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My Favourite "Winter Weather Event"

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 799

Winter Scene, Elbow River

Postcards from the Past, PC 799

It looks like winter might actually be here, for a while anyway. Over the years we have noticed a very distinct trend. When the weather first turns, we start to get a lot of questions at the reference desk about notable 'weather events' (as in, blizzards) throughout Calgary's history. It may be our way of convincing ourselves that, though this winter may be bad, it can always be worse. These questions always lead to the staff here reminiscing about our own blizzard memories. We all seem to have our favourite. Mine is the blizzard of 1975. I had a part-time job as a candy bar girl (yes, that was my job title) at the Palace Theatre. When the blizzard started, there was a very real possibility that we wouldn’t be able to get home if we stayed at work, and the prospect of spending the night in the old theatre was not a welcoming one, so we all got to go home early.

I found a newspaper article, as I was going through the weather related clippings in the Local History Room here at the Central Library that showed a photo of the Palace Theatre behind metre high snow drifts. The clipping was from 1932 and the headline says it all “Anxiety felt for occupants of stranded vehicles while city estimates storm damage”. Teams of unemployed men (it was the Depression) had been put to work clearing the snow. The paper pointed out that this was a pointless exercise as the shovellers could not keep up with the snowfall. So even back in 1932, they were complaining about the city’s ploughing policy!

The winter that gets the most press, though is the Killing Winter of 1906/07. Cattle died by the thousands, unable to forage for grass beneath the ice and snow. People died and their bodies were not discovered until the spring. It was the final nail in the coffin of the old way of ranching. Many ranchers could not recover from their losses and the practice of turning out herds onto open range to fend for themselves for the winter was ended.

While our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library does not include photographs of major blizzards, since they’re not the best way to promote our beautiful city, it does include some lovely winter photographs of Calgary. I've included a couple of those, as a reminder that winter can be a great season here. As a colleague remarked when, exhausted after poring through the clippings of “winter weather events” I asked, “Why do we live here” – at least we don’t get tsunamis.

AJ 07-17

Winter Scene in Memorial Park, Showing Central Library, 1955

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 07-17

The Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

I was looking for a suitable topic for a Thanksgiving entry and stumbled across this photograph of the Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo taken on Thanksgiving Day 1963 by Alison Jackson.

AJ 80-01

Alison Jackson's photographs make up one of the collections in our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. Miss Jackson was a librarian with the Calgary Public Library from 1941 to her retirement in 1974. One day, walking home for lunch, she shot a photo of the Patrick Burns mansion which was shortly to be demolished. The demolition of this building and, especially, the old courthouse galvanized Alison into preserving on film buildings which were under threat. She had a keen eye and an exceptional talent and in 1975 her photographs were used to illustrate two books on the built history of Calgary: Be It Ever So Humble and A Walk Through Old Calgary both by Trudy Soby (now Cowan). These items can be borrowed from the library if you would like to see some examples of Miss Jackson's photographs. After Miss Jackson's death in 1987, her estate donated her photographs and slides to the Calgary Public Library. They have been digitized and can be viewed in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (the link is on the left hand side of the page. To browse just the Alison Jackson Collection, just click on the link.

When Alison took this photograph, the Conservatory was not under threat. In fact it was new. A donation from Eric Harvie, through the Woods Foundation, provided the money for the first component of the conservatory which was opened by John Ballem, who was the President of the Zoological Society at the time. It had been built on the site of the old Biergarten/Band Stand that had been built in 1912 before there was even a zoo on St. George's Island. The original intention was that the building, seen in the postcard below, would be a true biergarten but the province was officially "dry" and no alcohol, not even beer, could be served. The building became a teahouse with a dance hall on the second storey.

PC 541

ST. George's Island Biergarten

Postcards from the Past, PC 541

There are a number of very good books on the history of the Calgary Zoo. One of the newest is by Tyler Trafford: The Evolution of the Calgary Zoo. You can find this and other titles in the collection by entering the words "calgary zoo history" in the catalogue search box on the Calgary Public Library website.