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Lest We Forget

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Poppies by Katariina JärvinenPoppies from Flickr by Katariina Järvinen

This year's celebration in remembrance of our soldiers is especially poignant given what happened in Ottawa. The deaths of two members of our armed forces are a painful reminder of the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the service of our country.

This weekend was the kick off to our Heritage weekend and we had five great programs all focused on different aspects of the First World War. I was very moved, during our backroom tour of the Glenbow Library and Archives, by letters of soldiers written from the front. The letters tell the story of the war in a way that the history books can't. Some portions of the letters were blacked out by the censor but, following Jeff Keshen's lecture on the propaganda of WWI, I realized that even if the censor hadn't excised portions of the letters the young men censored themselves to avoid alarming the folks at home. The soldiers writing these letters would have been men just like the two soldiers who died so recently, men who believed in their country and were willing to put their lives on the line for her defense. The truth of the horrors they faced often were never spoken of, even after they returned home. There were those who eventually were able to relate what had happened in all its horrific detail and we should be grateful for that as well. There is always a lesson to be learned. (One particularly interesting title, mentioned during the Propaganda in World War I programs was The 50th Battalion in No Man's Land by Victor Wheeler. This can be borrowed from Calgary Public Library)

Now, as always, we need to remember those who served and be grateful that there are men and women who are willing to stand up for our country.

PC Soldiers at Sarcee Camp, Postcards from the Past

For a look at life on the home front, join us on November 16 for Eating Your Way Through World War I. We, from Calgary Public Library, and our Heritage Triangle Partners, the Glenbow Library and Archives and the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives, will look at the effect the war had on our dietary habits.

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.

It's Historic Calgary Week!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 126415th Light Horse Band

Actually, Historic Calgary Week starts Friday, but I wanted to let everyone know ahead of time so you can get it in your calendars. The theme this year is Reflect and Remember, as this is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. There will be a plethora of history programs with some of our very best historians filling you in on all kinds of history, not just that of Calgary in wartime. There are genealogy related programs, building history programs, walking tours, a ghost tour, cemetery walking tours, a tour of the Beltline with particular reference to the gay history of that area, a look at some of Calgary’s heroes and heroines, and, well, just too much good stuff to list here. Check out the brochure at the Chinook Country Historic Society website.

As our contribution to Historic Calgary Week, Carolyn and I will be doing a presentation called “A Calgary Soldier’s Story” which looks at the life of a young Irish immigrant, who came west to make a life for himself and his family. When war came he didn’t hesitate to answer the call. We will also look at the history of his house, which still stands on Memorial Drive. His story is unique, but it is also the story of many young men from this city who joined up when his country went to war.

PC 1989I.O.D.E. War Memorial outside of Calgary Public Library

The week kicks off this Friday, July 25, with the publication of the humongous historic Calgary crossword puzzle by Jennifer Prest in the Calgary Herald. The paper will also include a list of the week’s programs. If you miss the puzzle in the paper, you can download it from the Chinook Country Historical Society’s website.

One glance at the list of programs and you will see that history is about more than just bricks and mortar. Calgary is a city rich with stories, and this week is our chance to hear just a few of them.

My Favourite Flood Story (so far)

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Flood Centre Street Bridge Centre Street Bridge during flood 2013, City of Calgary

We had a very successful launch of our Flood Story website on Saturday. Our Mayor Nenshi came and shared his flood story as did Councillor Druh Farrell. We also collected stories from many of our library patrons and this is exactly what we are looking for. Anyone who has heard me speak about genealogy knows that, while I know the documents and dates are important, it is the stories that make our family history. The research is the framework; the storytelling is the real work.

In doing some last minute work on the website I came across some really wonderful stories. This is mostly thanks to John Gilpin, whose dogged research provided the content of the website. He uncovered some colourful stories, such as the fire department rescuing dogs that were trapped in the pound by the rising waters during an ice jam flood in 1950. Animal rescue is a recurring theme in the flood stories I've been reading. Whether it was the horses gathered for Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebration in 1897 or the man out by the Industrial School, nested in the rafters of his barn with the chickens in 1902, right up to the last flood, where the Humane Society opened its doors to animals whose families were displaced (including two pigs).

Another common theme is the constant need for people to be reminded to stay away from the rushing rivers. In almost every flood, the papers bemoan the fact that people haven't the common sense to stay away from the water. My favourite story of all comes from the blatant flaunting of this advice by a Senator, no less, during the flood of 1884. Senator Ogilvie had been visiting Banff when the floods hit, washing out roads and rail beds. He was desperate to get back to Calgary so set off with his entourage by hand car. I'll let the Herald reporter take it from here:

[The Senator] "with commendable courage, bordering almost on senatorial recklessness, started via handcar for Calgary. Having to do some fording over the rivers where the bridges had once been, the burly form of the Senator suddenly disappeared from view...Gen. Supt. Egan and others of the party at once organized themselves into a committee of investigation to make due enquiries for the missing representative of Her Majesty's Senate. The Hon. Senator being a good representative of flesh and blood and being hard to conceal in a small space was very fortunately discovered clinging with wonderful tenacity to an iron rail..." (Calgary Herald July 23, 1884)

That is a great story and so is yours. Please tell us your flood story, it doesn't have to be from the 2013 flood. You may have been here for the 1950, maybe even the 1932 flood. We'd like to hear from you. You can post your story on the website, just click on Memory Bank, or if you'd prefer to write it, we have forms at all of our branches that will allow you to do just that. Check out the website - its great!

Senator Alexander OgilvieSenator A. Ogilvie from

Heritage Matters: From Discovery Well to Provincial Historic Site

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 658Dingman 1 and 2 1913, Postcards from the Past

May 14, 1914 was possibly the most significant date in the development of the province of Alberta. On that day, a spume of petroleum gushed from the Calgary Petroleum Products’ well in Turner Valley and Western Canada’s first commercial oilfield was born. The discovery and subsequent discoveries has made this province what it is.

Archie Dingman, an innovator and general all-round enthusiast, was the General Manager of Calgary Petroleum Products and was a great pitchman for the potential of Western Canada’s oil industry. Calgarians, therefore, knew the well as the Dingman well. The Turner Valley Gas Plant, which was built to refine the petroleum from the well was the first plant of its kind west of Ontario and would remain in use until 1985. The heritage value of the Gas Plant was evaluated and in 1988 Alberta Culture acquired the site, which had been deemed to be of significant historic value to the province and the country. In 1995 it was made a provincial historic resource. It is now celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Dingman strike.

On Friday, May 23, at 5:30 we will be welcoming the director of the Turner Valley Gas Plant Provincial Historic Site, Ian Clarke, to the Central Library for our next Heritage Matters program. He will give us his insider perspective on the never-ending saga of the 100 years since Dingman No.1. You can register for this program in person, by telephone at 403-260-2620 or online.

PC 1340Turner Valley Oil Fields, Postcards from the Past

The Rotary Club Celebrates 100 Years of Service

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)



Racy Daze Programme

Rotary Club of Calgary, 1934

One hundred years ago, while the world was about to find out just how ugly war could be, a group of sixty four men met in the Elizabethan Room of the Hudson’s Bay Company to start an organization that would bring good to the city (and the rest of the world). The Calgary chapter of the Rotary Club was born under the leadership of James S. Ryan and Douglas Howland. They were the first men’s service club to be formed in the city.

Of course we all know about the Rotary Club, they are the people who give us dreams of luxury living with their Stampede Dream Home. More precisely, it is the Rotary Clubs of Calgary who offer us the dream home – there are now thirteen clubs in Calgary. Over the years they have done an amazing amount of good in Calgary. They are major contributors to my favourite organization, the Calgary Public Library, sponsoring It’s a Crime Not to Read, a brilliant program that partners Calgary Police Service volunteers with staff from the Library to promote reading and literacy among grade 2 and 3 students. The Rotary Club was also behind the refurbishment of the cupola from James Short School, providing funds and hunting down the clock from the demolished Burns Block to finally give it the timepiece it had been designed for.


AJ 1258

Cupola from James Short School before the Restoration funded by the Rotary Club of Calgary

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1258

To honour the years of service to the community, Mayor Nenshi has declared April 28 to May 3 to be Rotary Week. There will be Service Before Self displays at each of the 18 library branches as well as celebrations at City Hall on Thursday (bring your fork, there’s cake).

Until I started looking into this, I wasn’t aware of the extent of the Rotary Clubs’ charitable work. I had visited a few chapters to talk about genealogy and of course knew about the Dream Home, but I wasn’t aware that among some of their first projects were vacant lots gardening, lights along the Elbow River for skaters and tree planting campaigns. They did all kinds of wonderful things to help those in need, such as furnishing rooms for returning soldiers at the Ogden Home, hampers for the widows of soldiers, boots sent to needy people in Belgium, ambulance service during the ‘flu epidemic, a Boys Town, skates sent to Northern Metis communities and picnics and parties for seniors. They also threw a picnic for 14,000 family members of soldiers serving overseas in 1918. As part of the celebration they took 2000 feet of movies of the families to send to the soldiers. This is just a sample of the projects that this club has sponsored over the years. They still continue to be active worldwide providing operations to restore sight, polio vaccinations, clean water projects and micro-credit loans, just to name a few.

Early members included Dr. George Kerby, Frank Freeze, F.E. Osborne, Fred Shouldice, and James Fowler. Few records were kept of the early years but an interesting tidbit from the 50th Anniversary publication was that “it is believed that amongst other things, the Club donated a kangaroo to the zoo. (Tradition has it that the animal bit a Rotarian and died).”

To raise money the Rotarians put on entertainments, such as a Minstrel Show and Parade and, curiously, in 1924, a Potlatch in the hole left by the demolition of the first post office. They raised nearly $15, 000, an impressive sum even by today’s standards.

We have memorabilia from a number of these fundraisers in the Local History collection (including the programme of the “Sunset Revue: Racy Daze” of 1934, seen above) and a 1924 roster, including photographs.

Rotary Banner

Beautiful Brick: The Heritage Trades Roundtable

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

ch 2012 008

Parkdale house, developed by Alfred McKay and built with Crandell Pressed Brick

Century Homes Photographs, CH 2012-008

The second Heritage Trades Round Table is set to go on January 28. This one is particularly apropos given the decision recently taken by the CBE to demolish the lovely old Elbow Park School, as it is on the subject of beautiful brick.

Calgary has long been known as the "Sandstone City" due to the number of nearby sandstone quarries. Many people are unaware, however, that we had a good number of brickworks in the vicinity as well. The area around Cochrane had the silty hard clay that was great for making bricks and much of the production of the three brickyards operating there in the early 20th century was shipped to Calgary. Calgary had its own brickyards as well; the earliest of these being Peel’s brickyard which opened in 1886 in the area of what is now Roxboro. “Gravity” Watson’s yard was established in 1893 near the Edworthy Ranch in the Shaganappi area. This became known as Brickburn. The company was later sold to Edward Crandell, whose beautiful brick home still stands in Patterson Heights and is perhaps better known as the house where Stu Hart lived and trained his wrestlers.

Another entrepreneur who got into the brick business and whose imposing home still stands was William Nimmons. He started a small brickyard on the site of his quarry in the Bankview area. The quarry at Glenbow also had brickworks on the site. There were also small brickworks, run by home builders who provided bricks for their own construction. William Kempling was one such. His operation was located between Centre St. and 4 St. E.

If you are a brick aficionado and would like to learn more about the history of brick production and construction in Calgary, you need to come to the next Heritage Roundtable. You will meet some of the people who make the preservation and maintenance of the buildings and features we love possible. The evening will include:

•Historic brick production & industry in Alberta — Malcolm Sissons, president, I-XL Industries Ltd., a 4th generation family business founded in 1912 as the Redcliff Pressed Brick Co.

•Current brick masonry trade, traditional methods — Neil Puype, principal of a heritage building consulting company and 5th generation brick and stone mason

•Early brickyards & building with brick in Calgary — Marilyn Williams, Heritage Roundtables steering committee

This is going to be great, talking ‘bout brick in the Sandstone City, so join us. The event takes place Rideau Park School gymnasium, 829 Rideau Road SW and starts at 7:00 pm (doors will open at 6:30 pm). It is open to the public and free of charge. To register, click here.


AJ 88 05

Mewata Armouries, entrance to the Drill Hall, ca 1965

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 88-05

Xmas Gifts for the History Buff on Your List

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Concrete Centenarian

There is nothing like a blizzard to get me started thinking about Christmas shopping. In particular, how much I don’t want to be out shopping in weather like this. So, with that in mind I thought I would pull together a little list of books and some other suggestions for gifts for the history lover in our lives.

This was a really good publishing year for local history. Many of our favourite historians released books that would be great presents not just for local history buffs, but for family or friends who don’t know our city, but should.

Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Development Derailed: Calgary and the CPR, 1962-1964by Max Foran. In June of 1962, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced a proposal to redevelop part of its reserved land in the heart of downtown Calgary. In an effort to bolster its waning revenues and to redefine its urban presence, the CPR proposed a multimillion dollar development project that included retail, office, and convention facilities, along with a major transportation centre.

The Flood of 2013: A Summer of Angry Rivers in Southern Alberta by the Calgary Herald; foreword by Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The Flood of 2013 chronicles an unforgettable summer of angry rivers, unprecedented flooding and undeniable human spirit. This gift is a “double give” as a portion of proceeds from the sale will go to the Calgary Foundation’s Flood Rebuilding fund.

Calgary LRT Walks: South Stations and Northwest Stations by David Peyto (available from Peyto Lake Books. One of the best ways to learn more about Calgary, to appreciate and enjoy the city, is on foot. Calgary LRT Walks describes many walks from LRT stations and include information on routes, buses, bathrooms and eateries.

River throws a tantrum by Rona Altrows; illustrated by Sarah-Joy Geddes is about one boy’s perception of the flood and evacuation. It was published by Pages Bookstore and read at one of their story times by Mayor Nenshi.

Concrete Centenarian: The Life and Death of Calgary’s Canadian Government Elevator by Scott Jolliffe looks at the history and demolition of the old Government elevator in Ogden. It is richly illustrated with the author’s photographs. Concrete Centenarian is available at many of the bookstores mentioned below. It is also available directly from the Calgary Heritage Authority for $30. For the CHA, email

Marion Nicoll: Silence and Alchemy by Ann Davis, Elizabeth Herbert, Jennifer Salahub. Marion Nicoll is a widely acknowledged founder of Alberta art and certainly one of a dedicated few that brought abstraction into practice in the province. Her life and career is a story of determination, of dedication to her vision regardless of professional or personal challenges. She was the first female instructor hired by the school that is now ACAD.

Unbuilt Calgary: A History of the City That Might Have Been by Stephanie White. There have always been great plans afoot for Calgary. Stephanie White looks at some of the plans and what they would have meant for the city.

Wild Horses, Wild Wolves: Legends at risk at the foot of the Canadian Rockies by Maureen Enns. Ghost River Wilderness Area, located along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta, is one of only three provincially designated wilderness areas in the province. It is in this beautiful, threatened and geographically remote area that Maureen Enns, a well-known artist, author, educator and conservationist, has come to discover an incredible world inhabited by wild horses, one of the region’s most elusive and iconic creatures.

Any one of these titles would make a great gift. Many of these books can be purchased at Chapters/Indigo but also check our local booksellers such as the Glenbow Museum Shop, Pages on Kensington, Shelf Life Books and Owl’s Nest.

Do you have a suggestion for a great local history book to give as a present? Please put your title in the comments and we'll add it to our list.

Scary Calgary

by Christine H

AJ 1273

Fire Hall Number 3/Inglewood Community Association, ca 1960s

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1273

Hallowe’en is nearly upon us. I know that because it snowed this weekend and it’s cold outside. What would hallowe’en be without frost on the pumpkins? So with the cold weather, the approach of hallowe’en and the success of our Century Homes ghost tour on Saturday, I thought I’d have a look at some of the favourite ghosts haunts in Calgary.

Even though our city is relatively young, in the scheme of things paranormal we do have our share of strange and inexplicable happenings. Inglewood, as it is one of the oldest communities and still has a fairly good stock of original buildings, seems to be a focus for supernatural activities. One in particular is the old Fire Hall #3. This Fire Hall was built when Captain James “Cappy” Smart saw a need for emergency services in the quickly growing east end of the city. The members of the fire department were very much a part of the community and kept pets, in addition to the horses that pulled the fire wagons. One of these pets was a beloved monkey named Barney. Accounts vary but Barney met a bad end and was buried, on the grounds of the fire hall, in a specially made casket. Could this have been because Captain Smart, in addition to being one of our first fire chiefs was also one of the provinces first undertakers? However it happened, the ghost of Barney is thought to inhabit the old fire hall which is now the Hose and Hound Pub. Strange “monkey-business” takes place in the kitchen, with pots flying and ovens opening on their own. Barney is not alone, as a horse named Lightning, who lost his life in a fire, also makes the pub his home. His hoof beats are sometimes heard in the hallway.

AJ 0308

Gaspe Lodge/Deane House, ca 1965

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0308

Deane House is another reportedly haunted home in the Inglewood area. The house was built for Superintendent Richard Burton Deane at Fort Calgary. It was moved to its present location in 1929. It eventually became a rooming house called the Gaspe Lodge. Rooming houses were notorious dens of iniquity (at least that’s what I was told when I was young) so it isn’t surprising that some unsavoury events took place. Stories abound about murders and suicides that have left the spirits of the dead restless and ripe for a haunt. There have been reports of floating torsos, smoking gentlemen and reappearing blood stains. The ghosts of Deane house, are benign, however, and cause no problems for the staff.

These are just two of a long list of buildings that are home to the ghosts of our city. Even our City Hall is believed to have two supernatural inhabitants. If you’re interested in more of Calgary’s haunted history, visit us in the Local History room at the Central Library. We have lots of stories, and maybe even a ghost or two.

Skull and books from istock

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