Latest Posts

On Line

The Heritage Triangle PDF link

We have a Historian Laureate!

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

Historian Laureate

Harry Sanders is our Historian Laureate

Scott Jolliffe, Chair CHA, Harry Sanders, Alderman Druh Farrell

Photo courtesy Judith Umbach

I was delighted to be able to attend the crowning of Calgary’s first Historian Laureate. Being a long-time Calgary native, I have watched the attitudes of administration toward the preservation and celebration of heritage develop over the years from an almost personal animosity toward old buildings (think Rod Sykes being attacked by the Burns Building) to today’s understanding of the value of preserving the past. Our new laureate is a person who has spent his entire adult life bringing heritage to the people and interpreting it for them through his own, passionate view. Harry Sanders makes history meaningful. In his hands, heritage is a living thing, a story of everyday people – the people who make this city great.

Part of the investiture ceremony was a poetry slam. Our other laureate, Kris Demeanor, Calgary’s first Poet Laureate (and believe me, when I was growing up, studying literature at university, the idea that the city of Calgary, Capitalist Calgary, would ever have a poet laureate would have provoked gales of laughter in all of the cement and steel towers that line our streets) wrote and delivered a challenge – one that Calgarians have long been debating – what use is history?

With his permission, here is Kris’s throw down:

Okay, I know it’s not in the Calgary tradition of niceness and politeness, but I cannot hold my peace!

I don’t care about Guy Weadick’s rope and release any more than I do the fathers of Greece

It’s old news and we all know that’s only fit for wrapping fish and chips

Look, nothing against Harry, I’m sure he’s a wealth of facts colourful, sublime, astounding and scary,

But let me save you all two years of talk of beaver pelt hats and ‘That used to be a nunnery!’

And give you a quick and easy summary of all you need to know about history

PERSONAL: You are the genetic union of a mother and father, they gave you food and water, you grew, learnt a bunch of stuff, most of it useless, you got a job and barbecue.

THE WORLD: Big Bang, plants, fish, caveman, hominid, ice age, Egypt, Rome, Aztecs, war war war war war, Bible, Genghis Khan, Da Vinci, Queen Victoria, war, war, war, Einstein, guy in Hummer with a baseball cap and GI Joe facial hair, there, DONE.

History teaches us nothing, we have always just been bluffing our way from one grand embarrassment to another- we don’t look at letters from our last lover, or replay the video reel of us throwing up at the school dance or failing math.

Let our collective insecurity and shame over the past lead the way to a brighter tomorrow full of wisdom we don’t need to borrow. All I could learn from my forefathers and foremothers is how to stoke a coal stove and churn my own butter, and I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to imagine a world without frozen pizza, omnipresent technology and direct flights to Cuban all-inclusives for five hundred dollars.

Look, Harry will claim that history is interesting, but when I look back I see buffalo carcasses stacked, endless trains rolling down endless track, dust, snowstorms, scarlet fever and clothing with colour choices ranging from beige to brown, look around, we’re surrounded by concrete, glass, GPS, pubs with seven beers from Belgium and full of people looking forward, ahead, and into the future, why go back or even stay in neutral, sure maybe the Marx Brothers played here, but I can get the latest and greatest sent straight from a satellite and into my ear.

History? Two weeks of the retro kitsch of Stampede is all I need to feel connected to folk of old who found themselves stuck in this cold, harsh land, I’m burning my brand into the hide of this city with a laser.

I’ve been here since birth, and trust me, we’ve long since paved over anything worth unearthing. Harry, good luck putting flesh on the past, but you’re going to run out of fodder fast!

So, though tongue-in-cheek, this does raise the question – What value is there in the past? Harry’s job as historian laureate will be to answer this question, which he did, in verse, no less:

Poetry may be the more universal art

Some things are best said in verse

But a forgotten poem is never repeated

So forgetting our history is worse

Those we follow inform who we are

Crowfoot, Macleod, Weadick, Edworthy

They’re with us still, for good or ill

Daily, we’re shaped by our history

So, it is a great honour to have a small part

In celebrating this 100th anniversary

I pledge to remind you all of our shared past

As Historian Laureate of Calgary

I know that Harry will continue to answer the question in his own inimitable style. Way to go, Harry!

Poet Laureate and Historian Laureate

Poet Laureate Kris Demeanor asks the Question "What's so great about history?"

Photo courtesy Judith Umbach

The Cowtown Dilemma

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1394

Cows on the Bow River, Calgary 1903

Postcards from the Past, pc 1394

I was cruising through the newspapers, looking for something genealogical or locally historical to talk about in the blog. I thought I’d hit something when I read an ad for cholera medication. On second thought that seemed a bit grim for the beginning of summer, so my next idea was to see what was going on in the city in 1912 but Harry the Historian has that covered, so that one was out. Then I decided to take the advice of a historian who I admire and look at what was happening in Calgary in 1913 – the year after the big boom. And I found this in the Calgary Daily Herald’s Query Column on January 2.

Question 777: Kindly inform me if there is any bylaw prohibiting people from letting their ducks and hens come on your lawn. I live right in the centre of Calgary and my neighbour’s hens come along the walk…and when the door is open they go into the house. Can you kill the hens…?

Ans. A person who keeps fowls in the city is obliged to keep them shut in. …You are not allowed to kill them. You should keep your door shut.

It was forty years later that poultry farming was made illegal within the city limits. I’ve written before about my sister’s “farm” – I spent a lovely week out there helping her build a bird coop so her chickens, pheasants and, particularly, the peacock (I know, but it is Vancouver Island!) wouldn’t go into the neighbour’s yard. Now, granted, a peacock isn’t everyone’s idea of livestock, but she does live in a rural area , so having wandering animals is not unusual. But Calgary is now a major urban centre with a population of over 1 million, very far from our rural roots.

However, I am constantly reminded that we are not so far from those roots as we may think. I still remember farm houses sprinkled through the neighbourhoods at the west edge of the city when I was growing up. The Pony Palace riding stables were out there within smelling distance. And there were farms just over the rise where Christie Estates now stands. If I faced west, I could see horses grazing on the hill, when I turned east, I could see the towers and office buildings in the downtown core. This is the very nature of Calgary. I remember reading an article in which the writer proposed that instead of the white cowboy hat, we could be wearing oil derricks on our heads. It is a valid point.

The Stampede turns 100 this year. Even at its start, the Stampede was a celebration of a way of life that was passing. It was supposed to be a one-time event, so the space for the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth was leased from the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. In 1923 the Exhibition would merge with the Stampede to become The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, thus uniting the rural past with the industrial present. We have always had our feet in two worlds and this may be what gives us our unique character. I am planning on whooping it up big time during this special Stampede week, maybe even while wearing an oil derrick, a la Flare Square, on my head.

Chickens

Bridges

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PC 226

Centre Street Bridge, pre 1915

Postcards from the Past, PC 226

Well, after much controversy, many delays and a healthy dose of skepticism, the Peace Bridge is scheduled to officially open this Saturday with a celebration including the blessing of the bridge by a First Nations elder – suitable, as the confluence of these rivers had long been a meeting spot for the people living in this part of the country.

The bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava, the architect chosen to design the train station which will be part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site in New York. He also designed two beautiful bridges that span the River Liffey in Dublin, one of my very favourite cities. Both are named for famous Irish authors (James Joyce and Samuel Beckett) and are beautiful additions to that city. But I digress. Our Calatrava bridge was faced with much nay saying and continual back and forth between proponents of the unique structure and those who felt the money could be better spent. Because I am a history buff, this called to mind the foofaraw over the Centre Street Bridge (of course there has to be a tie to something in the past, right?)

The part of the city north of the Bow had been settled long before it was part of the city. In fact, the area just beyond the Langevin was the red light district for Calgary because it actually fell outside of the jurisdiction of the city police. For people living on the north side of the Bow, it was imperative that they have a decent bridge to cross to the city. The developer of Crescent Heights had built a steel span bridge with wooden approaches. He sold shares in the company and used the bridge as a selling feature for the land that he was developing on the north side of the river. There were other crossings, but the closest bridge was at what is now Kensington, and it was a bit of a hike for people who were coming from Crescent Heights and area. When Crescent Heights was annexed by the city in 1908, many expected that the bridge would also fall under the care and maintenance of the city. The annexation meant that lots were opened up and houses were being built. Construction materials had to be hauled up to the hill, but the Centre Street Bridge Company was still the owner of the structure. The company wanted the city to pay $7,000 for the bridge, what it had cost them to build it. The city refused to pay even $5000. This back and forth went on between the city and the bridge company from 1908 to 1912 when the city finally agreed to buy the bridge for $300. Three years later, the structure would be washed out by one of our regular floods. What was left was sold to the provincial Department of Highways (for $200 more than the city paid the bridge company for it.) Construction had already begun on the new bridge that we all know and love. It was completed in 1916, again, with much controversy surrounding its design and the cost. Some things never change.

 

Centre Street Bridge Lion AJ

We Are 100 Years Old!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

CPL Archives 103-01-01

Alex Calhoun and Staff working in an office in City Hall, 1911

Calgary Public Library Archives CPL_103-01-01

This is a very big year for the Calgary Public Library. It is our 100th anniversary. On January 2, 1912, the new public library in Central Park opened its doors to the public. It was a very exciting time for the City. Not only did we get a brand, new Carnegie library, but many other projects were started or completed in the early part of the second decade of the new century. City Hall had just been completed. As matter of fact, while the new library was being built, Alexander Calhoun worked out of an office on the top floor of the new city hall building, alongside the Health Department. As part of the celebrations of our centennial, we will be launching a new photograph collection from the Calgary Public Library Archives. These photos span the entire history of the Calgary Public Library and all its branches. The photos included with this blog post are from the earliest collection, dating from prior to the library’s opening and just following it.

CPL_103-23-01

Empty shelves prior to opening, 1911

Calgary Public Library Archives CPL_103-23-01

The library was a beautiful building both inside and out. Marble staircases led to the second floor (they are still there). There were two mahogany trimmed fireplaces on the main floor. The back of the building curves gracefully and include an expanse of windows that look onto the park. Its setting qualifies it as one of the best situated libraries in the city. The recent revitalization of the park has only enhanced the beauty of the setting. The restoration that was done on the building in 1976 maintained much of the beautiful interior and exterior detail, so the library and its surrounding park constitute one of the gems of Calgary’s inner city. If you haven’t seen it, you must come and attend some of the centennial programming that will be going on in the library. Keep checking the website for details.

CPL_103-26-01

Calgary Museum Room in the New Library, 1911

Calgary Public Library Archives, CPL_103-26-01

The Barron Building: Art Deco in the Oil Patch

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

Barron Building courtesy Judith Umbach

Barron Building, 610 8th Avenue SW

Photo by Judith Umbach

It seems hard to believe, but there was a time when there wasn’t much office space in Calgary. When the oil strikes of the 1940s were made, companies set up shop in old hotels and run-down office buildings. Very little building had been done in Calgary since the depression and it seemed likely that the administrative offices of the hordes of oil companies would have to be established in that “E” place (Edmonton – the capital, for those of you outside of Alberta). That was not how Jacob Bell Barron imagined the future. He saw the opportunities offered by the oil boom and started building. The Barron Building (called the Mobil Building, for its tenant, from 1958 to 1969) was the first of the office towers erected in the wake of the Leduc discovery. It was a different kind of office building to what we are used to. It was mixed use, combining a movie theatre, retail space, office space and J.B.’s magnificent penthouse and rooftop garden. The garden, complete with a lawn for J.B.’s dog Butch, won a Vincent Massey Award for excellence in urban planning.

When the building was built, it was considered something of a risky venture. The outcome of the oil strikes could have been a boom or a bust. Barron was willing to take the risk and, not just that, build a building that was almost exuberant in its details. The architects, Stevenson, Cawston and Stevenson used a step-back design, popular in the 1930s, that allows for more sunlight to come to the street and also for terraces on the roofs of the projecting floors. The theatre, while reflecting J.B. Barron’s interest in the entertainment industry, was not unusual in mixed-used buildings. The methods used to construct the building were cutting edge as well. They used Q-floor construction which is strong, but light, and allowed the electrical and ventilation to be run in the floors. This allowed for maximum flexibility in the placement of room partitions. The strip windows were also a first in the city.

We are developing a greater appreciation for buildings from the mid 20th century and the Barron is an outstanding example of this Moderne style and valuable for the pivotal role it played in bringing the oil industry to Calgary.

Barron Building by Judith Umbach

Barron Building

Photo by Judith Umbach

The Story of the Big Ditch

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

The Story of the Big Ditch

The Story of the Big Ditch by E. Cora Hind

From the Community Heritage and Family History Collection, Calgary Public Library

We here in the Community Heritage and Family History department are extremely lucky in that we get to work with a really cool collection and we also get to meet many very interesting people, both in the library and at outreach events. We always learn something from our customers and sometimes the researchers we meet know more about our collection that we do. This is true of a small piece of memorabilia that we have in our collection – The Story of the Big Ditch by E. Cora Hind. It was pointed out that we are possibly the only repository of this beautiful little suede covered booklet that was issued for a very special event….but first, some background.

Anyone who has driven south of Calgary for any distance is aware of the fact that we are drylanders. The southern part of Alberta, beautiful as it is, was once suitable only for grazing cattle. One can only imagine the dream of a man who looked at this prairie and thought what a wonder it would be if only water could be brought to it. Thankfully, there were men who could see at least what irrigating land would bring in terms of profit. Irrigated lands in Southern Alberta could be sold for nearly twice what non-irrigated lands could bring. As a result, many companies got into the irrigation business in Southern Alberta as an adjunct to their land business. The government was amenable to these businessmen, as it meant that their goal of settling the west could be met, while the expense of improving the land on which settlers would live would be borne by other organizations.

This is, in essence, the reason for the existence of the Southern Alberta Land Company in the early part of the 20th century. They had land, they wanted to sell it for more than they paid for it, and so they developed a scheme to irrigate a large tract (several large tracts, in fact) of land west of Medicine Hat.

The official opening of the irrigated tract of the Southern Alberta Land Company was to take place on September 12, 1912. The Duke and Duchess of Connaught and the Governor General were scheduled to be in attendance. This lovely brochure was produced but the event never took place. (You can see it online at the Internet Archive - http://www.archive.org/details/storyofbigditch00hind) The intake at the headworks of the project had collapsed in a flood in May. In spite of that, the brochure states that “the intake dam has added greatly to the beauty of the river” and “this gigantic undertaking is all but completed” when in fact the intake had been quite seriously damaged (contrary to what was told to the Financial Post in November of 1912) that the damage was not extensive and “has only delayed the turning on of the water a little”) and repairs would only be started a year later. Building was delayed by the war and many other trials and tribulations hit the company. The story is a long and interesting one and is well documented in the book Prairie Promises: History of the Bow River Irrigation District by John Gilpin (who I must also thank for the heads up on The Story of the Big Ditch)

Calgary in 1962

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ

Locomotive 5934 in Mewata Park, 1962

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 0197

I have been in Calgary all of my life. When I was born my parents lived in Killarney and we moved to Glendale when I was 2. For all of my adult life, I have lived within one mile of where I started. I have seen a lot of change in my community. When we first moved to Glendale, the community hall where I would later attend kindergarten had just been built in a ravine which had once been a slough and an active breeding ground for mosquitoes. Now there is a gorgeous community centre and the drainage problem has mostly been taken care of.

It is still a lovely community, though where horses used to graze is now houses and the pile of dirt from the West LRT construction. I am waxing nostalgic for a reason, though. At the Annual General Meeting of the Calgary Heritage Initiative on Wednesday night, we saw a very interesting video. It was “The Living West” a 1962 production of the Calgary Tourist and Convention Association. It shows Calgary as I remember it as a child (for better or for worse, I guess). It was a very young boom town back in ’62. If you’re feeling nostalgic, or are just curious about our city’s roots, check out the video on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHpZcImE7Hs

(The rope swing was out behind St. Mary’s School, in the waste ground that later housed the Talisman Centre – it provided many afternoons of entertainment back in the day.)

And if you are truly in a mood to punish yourself with history, try out Calgary’s official song from the 80s (which admittedly is my least favourite decade). Neighbours of the World was released in 1986 following a national competition. The City of Calgary has recently digitized and made available this interesting piece of our history:

http://tinyurl.com/42qnfj5

If you remember the old Calgary (or even Calgary in the 80s), keep in mind that the Federation of Calgary Communities is collecting stories of community associations for its 50th Anniversary Magazine. See my earlier posting at http://tinyurl.com/3e94nav for more information about how to get involved.

PC

Highlander Hotel, ca. 1961

Postcards from the Past, PC 1580

Calgary's "Kate" Connection

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 187

Normal School (home to No. 2 Wireless School during World War II)
Postcards from the Past, PC 187

The new Duchess of Cambridge has ties to Calgary – tenuous though they may be. It seems her grandfather Peter was a flight instructor for the RAF during the Second World War. He was with the No. 37 Service Flying Training School, which was situated at McCall Field, which is now part of the Calgary International Airport. This school was part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which saw pilots from the RAF and RCAF train pilots at 107 schools across Canada.

 

Calgary was actually home to a number of training schools for the BCATP. No. 3 was an RCAF training school which operated at Currie Field. After the end of the war the airstrip was used to train NATO pilots until 1958. At that time it was decommissioned but kept open as an emergency landing strip. When I was young, we used to go to the old strip, which was by then on the grounds of Mount Royal College, and learn how to drive (actually, we learned how to drive fast as we used the area as a drag strip). Some of the hangars, which are on the Currie Barracks site, are still standing and until recently the Calgary Farmer’s Market occupied one of them.

The No. 4 Training Command was moved to Calgary from Regina to Calgary in 1941. They set up shop in the newly renovated sixth floor of the Hudson’s Bay Building downtown. They stayed there until 1944 at which time they were amalgamated with the No. 2 in Winnipeg.

Another part of the BCATP was the No. 2 Wireless School. It occupied what is now Heritage Hall on the SAIT campus and an airfield near Shepard. Two BCATP students flying out of the Shepard substation were killed in an accident in a Tiger Moth and received the George Cross, the highest non-combat award for courage. In the years after the war, the air strips became drag strips, known as Shepard Raceway. The hutment, originally built to house the troops as they were training became emergency accommodation for returning veterans after the war but conditions became so unhealthy, they were demolished, amidst much controversy, in the 1950s.

There is a lot of information available about the training schools. We have newspaper clippings and books about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan at the library. Maybe you would like to brush up before the visit of the Duchess to her grandfather’s old stomping grounds.

PC 87

No. 2 Wireless School Float in the Stampede Parade, ca. 1941

Postcard from the Past, PC 87

Cars, cars, cars!

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1270

A demonstration by the 100,000 Club, Calgary along Centre Street, ca. 1912

Postcards from the Past, PC 1270

Those who know me are aware of my little obsession with cars. I love them (which is a good thing because I am married to a serial collector of weird and wonderful vehicles). We live in a very good place for car addicts because Calgarians love their cars and have since their invention. I suppose it is an extension of the range mentality, the love of horses that still pervades the culture in Calgary.

We went to the first show and shine of the season last week at the Deerfoot Mall. Car aficionados and their vehicles were out in full force. I was reminded (because I am a history geek) of a photo we have in our collection of a very similar exhibition in the early part of the twentieth century. The picture above is of the motor cars of the 100,000 club, a group of city boosters who wanted to see the population of Calgary hit 100,000 by 1915. They put together a number of events to draw attention to the city. Cars, being the novelty they were, were always a good draw.

Tony Cashman, in his book A History of Motoring in Alberta states that Calgarians really embraced the automobile and its attendant clubs because of the lure of Banff. The mountains sat there seemingly at the edge of the city, calling to the intrepid to pack their lunches and head for the town just 85 miles distant. What we didn’t have, however, were the roads on which to travel. Cars need very different surfaces than carts with horses.

PC 1269

The cars in this picture are, I believe, 29 members of the Calgary Automobile Club preparing for their “motorcade” trip to Banff. The task had been achieved by Norman Lougheed, in his father’s touring car in the summer of 1909. He made it in seven hours with only one flat tire. The Calgary Automobile Club group left at 9:00 am and 25 of the 29 cars had arrived by 4:00 pm. The other four cars had to be left where they broke down.

A trip to Edmonton, which was a very daring proposition, could take several days by car. Add into the mix the lack of service stations (the first garage in Calgary was Calgary Novelty Works who specialized in typewriter and automobile repairs – in the ‘teens it was located just about under where I am sitting right now at the Central Library.)

The car has had a very interesting history in this province. The Community Heritage and Family History Digital library includes many photographs and postcards in which the automobile features prominently. We also have a good collection of books that document our love of motoring. Among them are the Tony Cashman book mentioned above, Roaring Lizzies: a history of Model T Ford racing in Alberta by Kelly Jane Buziak and an official tour book produced by the Alberta Automobile Clubs in the early part of the 20th century.

PC 941

Calgary Auto Club Clubhouse, Bowness (formerly the Hextall House)

Postcards from the Past, PC 941

Old City Hall turns 100

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 221

Artist's rendition of proposed Calgary City Hall, 1909

Postcards from the Past, PC 221

The early part of the 20th century was a time of great optimism, not just here, but all over the world. In Calgary, that optimism was expressed in a population boom and the resulting building boom. As a result, for us here in the 21st century, there are a lot of anniversaries to celebrate. As everyone knows (;-) the Calgary Public Library is turning 100 years old on the 1st of January 2012. But another icon of the city, our beautiful sandstone City Hall turned 100 this year. It was officially opened on June 26, 1911 by the leader of the opposition, then the Conservatives, Robert Borden. That night he gave a speech at Sherman’s auditorium, where “questions of interest to Canadians” would be discussed. “Ladies,” the advertisement read, “are cordially invited.”

In order to build the sandstone building, the old city hall had to be torn down. A lament for the old building was published in the Herald in Wee Willie’s column. “They’re tearing down the old brown barn, which many people call, the poorest thing that ever held, the name of city hall. No more the filthy daily drunk, will call the place his home; no more cockroaches, beetles, rats will through its limits roam,” he wrote, concluding with “but though they may tear down the walls, destroy an earthly hell, there is a thing they cannot do—They can’t destroy the smell.” (Calgary Daily Herald, February 8, 1911, p.8) Must have been some place!

Anyway, back on track, the new city hall was built at a cost of around $300,000 which was double the original estimate. (You can imagine the political fallout from that-probably akin to the current issue in parliament surrounding the cost of fighter jets.) The sandstone came from the Bone and Oliver quarry up on what is now 17th Avenue SW. The clock in the tower was ordered through D.E. Black Jewellers and cost nearly $4000. The building has weathered the years well. It was given an exterior restoration when the municipal building was built in the 1980s and an extensive interior restoration from 1995-1997.

If you haven’t been inside this building, you should go have a look. It is quite beautiful and one of only seven original city halls still standing in Canada. We should be proud that we have kept the old girl.

Here is the link to a video, in which Heritage Planner, Clint Robertson, talks about the history of the building and the opportunities for Calgarians to take a tour of the building and the City Archives (housed in the 1962 addition next door) http://www.calgarycitynews.com/2011/02/old-city-hall-to-turn-100-this-year.html#

We also have a large number of photographs and postcards of City Hall in our Community Heritage and Family History Collection. We also have all kinds of information in the Local History room on the 4th floor of the Central Library. Come by, maybe after your tour of Old City Hall. We’re right next door.

AJ 1060

Entrance to City Hall, 1966

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 1060

123456789Showing 51 - 60 of 89 Record(s)