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Christmas 1914

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1562"The 103rd out of Calgary left yesterday for war" Postcards from the Past

Christmas of 1914 was significant because it was the first “war Christmas.” Canadian troops were not yet involved to a large extent in the hostilities, but many men were training in England over the Christmas period. The war diaries for that time (accessible through Library and Archives Canada Archivianet) show that the Canadian soldiers in England were in training but had Christmas day off and attended services, had dinner and were entertained. The National Liberal Club in London was asking for volunteers to provide holiday hospitality to the estimated 5,000 Canadian troops who would be at loose ends in the city over the Christmas vacation.

There were field hospitals set up and they were seeing a lot of soldiers with influenza and meningitis, which were believed to have been caused by the damp and chilly conditions of the camps on Salisbury Plain. The pundits were still claiming that the war would end within a few months, with the headline on the 26th of December edition of the Morning Albertan declaring “Allies now ready to drive out Germans.” This wasn’t to be, but as hostilities had not ramped up to their eventual level, there were lulls in fighting in some areas which became known as the Christmas Truce. There is information about that truce, including a wonderful commercial produced by an English grocery chain at The Great War website.

At home, even though many people were without some of their family members, Calgarians tried to celebrate their Christmas as usual. The Morning Albertan of December 26 declared “Calgary spends its Christmas as usual: Forgets woes in orgy of shopping and destruction of turkey.” What better way to drown ones sorrow?

I hope that you and yours have a happy holiday season.


PC 1586The Duchess of Connaught sent a gift to every man and officer on Salisbury Plain, in Bermuda, and on the Canadian ships in the Atlantic Postcards from the Past, PC 1586

The Lancaster Building is in the News

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PC 1947MacKay [sic] Block / Lancaster Building Postcards from the Past, PC 1947

One of the most delightful buildings in the downtown core is in the news – and not because it’s going to be torn down. The Lancaster, at 300 8th Avenue SW, home of the Unicorn Pub and a charming little food court among other things, will soon be occupied by Simons, a Quebec based fashion retailer. Change is always difficult and I was sad to hear that the Unicorn, an important part of my youth (wink wink) will no longer be in the building after June 2015 to make way for the renovations needed to house the new company. I’m hoping that the changes won’t be too radical, because the Lancaster has some wonderful period detail. The CEO of Simons has expressed a desire to treat the building with respect. I’m glad to hear that.

I’ve always called this building the Lancaster, but while it was being built it was known as the Mackie Building, after the man who built it, James Stewart Mackie. On its completion, it was named Lancaster, or so I have read, after the House of Lancaster, eventual victors in the Wars of the Roses. The building remained in the control of the Mackie family for a very long time – well into the 80s - and it may have been this continuity of care that has kept it from being demolished. The owners decided to renovate rather than remove it in the 1970s and for that sympathetic restoration the architect, Harold Hanen (father of our +15 system) won a Heritage Canada award.

The building, which was the first ten storey skyscraper in Calgary was built with a steel frame, by Dominion Bridge a design by James Teague, a Victoria based protégé of Francis Rattenbury. Construction was started in 1913 but only the skeleton was completed before the start of World War I, which put the kybosh on most construction. The building was completed and opened following the end of hostilities in 1918. The building boasted hot and cold running water to all areas and “high speed elevators” at least one of which, I believe, is still in operation.

PC 1389Eighth Avenue W - The Lancaster is the skyscraper in the back, Postcards from the Past, PC 1389

Mackie himself, was a very interesting and intrepid man. He was born in England and moved to Canada in 1882. He eventually ended up in Calgary in 1886 where he opened a sporting goods and gun business with Walter MacKay (confusing, no?) He took over the Thompson Stationery Company’s Calgary store and became involved in real estate. He served on city council for several years and eventually became mayor in 1901. He lived on and off in Calgary for the rest of his life, eventually taking rooms in the Palliser Hotel, where he and his wife lived until their deaths. The Lancaster remains as evidence of the spirit of James Mackie and is a legacy of those golden times in Calgary when optimism and innovation were in boundless supply. I hope this legacy lives on.

Ah, For the Good Old Days

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)


PC 1281Eighth Avenue, ca. 1930, The Palace Theatre is almost visible on the right Postcards from the Past

I attended a concert last week at Flames Central. I hadn’t been in that building since I was a candy-bar girl at the Palace Theatre back in the 70s. Then it was a charming, but run-down old building. I was very young but even then I had an appreciation for the velvet corduroy seats, the beautiful plasterwork in the ceilings (though it had been painted over so many times it looked like it was a panorama of slugs) the beautiful grille work on the organ lofts. I loved that old girl. The balcony was closed to the public most of the time, and we were allowed to take our breaks up there and chat with the projectionists. Our change rooms were down in the basement, and the old boiler (which could very well have been original to the building) used to scare the living daylights out of me when it fired up. We kept the marquee letters down there, as well, and we would make messages out of them (usually involving some kind of obscenity) for other staff members. My favourite part of the job was going backstage to open and close the curtains. To get up there you had to pass Reveen’s room, which is what we called the green room backstage. It was mostly used for storage – there were bolts upon bolts of the old rose velvet corduroy stacked back there – but back in the day, it had been the room set aside for Reveen, who described himself as an “impossiblist.” His shows included magic and hypnosis and were so well known to people of my generation that most of us can probably still sing “the man they call Reveen.” His shows were famous throughout Canada and he ended his career in Vegas. One of his first gigs was at the Palace, where he sold out 28 consecutive shows.
The Palace was declared a National Historic site in 1996. but its conversion to a nightclub and later to Flames Central had me dreading what I might find. I was sure the character that I had fallen in love with when I was a candy bar girl would be gone or, at the very least, hidden. I was very glad to see that I was wrong. The beautiful plasterwork has been restored, the grilles of the organ lofts have been retained, and even the marble staircases to the upper level are still intact. In many ways the old girl looks better that she had in a while. It was quite an experience to go back there and I’m sure people were wondering who this weird woman was, with her head craned back, oohing and aahing over the walls and ceilings. It was quite an experience and in a way it is appropriate that I should have been there to see a musician perform. When it was built, the Palace was used for all kinds of shows, not just movies. I remembered a shaky bit of flooring right in front of the stage that someone told me had been an orchestra pit and had been boarded over. I was later able to confirm this by looking at some of the pictures at the Glenbow. So in a way, she’s come full circle. That makes me happy (though I do miss the smell of popcorn!)

JU 060604-13Palace Nightclub 2006 with Theatre Marquee still in place Judith Umbach Collection



Don't forget that our World War I Remembered programs are happening this month. For more information visit my earlier blog post or our program guide.

Inglewood: Not Urban Renewal, Just Renewal

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

AJ 0035McVittie cabin, one of the original Inglewood buildings Alison Jackson Collection

Inglewood, once home to porn theatres and used car lots, is now one of five finalists in contention for the title of Greatest Place in Canada. This story is very heartening for those of us who value the heritage in this city and it is also an example of how a strong community can work together to make their neighbourhood what they want it to be.

Back in the day, I used to make the trip through Inglewood on my way to my job at the Alyth Yards. The main street, once called Atlantic Avenue, was something of a wilderness of shabby old buildings and not-very-nice businesses. There was alway a bit of a bohemian buzz about it, but for the most part it was forlorn-looking. But when I veered off the strip and poked around a bit in the neighbourhood, I came to realize that this had indeed been the heart of our city.

For an old building lover, the old houses, generally left untouched by gentrification, the railways workers’ cottages, the beautiful tree-lined streets were a paradise. And talk about urban wildlife! Strange and wonderful birds flitted in the trees and wandered the banks of the river, thanks to the proximity of the bird sanctuary. And you could hear lions roaring and wolves howling from their home at the zoo. It was a charming, quirky neighbourhood – and I am so happy to see that it is still a charming and quirky neighbourhood.

I am also delighted that the heritage of the area has been preserved. Inglewood was the very first area to be settled of what would become Calgary. When Fort Calgary was established in 1875 at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, the town kind of sprung up around it, albeit a town of tents and cabins built from whatever could be found. The McVittie cabin, shown above, was made of packing crates and other waste wood. Further development was spurred by the announcement that Calgary would be the railway hub for southern Alberta. It was assumed that the station would be in the area of the Fort, which didn't turn out to be the case, but in any event, Calgary's first neighbourhood was born.

In 1892 the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. opened at the end of Atlantic Avenue and the area became known as Brewery Flats. Over the years there was more industrialization in the area, with the opening of the rail yards, an abbatoir and stock yards and other processing and manufacturing industries. But over time, the area east of the downtown became run down and neglected. In time Inglewood would be facing what many other older areas of the city had faced — the dreaded "urban renewal scheme."

Had the "urban renewers" had their way, much of what is standing in Inglewood would have been razed in the 60s and 70s to make way for roads, interchanges and parking. It was an area in decline and in the 1960s the answer to that was to tear it down and put up new stuff. This had happened down here, in the area around City Hall. Old hotels and businesses were seen as dilapidated eyesores and were torn down to make way for development. As we know now, that might have been a bit of a mistake. Losing many of our old buildings robbed this end of the downtown of its character and walkability and exacerbated the problems that the scheme was designed to remedy. But that wasn't allowed to happen in Inglewood. It has undergone a renewal, for sure, just not urban renewal.

If you are interested in the history of this part the city we have scads of stuff in the Local History room at the Central Library including a building inventory and other general histories. There is also a self-guided walking tour available here that you can use to explore Inglewood and visit some of its historic sites — and great shops and cafes.

The Prairie Book Scheme: The Prairie's First Bookmobiles?

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

CDH July 9 1937Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir in Calgary, July 9 1937 from the Calgary Daily Herald, July 9 1937


One of my favourite parts of my job is the chance it gives me to talk to people. I had a patron call our Central Information Service for a telephone number. In the course of the conversation, we started talking about the library and she told me that in her youth, she did not have access to a local library in Manitoba so she got her library books by train. This intrigued me. I knew that the railways had been lifelines in many ways, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they might have been the first “bookmobiles.”

A little more digging and I found an article about the Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Books Scheme. Moved by the destitution she saw on her trip through Canada following her husband’s appointment as Governor General, Lady Tweedsmuir organized a kind of traveling library system. The people needed good books, she thought, to help them get through the long, dark winters and to divert them from their economic woes. There were very few public libraries outside of the urban areas on the prairies, so she called on the Women’s Institutes to help organize a scheme that would bring books to the people.

Boxes of books, either donated or chosen by Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir and purchased with donated funds, were sent to locations throughout the prairies. Free shipping by rail had been organized and each town that had received the books was asked to arrange a swap with a neighbouring locale.

The kinds of books included in these shipments were similar to what would be found in a public library. Non-fiction, biography, popular novels, children’s materials, journals—you name it. If it was a “good book” it could be included. She observed the differing tastes of the various provinces: “Saskatchewan…appears to like non-fiction while Manitoba likes fiction. The people in Alberta ‘like anything you send them—they seem to read everything.” (We haven’t changed much in Alberta). By the time she left for England, after the death of her husband, the scheme had distributed 40,000 books. With the departure of its guiding light, the books from the program were distributed to various locations and in some cases became the foundation collection for small town public libraries.

Lady Tweedsmuir also encouraged the local Women’s Institutes to record the history of their area. These became known as the Tweedsmuir Histories and due to the foresight and encouragement of Lady Tweedsmuir, we have a wealth of local histories from prairie towns.

If you’d like to read more about the Lady Tweedsmuir’s Prairie Book Scheme, there is an excellent article, “The people must have plenty of good books” by Geoffrey Little in the June 2012 issue of Library & Information History which you can access through the E-Library in the database Library and Information Science Full Text. There is also plenty of great material in the Local History room on the history of the Women’s Institutes. You can find it by searching ‘women’s institute’ in the catalogue.

The Empress of Ireland

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PA 116389Empress of Ireland, Library and Archives Canada PA 116389

The sinking of the Empress of Ireland is this country’s worst maritime disaster, but many Canadians don’t even know about it. This may be in part because the event was overshadowed by the declaration of war just two months later. But the sinking of the Empress and the loss of 1,012 of the 1,477 passengers and crew was a loss equivalent to the sinking of the Titanic, and deserves to be more widely recognized.

One hundred years ago, on May 29, 1914, the Empress of Ireland, en-route from Quebec to Liverpool, struck the Norwegian coal vessel Storstad in the St. Lawrence River, and sank within 15 minutes. On board were nearly 1500 people, among them 138 children. Only 5 of the children were among the survivors. The shipwreck was rediscovered in 1964 and remains in the St. Lawrence, six kilometres from Ste. Luce-Sur-Mer . In 2009 the Canadian government named it a National Historic Site. The Canadian Museum of History has launched an exhibition about the Empress and her passengers.

Recently, I was contacted by a researcher who is interested in finding out more about the descendants of the passengers from that last voyage. He is looking for anyone who may be connected with a passenger who was aboard the Empress on the night she sank. If you are connected in some way to the Empress of Ireland, you can visit his siteand get in touch with him.

There were some Calgarians aboard, notably the Garnetts, who were part of a large contingent of Salvation Army members on their way to London. You can view the complete list of Calgary passengers in the Morning Albertan. Library and Archives Canada also has an online aid to researchers who may have family connections to the Empress of Ireland or really, for anyone who is interested in doing more in-depth research on this tragedy

Prior to her sinking, The Empress of Ireland played an important role in the settlement of the west. She made 96 voyages between Quebec and Liverpool and many of the people she carried were immigrants looking for a new life in Canada A search for Empress of Ireland in the Canadian Passenger Lists index in AncestryLE pulled up numerous hits. Not all of these would have been new immigrants, but many were and many of these were heading to the west. A look at some of the lists tells the story of the settlement of the prairies. Stories like that of the Hobdays, who came over on the last voyage of the Empress from Liverpool. Sidney, 21, and a new immigrant, was coming over with Albert, his brother, who was marked as a returning Canadian. Sidney was a farm labourer, while his brother was a fireman. Just these details can tell the story of a family looking for a new life in a new country.

We should remember the Empress of Ireland, not just for the tragedy that took her and so many of her passengers, but also for the contribution she made to the history of Canada.

The Cecil Hotel

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

AJ 89 11Cecil Hotel before the paint job, 1965 Alison Jackson Collection

It’s in the news again, and the news ain’t good. It looks like we may be saying goodbye to the infamous, but decidedly colourful, Cecil Hotel. The city is in the process of selling the hotel to the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, the organization that is responsible for the redevelopment of the East Village. The land the hotel sits on could be turned in to a short term parking lot. The argument against preserving the building is that over the years the distinguishing heritage characteristics of the hotel have been stripped away. On the other side of the argument is that the building is much more than a physical object. The value in many of our heritage properties also lies in the intangibles – the purpose and the people associated with the site. This may be what is plaguing the efforts to preserve the Cecil. In the last years of its life, it became a byword for murder and mayhem. The police were spending as much time there as the patrons. While a little scandal can often be a positive (think of the black sheep in your family) the level of crime and violence associated with the Cecil is proving to be detrimental to its preservation.

The Cecil wasn’t always a dive. Built in 1911, it was a working man’s hotel and included a dining room and bar, along with a billiard room and a barbershop. A quick search of the Henderson’s Directories shows that blacksmiths, mechanics, stablemen, and other tradesmen called the Cecil home. With a booming and transient population, these kinds of hotels provided short and long term residences for men working in and around Calgary. An article in The 100,000 Manufacturing, Building and Wholesale Book stated that “be it stranger or Calgary citizen who enters the portals of the Hotel Cecil he is at once impressed with the atmosphere of good fellowship which permeates every nook and cranny of this popular hostelry.”


PC 947Cecil Hotel 1912 Postcards from the Past

The Calgary Public Market was next door and many of the storefronts of the Cecil were occupied by businesses that capitalized on this proximity. One of the businesses that operated from the hotel was Der Deutsch-Canadier, Western Canada’s largest German language newspaper. The proprietors of the hotel, who were German immigrants to the city, were also the publishers of the newspaper.

There is no trace of any of the other buildings that made up the area around the market. In fact, there are only 10 heritage buildings left in the whole East Village, a sad fact given that this end of the city was the hub of activity in the pre-WWI years. I’d be sorry to see the Cecil go. It would take with it one hundred years of human history in all of its grubby glory.

For an interesting perspective on the Cecil, you can visit the site “This is my Cecil” started as a part of the “This is my City” program.

I've Got a Bushel of Green Tomatoes, Thanks Mother Nature!

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

PC 1606And we thought we had a lot of snow, Postcards from the Past, PC 1606

Well, September is here and boy did it come in like a lion! I’m assuming this means it will go out like a lamb, or is that only for May? Anyway, having slogged through ankle deep snow and wrestled the fallen branches from my poor old birch tree, I am feeling rather icy toward Mother Nature. My dog is delighted, but he is the only one I know who is.

Even though I am a native Calgarian, I cannot reconcile myself to the climate here. Every year I plant tomatoes, dreaming of the hot late summer days when I will pick the ripe fruit from the green and fragrant plants. And nearly every year, I am out in the freezing cold picking hard-frozen, green orbs from blackened, frost damaged and, quite frankly, pathetic-looking remnants of my labours. Does this make me an optimist or a fool? (Quite likely, a bit of both—a foolish optimist?).

Certainly this phenomenon would explain the hundreds of recipes calling for green tomatoes in the prairie cookbooks we have in our Local History collection. I thought I might have to resort to one of these as I looked at my hastily harvested crop. And since I am using a recipe from our cookbook collection in Local History, you get to share my experience.

So, here is a recipe for green tomato marmalade—which is something I had heard of but never eaten, until I saw a ripe tomato version at a shop in the Farmer’s Market. This one is from the Blue Bird Cookbook by the Domestic Science Department of the American Woman’s Club of Calgary (call number 641.5 BLU). The recipe courtesy Ms. H.L. Freeland:

Chop 2 quarts of green tomatoes fine, 2 lemons cut fine, a little water. Boil until tender and add cup for cup of sugar. Cook until it jellies and add ginger root for taste.

What could be easier?

Another one I’m going to try is green tomato chow chow, just because I like the name, also from the Blue Bird cookbook. Recipe courtesy Mrs. A.E. Shore.

Green Tomato Chow Chow

1 peck green tomatoes
4 large onions
6 green peppers
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Chop tomatoes (not too fine) and let stand in brine overnight. Drain and cover with vinegar (not too strong). Add peppers, onions, sugar and spices and cook until tender. Place in bottles or jars with parowax over them if corks or covers are not available.


Winter Elbow RiverA lovely winter

How to Find an Old Newspaper

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


CPL 238 05 04People reading newspapers on microfilm, CPL Archives

Genealogists and historians know how important newspapers are in any kind of historical research. Whether you’re looking for an obituary or trying to find out what was going on in your hometown, nothing captures the tenor of the times like a newspaper. How do you find those newspapers, though? If you’re not from a major urban centre, it can be tricky even finding out what the newspaper was called, especially since researching the various permutations of a newspaper’s names and its publication history can be a genealogical research project in itself.

Our national library, Library and Archives Canada, collects lots and lots of newspapers. They receive print copies of select Canadian current dailies, all Canadian ethnic newspapers, all Canadian Aboriginal newspapers, and student newspapers received from Canadian University Press. They also receive some international papers. While you can consult any of these newspapers at Library and Archives Canada in person, not all of us can make that trek. But do not despair – much of the library’s holdings are available on microfilm (200,000 reels of it!) and can be borrowed on inter-library loan. And to help us find those newspapers, Library and Archives Canada has launched a new database — well, actually an enhanced version of a much-loved and oft used database.

This site has always been an invaluable resource for the names and publication history of Canadian newspapers. What the upgrade has given us are links to digitized versions of the papers, where they exist. Sites such as Peel’s Prairie Provinces, Our Future Our Past, Google News, and various other digitization projects can be accessed from the LAC list. The site also includes a list of general indexes to Canadian newspapers, including online paid sources, free sources and print sources as well as a geographical listing of indexes for specific newspapers or places. Have a look at what is available for Alberta.

There is also a section of online sources for news and indexes to the news. It’s a one-stop shop for all things newspaper.

BTW, our Family History Coaching program kicks off its new season on September 27. Join us for one-on-one help with your family history project. Volunteers from the Alberta Family Histories Society will be on hand in the genealogy section of the Central Library from 10 a.m. to noon. 

Harnam Singh Hari

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

From Sodbusting to SubdivisionHunam Singh and his son Ujugar, taken from Sodbusting to Subdivision

Calgary commemorated its first Sikh settler on the weekend, naming a park in honour of Harnam Singh Hari, in Kingsland, the community that occupies the land where he established his farm in 1909. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know this man’s name or the history of the Sikhs in Alberta. I remembered, however, that I had come across the name Singh while I was searching for soldiers who had enlisted for service in the First World War and was surprised to find them there. To remedy my ignorance I went digging in our Local History collection. (Luddite that I am, I always start my research with books). I found Splintered Dreams: Sikhs in Southern Alberta by Jaswinder Gundara that tells the stories of several Sikh families including that of Harnam Singh Hari.

The stories of our earliest non-European immigrants are always inspiring to me. People came to Canada in spite of a hostile environment and sometimes even more hostile communities. Chinese immigrants were charged a head tax, other Asian immigrants were required to have at least $200 with them while immigrants from Europe were only asked to have $20. Women and children under 18 were prohibited from immigrating, meaning that a lot of the Punjabi men came to Canada alone, leaving their families behind. In spite of all of this, people still came to Canada and men like Harnam Singh Hari worked hard and flourished. After purchasing several sections in what would become the Kingsland area, Harnam Singh and his son, Ujugar, purchased more land in the DeWinton area. The family is still farming in the area, and were chosen as Farm Family of the Year in 2011.

Harnam Singh returned to India in the 1950s taking with him ideas for the improvement of his home village and a share of stories to tell. His great grand-daughter has written a moving article about him for the Indian Quarterly. He passed away in India in 1969 but, thanks to the park that bears his name, he will not be forgotten.

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