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

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Empress of Ireland

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World War I Remembered

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


We are commemorating the centennial of the start of World War I by hosting a whole raft of programs relating to the history and impact of the war, both here and abroad.

Military historian Stéphane Guevremont will be exploring the factors that lead to the war in What Caused World War I on October 30 from 7-9 p.m. in the John Dutton Theatre at the Central Library.

He will also explore The Eastern Front 1914 and how events that took place one hundred years ago continue to have an effect today. This program is on November 14, in the Dutton Theatre at 7 p.m.

Also on November 7 is the Heritage Triangle Walking Tour during which staff from the three points of our heritage triangle, the Calgary Public Library, the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives and the Glenbow Library, will tell you about the WWI related gems in their collections. This starts in the Local History Room on the 4th floor of the Central Library at 1 p.m.

Later that same day, Stir Films producer Brent Kawchuk with speak about the making of the Heritage Minute’s First World War vignettes in our first Heritage Matters presentation of the new season, Filming WWI History in Calgary. This will be on the main floor of the Central Library.

Don Smith, Emeritus Professor, University of Calgary, will present the history of Calgary’s Grand Theatre in the Great War. By exploring war-time entertainment, he will also be examining issues that had an impact on the theatre such as war service of those involved in the industry and women’s suffrage. This program is on Sunday November 9 at 1 p.m., also in the John Dutton Theatre.

Women’s role in the war will also be explored by researcher and writer Adriana Davies, the creator of the Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Her program, A Genius for Organization takes place on Sunday November 9 in the Dutton as well but this one starts at 3. You could stay and make a day of it because at 2pm, Jeff Keshen, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at MRU, will be talking about The Media and World War I. He will talk about the role played by newspapers, and examine the propaganda at the outbreak of the war.

Southwood Library is having a very interesting, ongoing program, the World War I Book Club. Participants will read and discuss books set during the Great War. They meet once a month on Sundays, October 19, November 16 and December 14 at 2 p.m.

Now, for the one I’m really looking forward to, Eating Your Way Through World War I. This takes place on the main floor of the Central Library on Sunday November 16 at 1:30 p.m. Presenters will talk about how Calgarians ate during the Great War years.

Later in November, on the 28th, Stéphane Guevremont will talk about Christmas on the Western Front. He will help us relive the first five months of the war and the astonishing Christmas truce that took place in 1914.

Register online, in person at any community library or by telephone at 403-260-2620.

PC 569Soldiers 1914?

The Cecil Hotel

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

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

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

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


PC 947Cecil Hotel 1912 Postcards from the Past

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

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

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

Fall is the Season for Heritage Programs

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1590Four Soldiers in Uniform 1915?

With fall (or at least what passes for fall in this city) comes Heritage programs by the bushel. Things are gearing up and I thought I should let everyone know what to look out for.

Starting tomorrow, Wednesday September 24 and running until Thursday the 25th, The Military Museums is presenting a series of lectures under the banner Material Culture and The First World War: Western Canadian Narratives Noted speakers from across the country will be talking about a wide variety of topics relating to Canadian involvement in World War I, how the war was represented to Canadians on the home front, the stories of those affected by the war and life in Alberta after the war. This looks like it will be a fascinating series and I only wish I didn’t have to work. I’d be in there like a dirty shirt. The cost is $50 for the two days or $35 for just one day. You can find more information as well as a link to the registration page right here

Also kicking off this month is our Family History Coaching program. Coaches from the Alberta Histories Society will be on hand to help you, one on one, with your genealogy questions. Researchers at all levels of skill are welcome. We have three genealogy minds to set to your project, and three heads are always better than one. We meet on the last Saturday of the month (the 27th this month) from 10:00 to 12:00 on the 4th floor of the Central Library. There is no registration required, so you can just pack up your papers and drop in for a consult.

Breaking the Silence poster Breaking the Silence

In October, we will be welcoming a speaker from the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association and author Sandra Joyce to deliver the talk Breaking the Silence: British Home Children. Over 100,000 children were sent to Canada and often put to work as indentured servants. This program is in partnership with the Chinook Country Historic Society and will take place at the Central Library on Saturday October 18 at 1 pm. You can find more information here. No registration is required

And for those of you interested in learning AND eating, the Firefighter’s Museum is hosting Conversations in the Kitchen. This time, in honour of Fire Prevention Week, the subject will be Watch what you heat. CFD’s Public Information Officer Carol Henke will be talking about what can go wrong in the kitchen, linking back to artefacts from the museum’s collection. Afterwards, Carol will share her infamous fire hall pancake recipe. You can register for this program, which takes place on October 10 at 10:30 by contacting Admission is by donation. You can find out more on theirFacebook page

So, get out, steep yourself in history and have a good time! See you out there.

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

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What could be easier?

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

Green Tomato Chow Chow

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

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


Winter Elbow RiverA lovely winter

I Love Government Documents - And You Will, Too!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Gov Docs displayGovernment Documents on Display, Central Library

One of the coolest things about working in a large urban library is the range of stuff we have available for research. I wrote an earlier blog article on some of the gems we have in our government documents collection. We’ve set up a display with some of the cooler stuff from the collection. Check out the picture above.

The great thing about these obscure resources is that there are so many of them. That is also a bad thing because when we do our genealogical research there may be records that are really useful, but we don’t know they exist, which is where librarians and other research-savvy folk come in. It is our business to find out about these weird and wonderful resources and to pass that information on to you.

Government documents come from all areas of government in all countries. Here at Calgary Public Library we don’t really collect a lot of government information from outside of the country but Library and Archives Canada do. And in their blog I discovered that a fairly obscure collection of documents from the Imperial Russian Consulates in Canada have made their way into the digital universe. People researching ancestors in Eastern Europe may or may not be aware of the LI-RA-MA collection (acronym alert – it stands for Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers – the names of the last Imperial Russian Consuls in Canada) The consular records, following the Russian Revolution, were boxed up and moved from pillar to post, with the attendant loss and damage this lack of care inevitably brings. The consuls, themselves, were kept in Canada and employed by the Canadian government to assist with the large numbers of Eastern European immigrants who had settled in Canada.

LAC has had this collection on microfilm since it was loaned to them by NARA (the US National Archives and Record Administration) in the 1980s. It is comprised of approximately 84 reels of microfilmed documents created by the consulates in Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. Some of the documents are about the day to day functioning of the consular offices; some are correspondence about particular immigration and naturalization problems, and documents relating to the internment of Eastern Europeans in Canada during the war. This is a treasure trove for historians but the mother lode for ancestor hunters is Series IV, which is the Passport/Identity papers series. This group of records is comprised of the applications of Russian subjects for various kinds of identity papers including passports and visas. But in order to apply, citizens had to prove they were Russian subjects, so they had to fill in an extensive questionnaire about their origins, often including a town or county of birth. Keep in mind that at the time, the Russian Empire included parts of Poland, Finland and most of the countries that would become the USSR.

AJ 0092Russian/Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints, AJ 0092

LAC has made the index and images of the documents available on its website

The index cards have been transliterated into the Latin alphabet, but the original documents are in Russian. You have to have a look at this wonderful collection. (There are also records available in the United States for immigrants who settled there. See the link above for information regarding that collection.)

How to Find an Old Newspaper

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Harnam Singh Hari

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

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

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

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

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

Happy Anniversary, Princess Patricia's

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1673Currie Barracks "this is the cook"s house..."

For many years the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was stationed here in Calgary at the Currie Barracks. They were back last week, as part of the Memorial Relay in which soldiers are running from Edmonton to Ottawa carrying a baton which contains the names of all 1,866 members who have fallen in active service.

The PPCLI was formed in 1914, in response to the declaration of war. Hamilton Gault, of Montreal, offered to raise and equip a regiment. In honour of the daughter of our then Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, the regiment was named the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Princess Patricia personally designed its badge and colours for the regiment to take overseas to France. As the regiment's Colonel-in-Chief, she played an active role until her death. The PPCLI Colonel in Chief today is Adrienne Clarkson, our former GG

PC 1568Princess Patricia"s Mum and Dad, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, 1912

Raised in August of 1914, the regiment was in France by September of the same year. They were the first of the Canadians to serve in that theatre of war. By December they had lost 238 men and their original Commanding Officer. In May of 1915 the Patricia’s saw action in the Ypres salient, meeting the enemy in the battle of Frezenberg. In mere hours, 175 men had died. The baton being carried in the relay will be taken to Frezenberg to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle known in the regiment as the “Death of the Originals.”

The PPCLI came to Calgary after the Second World War and were stationed at Currie Barracks. Shortly after their arrival, they were converted from a Regular Army brigade to an Airborne Mobile Striking Force. This change was enthusiastically received as many of the men had served in the First Parachute Brigade in WWII. The Patricia’s became Canada's first peacetime parachute battalion. If you would like to read more about the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, you can check out their website or read any one of the great books written about them. Maybe start with David Bercusons' recent publication, The Patricia's : A Century of Service

The PPCLI was an active part of the Calgary community until the decision was made to reduce the number of bases so the battalion was moved to Edmonton. We welcomed them back, though, with open arms

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