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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)

Calgary Municipal Railway

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1041

Streetcar with two conductors, ca. 1912-13

Postcards from the Past, PC 1041

It was almost exactly 100 years ago that Calgary's first rail transit system began running. "This is an epoch in the history of the remarkable progress in the growth of the city of Calgary" said Mayor Jamieson at the conclusion of the official inaugural run of the municipal street railway system at 8 am on Monday July 5, 1909. (The first run had actually been at 3:10 that morning.) The streetcars were rushed into service so that locals and visitors to the Provincial Fair, could take the streetcar to the Victoria Park fair grounds. At the close of that first day, $450 in fares had been collected, representing about 9000 passengers.

This was a very big deal. A municipal railway was seen to be an indicator of "municipal maturity" as noted by author Colin K. Hatcher in his book Stampede City Streetcars. People applauded the cars as they passed by. Reverend Kerby spoke of the streetcar system in his sermon at Central Methodist the Sunday prior to the launch, saying that Sunday service was not necessary as "people with two legs can walk out to the parks or the hills if they want fresh air, and the exercise would do them good." Two days later a massive storm hit which flooded the subway at Second Street East and partially suspended the brand new streetcar service.

The Calgary Municipal Railway is in the news again, nearly 60 years after regular service was discontinued. It seems that when 16th Avenue was first paved, the rails from the Crescent Heights line were simply paved over. This has resulted in cracking of the roadway so the rails are being pulled up and about 1.2 kilometres will be preserved and given to interested museums.

You can see photos of the streetcars in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (use the search "streetcar OR streetcars")

There is a very good history of Calgary Transit at this link:

You can also find Colin Hatcher's book Stampede City Streetcars: the story of the Calgary Municpal Railway in the library catalogue.

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.

New Digital Collection

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

CHFH Digital Library

You may have noticed a new link in the Photos section on the left side of the page. We are pleased to launch our new Community Heritage and Family History Digital Collection that will include Postcards from the Past, Virtual Tours of Historic Calgary and Calgary's Heritage Homes. These links will be taken down in the near future. The new collection will include lots more Alison Jackson photographs and a new set of photographs, from Judith Umbach, which highlights some of the major construction projects in the city (this is Calgary, after all, and our official bird is the construction crane!)

This new collection focuses on the built history of Calgary. The Alison Jackson photographs will be familiar to those of you who visited our Virtual Tours of Historic Calgary and Calgary's Heritage Homes. The Community Heritage and Family History Digital Collection will contain information from both of these series but will add the rest of the Alison Jackson photographs.

The Judith Umbach collection is a relatively new addition. In 2005, Ms Umbach donated 800 photographs documenting the construction or renovation of well-known facilities in the downtown core and the Crescent Heights area. This is an important collection which will provide visual evidence of the development, architecture and construction taking place in this period our history.

Postcards from the Past includes nearly 2000 picture postcards of Calgary and Alberta. In addition to providing clues to the appearance of structures long since gone, the postcards provide an interesting insight into the history of the area and the people who settled here.

This is a very exciting time for us in the Community Heritage and Family History department. We have been preparing for the launch of this very important collection for a very long time. The new Digital Collection will allow us (and you, of course) to search across these three series and find pictures that cover different time spans. For example, you will be able to search for the Burns Mansion and find postcards from early in the 20th century when the house was built, a photograph from just prior to its demolition, pictures of the Colonel Belcher Hospital which stood nearby, and pictures of the Sheldon Chumir Centre that now stands on the site.

The link to the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Collection is on the left side of the page or follow the link below. Spend some time exploring this wonderful resource and let us know your thoughts. We'd love to hear your stories about Calgary.

Bowness - Small Town in the Big City

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 941

Calgary Auto Club House, Bowness Park (originally John Hextall Residence)

Postcards from the Past, PC 941

I made a little visit to Bowness last week to do some shopping. My husband and I stopped at a little diner for lunch and I was amazed by the feel of the place. Bowness still feels like the small town it was when I was a child visting my mom's aunt and her family there. People still smile and greet you, staff in shops are friendly and welcoming and it really retains a lot of its small town charm.

The district has a very interesting history. It began with the vision of John Hextall, an Englishman, who caught the land speculation bug during one of Calgary's boom times in 1910. He bought the Bowness Ranche lands for $39 per acre. His hopes for the subdivision were that it would become a beautiful garden suburb, similar to Mount Royal. Caveats were put in place that required homes being built to be worth $3500 or more.

Despite his enthusiasm and promotion of the development, lot sales did not take off. By 1913 there had been a downturn in the economy and then, in 1914, war broke out and the real estate market collapsed. Hextall died in 1914 and his son, who had taken over the business, died in the war in 1916. Development in Bowness slowed to nearly a standstill.

It wasn't until the 1940s that development started up again, mostly by people building their own homes away from the taxation and restrictions of the City of Calgary. By 1952 Bowness, now a town, had a population of around 900 mostly blue collar workers. By 1964 it had become a part of the city.

The Bowness Historical Society has written a really good history of their community called Bowness: Our Village In the Valley (call number 971.2338 BOW) which is available at many of the branches of the Calgary Public Library. I used this resource for many of the facts in this posting. The Society has lots of information on their website as well. You can find them at