye-Opener wasn’t published for a few weeks, Edwards would publish an apology saying he had been under the weather with “let us say, a very bad cold”

Though his politics were right-leaning, he would savage politicians no matter what their political stripe. His weapon was satire and he had a deadly sense of humour. For example, in the thick of the debate of which Alberta city would become the new province’s capital, Edwards, seeing that the cards were stacked against Calgary, wrote this imagined scenario, reportedly taken from the Edmonton Bulletin:

Dr. Lafferty yesterday became the first lieutenant-governor of the new province of Alberta. Edmonton was en fete. It was her first gala day since the hanging of King at the fort.

Lafferty was in great form. Every eye was bent on that weird figure as he was driven amid wild huzzahs to the scene of his inauguration, escorted by a body guard of influential real estate sharks. The tepees and shacks on either side of Main Street were tastefully decorated with bunting and streamers… while the goats on the roofs of the Irish quarter shook their shaggy beards in sympathy with the occasion.

The new lieutenant-governor ever and anon stood up in his carriage and raised his hat, smiling fatuously and wagging his head, at which hundreds and hundreds of partially Seagramized citizens raised their voices in enthusiastic acclaim…The sound of cannons issued from every billiard hall, and the screams from the neighboring asylum gave the scene a characteristic local tone. (The Eye-Opener, March 18, 1905, p1)

Edwards, along with his ability to puncture the most inflated ego, also had a soft spot for those at the other end of society. He weighed in on such topics as the inadequate wages paid by Eaton’s to their female employees, the plight of the other “working girls” and the working poor. He was an excellent journalist who was quoted by publications across the country and in the US. There are some wonderful collections of his work: Irresponsible Freaks mentioned above, and The Wit and Wisdom of Bob Edwards edited by Hugh Dempsey. Eye-Opener Bob by Grant MacEwan tells the story of Edwards’ life and career and there is an excellent short bio in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography which is accessible through the Calgary Public Library E-library. But to really appreciated Bob Edwards, you have to read his newspaper. The Eye Opener is available on microfilm in the Local History room at the Central Library. It is also available online at the Our Future Our Past website.

Bob Edwards' Residence, photographed just before demolition in 1968

919 4th Avenue SW

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0564

AJ0564

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