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Family Heirlooms

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


Souvenir Handkerchief showing Calgary Public Library and South African War Memorial

Many of us have things that were left to us by family members. In my family, we inherited, on the passing of our great aunt, a musical fruit plate that my brother adored as a child, and an antler cribbage board made by my great grandfather. These are not valuable monetarily but they do have great value within our family. Other people’s heirlooms can be fascinating as well. Just look at the success of “Antiques Roadshow” and the popularity of Calgary Public Library’s Antiques Appraisal day. Sometimes other people’s heirlooms cross over from family interest to local history interest – we really like those kinds of things here. Some of the more obvious examples are postcards, of which we have a major collection here that you can view in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (see the link on the left of the page).

A very interesting artifact was brought to my attention recently by a colleague who collects vintage stuff. She was shopping and found this hankie, with an image of the Memorial Park Library on it. It is a very interesting piece. We haven’t been able to find much information about it but it looks like it might be souvenir hankies, which were popular articles for servicemen to send home to their loved ones. I found this serviceman’s letter on a website called Canadian Letters and Images Project: “When up in town this a.m. I got a few souvenir handkerchiefs, one of which I am enclosing for Jean. Hoping she likes it.” The letter was from Louis Duff to his Aunt Lily, sent from Belgium in 1915. Calgary was a training centre for several units of the C.E.F. so it is a possibility that this handkerchief, like the one sent to Jean, was purchased by a serviceman.

PC 1895

Memorial Park

Postcards from the Past, PC 1895

We have an image similar to the one on the hankie on a postcard that has a 1940 postmark. It may be that the company that produced the souvenir postcards also produced the handkerchief (or that the photographer marketed his image to a number of printing houses or….). If you have any information about this kind of heirloom, please add a comment to this entry. I’m always interested to hear what you all have to say. It’s the best way to learn!

Heirlooms, such as the hankie and even the postcards, require special handling so they survive to be passed on to the next generation. We have several books in our collection that can help you, if you are lucky enough to have been passed some of these delightful objets. One is Saving stuff by Don Williams, another is Caring for your family treasures by Jane Long.

Modern Architecture in Calgary

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 43-06

Elveden House under construction, 1960

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 43-06

We were at the Heritage Roundtable last week where the subject was Calgary’s architectural history. I learned a lot from the presenters, about historic building styles, the amazing resources available at the Canadian Architectural Archives at the U of C and about historic building research. But the talk that really opened my eyes was David Down’s presentation about Calgary’s Modernist architecture. In the course of my research I often see that magnificent old buildings were torn down, especially in the urban renewal schemes of the 1960s and I wonder what could have possessed the planners of the day to allow the destruction of such historic properties. However, I sometimes look at buildings like the Calgary Board of Education across the street from us or the Centennial Planetarium and wonder “how could the planners of the day have allowed those concrete bunkers to be built?” I should really be ashamed of myself, I guess. We often don’t appreciate the things of our day. It is only when we look back, with the advantage of hindsight, that we can see the elegance and beauty of contemporary architecture.

I was exercising my newfound eyes as I rode to work through the West LRT construction. I have watched as the overpass for the train was built, using that very cool mobile crane and the process certainly fascinated me. But looking at the structure itself, I see a kind of elegance and lightness in the fluted pillars and the sculpted concrete of the overpass itself. The pillars, with their delicate reeding, remind me a little of some columns seen in Egypt (like these at Edfu - or maybe I’m just dreaming?) Edfu pillars from iStock

The question was raised about what we will consider “heritage” in the next century. Will we look at the new City Water Services building or the Bow building and see a historic site worth saving or will we ask ourselves: “What on earth were they thinking?” In any case, I am going to find out more about Calgary’s modern architecture by having a look at some of the books we have here on the subject. I think I’ll start with Calgary Modern, 1947-1967 by Geoffrey Simmins and Calgary Architecture: the Boom Years, 1972-1982 by Pierre Guimond. Both are available in the CHFH collection on the 4th floor at the Central Library as well as in the regular collection.

Discover Historic Calgary

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 52

13th Avenue Looking East

Postcards From the Past PC 52

A couple of months ago I went to a Heritage Roundtable where the City of Calgary Heritage Planners talked about a new website they were launching. It was called “Discover Historic Calgary” and it contains a whack of information about the built heritage of the city of Calgary. I was very excited to see this website because we here in the Community Heritage and Family History section of the Calgary Public Library always knew what kind of information the Heritage Planners were collecting about the buildings in the city but access to this information was a little complicated. Now it is available on a website for all interested Calgarians to see. It is well worth a visit. It includes information about buildings on the “Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources” and includes information such as location, history, significance and even historic and contemporary photographs. It also includes an explanation of the Historic Resource Evaluation System.

You can search for historic buildings by keyword, by address, or by development era. The advanced search allows you to search by use, architectural style, use or community. The “Help” link provides a really good overview of what the searches entail. This is another great resource that researchers interested in the history of Calgary can use in conjunction with our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. You can access Discover Historic Calgary at

City of Calgary Annual Reports

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 935

Horses and Wagon outside of Fire Station Number 2

Postcards from the Past, PC 935

While I pride myself on my knowledge of the Community Heritage and Family History collection, I will admit that I don’t know every item in there. And I am always delighted when a customer passes on an interesting tidbit. This week a researcher drew my attention to the annual reports from the City of Calgary for 1909 to 1914. Now, I am not really a fan of government documents, but they do sometimes turn out to be the most fascinating things. That is true of these annual reports. Did you know that in 1909 it cost the police department twice as much to feed the horses as it did to feed the prisoners? Well, the horse feed coast $294.65 while food for the prisoners cost $138.28. Also, a fire alarm was called in on the 25 of January 1910 to the home of T. Wheatley 1012 17 Avenue W. The fire caused $50 damage and was caused by “matches and mice”. Those pyromaniac rodents! The Fire Department put it out. There is a roster (listed as “rooster” in the report) of firemen and the horses who served with them. For example, Frank was a 12 year old white horse, who stood 17 hands and weighed 1500 pounds while Brownie was an 11 year old black horse (?) who stood 16.2 hands and weighed 1550 pounds. Cap was Chief Cappy Smith’s horse, and though not very imaginatively named, he was a 12 year old bay who stood 15.3 hands and weighed 1150 pounds.

As for the police, they tried 3922 cases, 1334 of which were for drunkenness, 2 for fortune telling and one for “pigamy” (one hopes that is a misprint). They even kept statistics on the nationalities of those they arrested. Only one person was from Iceland. There is a complete roster of the police force including former service, the date the person joined the police force and the date when the person was appointed to their present rank. There’s another obscure source for you genealogists!

Now if someone could tell me what the Irish Suspense Account is. It is listed in the City Comptroller’s Office Annual Statement under receipts and is $195.93. I have a notion this may be a bit of a racial slur. Does anyone have any ideas?

The reports also give a very vivid statistical picture of the concerns of the citizens and the growth of Calgary. The Medical Health Officer’s report for 1913 lists every occurrence of every disease, points out the need for a new water treatment facility and calls for the establishment of free public baths because “there are hundreds of people in the city today who never have a bath from one year’s end to the another.” Between them and the horses the town must have smelled very interesting.

These reports could be very useful for genealogists, historians and folks who just want a glimpse of the history of the city (and, believe me, it can be a very entertaining experience). They are kind of hard to find in the catalogue – you have to go to Power Search and enter Calgary into the author box, Annual Report into the title box and Budget into the subject – or you could just remember the call number 352.0006 CAL – but they are well worth the search. Drop in for a peek.

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

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 841

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

Postcards from the Past, 841

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


Monday Dec. 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Influenza and the Isolation Hospital

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 755

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

Postcards from the Past, PC 755

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

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

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

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

Local Histories

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 483

Carmangay, Alberta 1911

Postcards from the Past, PC 483

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

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

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

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

Henderson's Directories Online

by Christine Hayes - 2 Comment(s)


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

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

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

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

Where, Exactly, is Balaclava Heights?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Map, 1907

Detail from a 1907 map of Calgary

Community Heritage and Family History Collection

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

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

Researching Calgary's Military History

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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

PC 569

Six Soldiers, World War I

Postcards from the Past, PC 569

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

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

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