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A New Year in a (soon to be) New Country

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 841

Interior of a Newspaper Printing Office, Daysland, Alberta, ca. 1914

Postcards from the Past, 841

Facing another decade in the new millennium, I was pondering, as I often do, the doings of our forebears as they entered a new year and, really, a new era at the beginning of the year that would see the formation of our country. New Year’s Day in 1867 was a Tuesday. The papers were published (at least the Globe and Mail was published) so I was able to read about the goings on in Toronto, Canada West, for that day. What were those hard working, decent people, those solid citizens, up to as they prepared to meet the new year? Well….from the front page of the Globe:


Monday Dec. 31

"…As usual on a Monday morning a considerable number of drunk and disorderly persons came before his Worship.

Michael Blake, 47, drunk, not known to police, was fined $2 and costs, in default 20 days in gaol. …It appeared that he had been found drunk on Church Street, with a considerable amount of money in his pocket, and his Worship thought that it was worth something to him, under the circumstances, to be taken care of by the constables, and so he was made to disgorge.

Margaret Kennedy, 31, vagrant, known to the police, was sent to gaol for 20 days. She …has been going round, book-in-hand, begging, ostensibly for an apocryphal widow named Sophia Shaw. Among others, she bled his Worship to the amount of a couple of dollars. She entered volubly into a history of herself, Sophia Shaw, and their affairs, which narrative was stopped with some difficulty, by the time she had succeeded in mystifying the Court and all present."

Not everyone was whoopin’ it up. The various churches held celebrations in fitting with their “dispositions”. Members of the Methodist congregation prayed out the old year and in the new. St. John’s Church held a midnight service, the bells at St. James were rung from 11:30 PM and military and other bands played.

I can read these articles because the library has a subscription to “Globe and Mail: Canada’s Heritage from 1844” in the E-Library. This is a searchable database and is just one of three historic newspaper subscriptions that we have. We also have “Toronto Star: Pages from the Past” which dates from 1894 and the “Times of London Digital Archive 1785-1985”. These can be of great interest to genealogists researching in the area because they are searchable. I ran a search on one of my family names through the Globe and Mail and found an article about a boy from Norwood who had been kicked in the mouth by a horse. Not necessarily a nice article, but one that contained information about a possible ancestor (yes, weird information but that’s what makes genealogy so interesting.)

You can also use these databases to find details about the life and times of people in the past. Because we don’t have a good index for the Calgary Herald, we often use the Toronto papers when we are looking for dates of significant events, especially in the area of military history. When we find the date of a particular battle, or of the death of a soldier, we can go to the right date of the Herald and look for local coverage.

Newspapers can be gold mines of information for genealogists and historians. Check out our historic newspapers in the E-Library section of the Calgary Public Library homepage. The link is in the black bar at the top of the page. Once you’ve entered the E-Library, choose History and Genealogy from the menu and then, from the menu that comes up, select your newspaper. You will need to enter your Calgary Public Library barcode from the back of your card and your PIN.

Influenza and the Isolation Hospital

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 755

Bird's eye view of Calgary, 1906 (Isolation Hospital in foreground)

Postcards from the Past, PC 755

It is interesting, the images that stay in one's mind. Watching the news reports about the outbreak of the new influenza A strain I remembered the photos I had seen in the newspapers (I mean the old newspapers, I read them more frequently that the current ones, I'm embarrassed to say) of Calgarians during the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919. The Alberta government had passed legislation requiring people to wear face masks when out in public. Spitoons and cuspidors were banned, as was spitting on the street. In Regina, one could be fined for coughing or sneezing. Faced with a global outbreak of a deadly disease and with no antibiotics or effective vaccines, health professionals and legislators fought back in the only way they could. That meant isolating those with the flu and keeping them from the healthy population.

That explains the photograph used to illustrate this entry. It is from our postcard collection and is, actually, the oldest postcard in the collection. It shows a view of the city to the north. The building in the centre foreground is the original isolation hospital which was situated on 13th Avenue SE on the riverbank. That is very near where the remains of the second General Hospital, the Rundle Ruins, are located near the Stampede Grounds. The Isolation Hospital was used for patients with communicable diseases such as, measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and typhoid. It was small, but generally adequate until the outbreak of the Spanish influenza at the end of World War I.

During the outbreak of the flu, the old General Hospital, which had been replaced in 1910, was reopened for influenza patients. Schools were also pressed into service as influenza hospitals as well. Schools had been closed during the worst of the epidemic along with theatres and other places where people congregated. You can see Victoria school at the centre of this photograph. Victoria school was was one of the schools pressed into service. The library, too, was closed. When it reopened on November 21, customers were promised that all books would be fumigated before they were circulated again.

There are lots of interesting books about the history of the hospitals and the history of the Spanish influenza epidemic in Alberta. For a history of the General Hospital, pick up Hospital: a portrait of Calgary General by D. Scollard. For an interesting view of the Spanish influenza outbreak, I found the chapter by Stephanie Keer in The Great War and its consequences 1914-1920 in the series Alberta in the 20th Century to be very informative. You can find both of these titles in the Calgary Public Library catalogue.

Local Histories

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 483

Carmangay, Alberta 1911

Postcards from the Past, PC 483

I was having a discussion with one of my regular customers about the kind of information one can find in a local history. I think anyone researching family, especially if they were rural people, should check to see if a local history has been written for the area in which they settled. Local histories often include the stories of families, usually written by a member of that family or by someone who remembers them. This can provide details of our ancestors lives that we would not be able to get anywhere else. For instance, I could never figure out the origin of my great uncle's middle name. It looked like a family name but we didn't have any Plante's in the family that I knew of. Reading the local history for Guelph, where the family was from, I noticed that the priest in the parish was Father Plante. Eureka! Of course, as with any anectodal resource we need to take the information we glean with a grain of salt but...

What my customer and I were discussing, though, was the detail about the history of a place that can be gleaned from these little jewels. Many of the local histories in our collection include information about the schools, churches, hotels, stores, swimming holes, you name it. They can also include lists of men who enlisted in the forces during particular conflicts, the names of the pastors in the various churches, all kinds of information that would be difficult to find elsewhere, if it could be found at all.

The importance of local histories for the study of social history is indicated by the various digitization projects that are being undertaken to make this information available to all researchers. The two that we use the most at the library are the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project, Our Future Our Past which includes digitized local histories from Alberta and the Our Roots/Nos Racines project which has digitized local histories from all over Canada. Of course, you can always visit our library catalogue and search for a local history for your area (use the place-name and the word 'history' to see what we have). Our Community Heritage and Family History collection includes a large number of Alberta histories and our circulating collection also includes Alberta local histories as well as a few for locales outside of the province. If the history you're looking for isn't in any of the above collections, we can always try to get it for you on interlibrary loan.

(The postcard used to illustrate this entry is a photograph of Carmangay Alberta circa 1911. It is postcard 483 and can be found in our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Collection which is accessible through the link on the left)

Henderson's Directories Online

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


City directories are often overlooked by genealogical researchers, but they can provide a great deal of information. Typically, a directory entry contains much more than just a name and address. The entries often include an occupation, maybe even a place of employment, sometimes the name of a spouse. In the case of entries for women heads of household, it may include an indication that she is a widow and sometimes even the name of her deceased spouse. Directories exist for a great many communities.

In the Prairie Provinces the directories for many towns and cities were collected by Bruce Peel and made available on microfiche in the collection "Peel's Prairie Provinces." The Calgary Public Library has this collection in the Community Heritage and Family History Room. The directories in the collection cover towns like Medicine Hat, Regina, Swift Current, Saskatoon as well as many others. In the Community Heritage and Family History room we also have paper copies of the city directories for Calgary.

Recently, however, the University of Alberta has launched the Peel's Prairie Provinces collection online including some of the directories. Directories for Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Winnipeg, to name just a few, can be searched at The directories are searchable, which means you can search across the whole collection, and a new feature, "Flipbook" has been added so that you can navigate through the book. Check out the icon on the top right corner of the page.

Beyond the directories, the Peel collection includes a wide variety of information, some of it quite hard to find elsewhere, relating to the history of the prairies. It has been a very valuable collection to historians, providing access to documents that were previously inaccessible. Now, with the launch of the online version, this great collection is available to everyone. Have a look. It is a real treasure trove.

Where, Exactly, is Balaclava Heights?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Map, 1907

Detail from a 1907 map of Calgary

Community Heritage and Family History Collection

Maps are very useful tools for navigation but they can also speak volumes about the history of a city. The Community Heritage and Family History room at the Central Library has a great collection of historical maps. I love to use the maps to illustrate our stories of the history of Calgary's development. You can see times of extreme optimism as in the map that accompanied the 1913 Henderson's directory. The city looks enormous. New subdivisions have sprung up all around the perimeter of the city. Districts like The Bronx, Harvetta Heights, The Nimmons Subdivision and Balaclava Heights. What is fascinating is that none of these places actually existed. The map, however, shows residential lots and roads and other fascinating features. What this map represents are the dreams and aspirations of Calgary's boosters and its real estate developers. The reality was that Calgary was facing one of its infamous busts and though the city's promoters would have liked to create these wonderful neighbourhoods, the economy would just not support it (doesn't sound familiar, does it?)

To highlight some of the interesting maps in our collection, we have mounted a display in the windows of the Local History Room on the 4th floor of the Central Library. Next time you're walking by have a peek in and see some of this cartographic history of our fair city.

Researching Calgary's Military History

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

I grew up on the west edge of the city near the Currie and Harvie Barracks. Having the military as neighbours was a normal, albeit sometimes exciting, part of my youth. We could ride our bikes to the bluff that is now called Battalion Park and on balmy summer nights, we watched the flares and listened to the guns from the military exercises that were taking place. Helicopters sometimes flew overhead. We could wave to the soldiers as their convoys passed us. It was better than watching the movie from beyond the fence at the 17th Avenue Drive-In!

PC 569

Six Soldiers, World War I

Postcards from the Past, PC 569

It was only years later, as I studied the history of my home town, that I realized what a proud military history we have. Since Fort Calgary, the city has had a military presence in one form or another. Calgary has been home to a number of famous regiments and their history is preserved in the newly renovated and expanded Military Museums. Along with the Naval, Army and Air Force Museums are the Regimental Museums of the Calgary Highlanders, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the King's Own Calgary Regiment and Lord Strathcona's Horse. They also house the W.A. Howard Library and the Arthur J.E. Child Archives.

We are delighted that experts from the Military Museums and the University of Calgary will be giving a talk on Saturday February 28 at 1PM in the meeting room on the fourth floor of the Central Library. They will present information about strategies and resources for researching the history of the military in Calgary.

Research Plus

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Archives photo 0002

Alexander Calhoun and the staff of the new Calgary Public Library, ca 1912

Calgary Public Library Archives

The library is a great place to do research. We have loads of resources to help with even the most difficult questions. And that is great if you have the time and the skills needed to do your own research. But what if you don't? Did you know that we have a service that can, for a fee, do your research for you? ResearchPlus provides customized, comprehensive fee-based research for individuals and businesses, as well as book loans, document delivery, photocopying, faxing and more.

If you are a member of an organization who may use the library and ResearchPlus, a Calgary Public Library organizational card is only $60 per year and gives you access to this service as well as many other Library resources!

For more information about how ResearchPlus can help you or your organization, contact us at 403-260-2712 or by email at

The Sickness or the Cure

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

iStockOne of the greatest perks in this job is the opportunity it provides to peruse some of the strangest and most interesting books you can imagine. I occasionally wander through the stacks to find interesting items to use in displays or when we are giving tours. I especially have my eye open for unusual sources for genealogists. Imagine my delight when I tripped over York Factory Medical Journals 1846-1849. This fascinating book is exactly what its title promises – the journals of the physician, Dr. William Smellie, who was assigned to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the denizens of York Factory, a Hudson's Bay Company trading post. The journals record the names, professions ages and genders of the patients as well as the symptoms of their illnesses and the treatment for them. Which raises the question, which was worse, the illness or the cure? For example, take the case of Baptiste Potvin, a labourer who visited the doctor on the 24th of March, 1847:

Complains of headache & lassitude: pulse full & moderate tongue of natural appearance: man of a stout habit of body. Habeat Calomelanos gr viii in pillula *** mica panis. (Take 8 grains of Mercurous Chloride in a pill with a crumb of bread)

Now, mercurous chloride is a purgative. Hardly a common treatment for headache today. Dr. Smellie continues:

Pill operated Copiously: headache unrelieved but the symptoms no wise more urgent. Habeat Vin. Antim 3 i pro em. (Have 1 ounce of Antimony wine for an emetic.) acknowledges himself much relieved by the emetic: subsequently: went to work.

I would have shut my mouth about the headache and gone back to work, too!

If you would like to read more of these journals, the book is available to view in the Local History Room on the 4th floor of the Central Library. It includes lots of interesting background information about the doctor himself, York Factory and the medical practices of the day. The book was edited by Colin and Elizabeth Briggs. The call number is 610.97127 BRI.

Old News is the Best News

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

I love old newspapers. I could sit reading them for days on end (or at least until I get a microfilm headache). Most genealogists know that newspaper announcements can be a fabulous source for obituaries and other event announcements. They often include details that can’t easily be found in other sources. My problem, when I am looking for these announcements, is that I’m distracted by all the other stuff that newspapers offer. There is nothing better for gauging the tenor of the times in which our ancestors lived than a read through the daily (or weekly) paper. For example, I found this in The Eye Opener as I was researching popular response to Alberta becoming a province:

“Parting with the Territories is not sweet sorrow. It is a joy that has been adulterated with too much Edmonton.” Plus ça change…

And on the bottom of the same page:

“The N.W.M.P. authorities have finally closed all the maisons de diablerie a travers le pont de Langevin. C’est dommage, as the feller says.” (The Eye Opener 2 Sept. 1905: 1)

Calgary Public Library has lots of old newspapers in its collection. In addition to a complete run of the Calgary Herald, CPL holds microfilm copies of the Strathmore Standard, The Edmonton Bulletin, The Fort Macleod Gazette, The Calgary News Telegram and The Cardston News, just to name a few. The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project has made many Alberta newspapers available online. I visit their site at regularly to get my newspaper fix. We can also request newspapers that we don’t have in our collection through our interlibrary loan service. Ask us if you are looking for a local newspaper for your ancestor’s hometown.

PC 765

Herald Building, built 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 765

The Heritage Triangle

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Do you know about the Calgary Heritage Triangle?

The Calgary Heritage Triangle is a partnership among the Calgary Public Library, the Glenbow Library and Archives and the City of Calgary Archives. All are located within easy walking distance of each other. These organizations collect and preserve Calgary's heritage to ensure it is accessible to Calgarians. Download the Brochure to find more information and maps to these locations. What amazing resources in the heart of downtown Calgary!

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