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Harnam Singh Hari: Calgary's Sikh Pioneer

by Christine H - 1 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.

A Calgary Soldier's Story

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1478I.O.D.E. War Memorial outside Memorial Park Library

I’m a little late with this post. We were in the throes of preparing for our Historic Calgary Week presentation “A Calgary Soldier’s Story” which we delivered successfully (whew!) at beautiful Memorial Park Library last night. We told the story of Joseph A. Convery, an Irish immigrant who came to Calgary from Belfast at the age of 16 and made a success in his farming endeavours, which allowed him to bring his parents and sister to live with him. He was a brave young man who, possibly sensing that the war was coming, joined the 15th Light Horse, a militia unit in Calgary, became a Lieutenant, and then enlisted in the CEF. His bravery and daring (how else would you describe a man who came alone to the barren prairie at 16) led him to the Royal Flying Corps, those Knights of the Air, who were so important to the success of the forces in Europe. Sadly, he lost his life when his plane went down near Arras just before the last major German offensive of the war.

As usual I learned a lot about many different things when I was researching this gentleman. I found out about the Canadians in the RFC/RAF, whose fearlessness allowed them to climb into these canvas and wood crates and fly over enemy territory, sussing out the lay of the land and dropping bombs from the cockpit. Some of the great men of Canadian history passed through the RFC/RAF including Roland Michener, Lester B. Pearson, Kenneth Irving, and other men of note. This fact leads me to wondering what would have become of our intrepid Irishman had he survived the war.

Joseph’s story was just one of many and I was honoured to be able to bring it to life and share it with everyone. Our history (and I know I harp on this, forgive me) is the history of people just like Joseph Convery, who came and made something of himself and the offered all that to the defense of his adopted home. It is the story of people like Joseph that is the story of this country – the pioneers who came and stayed, even though the weather sucks and the animals will kill you. We are something else, aren’t we?

Snowdon Building: A Success Story

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

JU

C.C. Snowdon Building, 2010 11 Street SE, a diamond in the rough

Judith Umbach Collection

Sometimes we in the heritage community get to hear about something not being torn down. These are the stories that make our day. I read a tweet the other day about just one such success story. Heritage Property Corporation, a development company noted (and appreciated) for its restoration and adaptation of historic buildings, has undertaken a massive project in Ramsay. They are restoring and redeveloping the Snowdon building on 11th Street SE. It was particularly heartening because this was exactly the kind of building that could have been razed with no one complaining. It is an industrial site, once the home of C.C. Snowdon Company, a wholesaler, refiner and importer of oil and gas products. The building is, quite frankly, an “ugly duckling.” But the developer saw the value and the potential in this building and is in the process of turning it into a red-brick beauty.

C.C. Snowdon (Campbell Camillus – don’t you love that name?) was born on May 16, 1881 in Montreal, the son of Cornelius Camillus Snowdon and Maria Peck. He graduated from Westmount school and worked for Imperial Oil before coming out to the west with the Canadian Oil Company. He formed his own company, C.C. Snowdon Co. in 1907. The first building on the site in Ramsay was a simple wooden shack. Around 1911 he built a red brick building, complete with an arched doorway. It was quite elegant for an industrial building. Over the next three years, more building was done on the site. His venture was very successful and eventually the company expanded into Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Edmonton. C.C. Snowdon was an important part of the fabric of the Ramsay area, providing employment for many.

At the time of his death he was living in Mount Royal on Durham Avenue. He was a member of the Glencoe club and was very active in the community. According to the article in the Calgary Herald that was written following his death in 1935, he gave extensively to charity, but preferred his donations remained anonymous. His family continued to run the company after his death until 1960, when the shares were sold and the company was developed into Turbo Resources. The Ramsay warehouse was in operation until 1983. In 1988 a fire destroyed part of the building and it was left unrepaired until the current developer purchased the site in 2008. As part of the redevelopment, a two story addition will be built in the area that was damaged by the fire.

I love to hear stories about buildings that are saved from the brink by the foresight and inventiveness of dedicated people. Especially when they are ugly ducklings.

Raise a Glass to Citizen Ralph

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

Campaign brochure

It's Time, Ralph Klein for Mayor

Brochure from the Pamphlet Files Collection, 1972

I have to admit, while he was in office, I was a little skeptical of Ralph Klein. But I was young and naïve and thought that the way things appeared was more important than the way things really were. It wasn’t until I grew up that I developed an appreciation for Ralph and what he did for this city and this province. He wasn’t the kind of politician you’d expect to find anywhere except maybe the southern US. He had a big personality and an everyman charm that won the hearts and the votes of, first the citizens of this city and then all of Alberta. He was colourful, to say the least and he could always be counted on to speak his mind. I've missed his way of doing business.

The tributes pouring in all have the same story, Ralph was a guy who was upfront – he was the same guy in the council chamber, in the Legislature, as he was in the St. Louis. Sometimes that guy made mistakes, but he was always honest and always concerned about the average Albertan. He saw us through the Olympics, paid off our debt, oversaw the building of the new municipal building (which came in under budget) and, most importantly, he was present at the 75th anniversary of the library (see the picture below, of the Mayor in a vintage car).

The Local History Room at the Central Library has a great collection of ephemera, such as brochures and speeches, from Mr. Klein’s various campaigns and tenure as both mayor and premier. We also have photographs in the CHFH Digital Collection. There are clippings and articles and books and all kinds of interesting stuff.

Here's to you, Mayor Ralph. You were one of a kind.

cpl 211 12 28

Mayor Klein in a vintage car celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Calgary Public Library, 1987

Calgary Public Library, Our Past in Pictures, CPL 211-12-28

Bob Edwards

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Eye Opener June 15 1907

Cartoon from The Eye Opener, depicting editor Bob Edwards

Saturday June 15, 1907 p1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Edwards' Residence, photographed just before demolition in 1968

919 4th Avenue SW

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0564

AJ0564

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

'Bob Edwards has left us - gone over the hill'

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 0564

Bob Edwards' Residence, 919 4th Avenue SW

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, photograph taken 1968

On this day in history we lost a unique voice in Alberta journalism. Bob Edwards passed away on November 14, 1922, due to a leak in his heart (as reported in a special edition of The Calgary Eye-Opener) Likely the cause of death was pneumonia, possibly from influenza, possibly from his particular relationship with alcohol, to borrow a phrase from my sister-in-law.

Whatever the cause of his death, Edwards’ passing left a huge hole in the journalistic world. Never a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of journalist, he wrote scathing and often libelous articles criticizing politicians and social figures. He had a biting wit and a “forcibility of expression” as was stated in one of the many eulogies printed in the Eye Opener. His wit and forcibility of expression often got him into trouble and more than once he was taken to court to defend his words against charges of defamation.

But he was funny! It is well worth the time to read the Calgary Eye Opener. It offers a different perspective on staid old Calgary. Nothing escaped Edwards’ eye. One of my favourite articles is from the Eye Opener of July 15, 1905: “The Edmonton Fair Association this year featured the climbing of a greasy pole, on the top of which was hung a five dollar bill. Every little while the Edmontonians do something to indicate that they don’t think the world expects very much of them.”

He was something of a paradox, however. He was highly critical of politicians, but in the end, he became one, joining the Alberta Legislature as an MLA in 1921. (Maybe that's what killed him.)

If you'd like to read about Bob Edwards, you can find an article in the Dictionary of Canadian Biographyavailable online through our E-Library under History and Genealogy. Or you can read the excellent "chrestomathy": Irresponsible freaks, highball guzzlers & unabashed grafters : a Bob Edwards chrestomathy : in which are collected extractions from the Calgary eye opener, Wetaskiwin free lance, The channel (Boulogne-sur-Mer, Fr.) & other estimable broadsides helmed by the late R.C. Edwards, M.L.A. : fact, gossip & fiction for readers of the English language the title of which neatly expresses the style and "forcibilty" of Edwards' journalistic style, or you can read the brilliant biography by Grant MacEwan, Eye Opener Bob. These are all available at the Calgary Public Library. I also highly recommend that you read the Eye Opener itself. It can be read online at the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project website www.ourfutureourpast.ca. Select Early Alberta Newspapers and then use the drop-down menu to choose Calgary. It is also digitized at Peel's Prairie Provinces. We also have the paper on microfilm in the Community Heritage and Family History Room at the Central Library and we have paper collections of articles as well. Drop down and visit and we'll introduce you to the wit and wisdom of Bob Edwards.

The Virginian, an Alberta Resident?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 928

Dispatch from Calgary

Postcards from the Past, PC 928

Traditionally, the time around Christmas is the time when we at the library undertake some of our longer term projects. This year we are looking at our clippings files and sorting through some of the biographical information we have found there. We found a very interesting clipping in the ”J” file about a man who claimed to be the inspiration for the Owen Wister novel The Virginian.

Now, I may be dating myself, but I remember the television show that was loosely based on this novel. It starred Doug McClure (remember him?) and James Drury and ran from 1962 to 1971. I was too young to actually remember the novel in its heyday, but according to Alex Calhoun as he is quoted in the article from 1932, in the first twenty years of Calgary Public Library’s existence, it was the most consistently popular work of fiction in the library.

The journalist uncovered the interesting detail that the man on whom Wister based his novel was none other than Everett “Dad” Johnson, a resident of the Cochrane district. Mister Johnson had lived in southern Alberta for more than 40 years when the article was written. Born in Virginia, he followed the cowboy life through Texas and the American west until he ended up in Alberta as manager of the Bar U Ranch, a role which he had taken over from George Lane.. Sure enough, a quick check of the 1891 census shows him as foreman of a cattle company, listed alongside Fred Stimson and his wife Mary.

Johnson, known as Ebb, had been a foreman in the Powder River Cattle Co. in Wyoming, It was here that he acted as guide and hunting companion to Owen Wister. It was his job as foreman that led him up to Alberta, seeking grazing land for the 76 Ranch. Johnson was recommended to Stimson for the Bar U as the “best all round cowman in the country.” While on the Bar U he met Mary Bigland, who is shown in the 1891 census as a domestic at the ranch but was in fact a nurse, there to help Mary Stimson overcome a bout of scarlet fever. Mary and Ebb left the Bar U shortly after 1891 and moved on.

Johnson, in the 1932 interview, admitted he sometimes felt a bit contemptuous of the changes made to his story by Wister, but conceded that it did make a “right good story.”

The photo below is of Johnson in 1882. I found it on the Glenbow Archives website, after seeing it in the book The Bar U by Simon M. Evans. There are more pictures at the Glenbow of Mr. Johnson. You can check their photo archives at http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesPhotosSearch.aspx and search for "everett johnson. If you would like to read more about Johnson, we have the clipping in a file in the local history room and the book mentioned. If you’re interested in looking at census records for Alberta, we have them on microfilm in the genealogy collection here at the Central Library and they can be viewed on Ancestry LE, which is available at every Calgary Public Library branch through our E-Library.

Everett Cyril Johnson in 1882

Glenbow Archives, NA 2924-12

Glenbow NA 2924-12

John Snow

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

John Snow House

John Snow was a man of many accomplishments. He was born in Vancouver in 1911 but moved with his family to England where they rode out World War I. His family returned when he was eight and moved to Olds. At seventeen he joined the Royal Bank of Canada, where he would work until his retirement in 1971, with time taken out for service in the RCAF and RAF during World War II. These stints in the air force gave him the opportunity to see the world and its great museums. This would nourish and influence John’s artistic side and this is why we know John Snow.

In addition to his accomplishments as a banker and a soldier, he was a great artist. He had absorbed the European modernist approaches, and his desire to see art accessible to all people led him to printmaking. He was great friends with the architect Maxwell Bates, with whom he had studied life drawing after the war. They salvaged a couple of lithograph presses and began experimenting with printmaking. They essentially taught themselves an art form that was stagnant at best and breathed new life into the medium.

Snow’s work would apply his European influences to prairie subjects and express them in a new and contemporary way. The studio he established in his basement was, at one time, the only facility of its kind outside of educational institutions in Western Canada.

In addition to his own work, Snow printed images for other artists in including Bates and Illingworth Kerr. Due in no small part to John Snow, Alberta is regarded internationally as a centre of printmaking. In addition to his talents as a printmaker, John was an accomplished painter and sculptor. He also helped form the Calgary Film Society in the 1940s. John Snow was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 1996. He passed away in 2004.

His spirit, however, lives on. His house, which was built in 1912 and purchased by John in 1951, was purchased after his death by Jackie Flanagan, who used it to house artists of another medium, those involved in the Markin Flanagan Distinguished Writers Program. In 2008 the house was offered to The New Gallery. They successfully lobbied for zoning changes to allow them to house their Resource Centre, offices and a multi-use cultural space. The official opening of the John Snow House is this Friday at 7:00. Check out their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=10805587592822)The house itself was named a Provincial Historic Resource in 2003. You can find out more about the building at Calgary Heritage Initiative (http://www.calgaryheritage.org/documents/JohnSnowHouse.pdf)

Mother Fulham

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 1032

Mother Fulham's House, 612 6 Avenue Sw, circa 1960

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0132

I have just returned from a relaxing visit to my sister’s farm on Vancouver Island. She has a lovely little spread in the Cowichan Valley. In fact, the surroundings are so beautiful that people are buying up the agricultural land for residential use. Right at the bottom of her field, where she keeps the hens and is planning to keep her pig, a neighbour is erecting a palatial three storey home that will have magnificent views of the livestock. I think I see trouble brewing.

This little episode of "Green Acres" did, however, bring to mind a character from Calgary’s past, Mother Fulham, who kept pigs and a cow in the city, approximately where the Tim Horton’s is across the street from the courthouse. She drove her horse and democrat from hotel to hotel collecting garbage for her pigs. We have a picture of her house in the Alison Jackson Photograph collection (see above). She is also one of Calgary’s mavericks, as celebrated in our One Book One Calgary selection, Mavericks: an Incorrigible History of Alberta. Caroline “Mother” Fulham was an interesting character, her garbage-picking aside. It was said that she was the only woman who would drink in the male-only enclaves of the city and she did enjoy her drink. Sometimes too much, and it was this that landed her in the courts. She was also in the courts on the other side of the matter when her “prize” cow Nellie was killed by a CPR train. Bob Edwards loved Mother Fulham stories and was only too glad to publish them in the “Eye Opener”. The story of Nellie the cow and Sir William Van Horne was particularly relished. It seems that when Nellie was killed, Mother Fulham pursued compensation with her usual vigor, but got nowhere. When she heard that the president of the railway was in town, she appeared at his railway car and presented her case. Van Horne is reported to have said, “Your cow should not have been on the tracks, you know, we have signs forbidding entrance to the right-of -way”. To which Mother Fulham replied, “Ye poor damn fool. What makes ya think my pore ole cow could read?” (from Eye Opener Bob by Grant MacEwan.)

So, Mother Fulham’s problems had very little to do with the fact that she kept livestock in the city. That was not uncommon. It was logical, I suppose, when you consider that the horse was a major means of transport. Heck, the building in which I am sitting right now, the Central Library, was once the site (or very close to it) of the Elk Livery stable. People were actually able to keep chickens in Calgary until 1953, when the bylaw governing poultry in the city limits was changed. That bylaw has been in the news recently as supporters of the urban chicken movement have been challenging the bylaw. One of the ex-candidates for mayor was a proponent of the backyard chicken coop. I, myself, find chickens charming. I’m just not sure how I would feel with a piggery next door.

If you would like to read more about Mother Fulham, she is discussed in several books we have in our collections. Use her proper name "Caroline Fulham" as your search term in the catalogue to read more about this maverick Calgarian.

Chicken

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