Burns Block, 1964
Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 83-14
The Scottish origins of Calgary’s heritage are quite obvious. We have Macleods and Macdougalls and Lougheeds aplenty. Even the name “Calgary” is taken from a Scottish place on the Isle of Mull. What many people don’t realize is that Calgary had its Irish contingent as well. Many well known people in Calgary’s past have an Irish background and, given that Wednesday is St. Patrick’s Day, I’m going to tell you a little about a couple of the notable Irishmen that helped build this city.
The first and probably most famous is Patrick Burns. He was a man of humble origins, born Patrick O’Byrne near Kirkfield Ontario. A note on the census record for a town near Kirkfield in 1851 says that “the Gaelic is the general language spoken, the greater part of the people understand English particularly the young people. In some cases I was forced to hire an interpreter which cost me one pound.”
Burns came to Calgary, via Minnedosa Manitoba, in about 1890, when the Calgary-Edmonton Railway was under construction. Pat’s friend from his childhood, William McKenzie, had turned to him to provision the railway workers.
He’d only been here a short while before he set up his abattoir east of the Elbow, near Calgary Brewing and Malting. By 1903 he had moved into his beautiful mansion on 13th Avenue SW. By 1911 the Burns Building had been constructed. By 1912, Burns and his buddies had funded the first Calgary Stampede. Pat Burns died in 1937 and left his huge estate in trust to the Burns Memorial Fund, created to help children “reach their full potential.”
If you’re interested in Pat Burns and his contributions to Calgary, there is an excellent book by Grant MacEwan, Pat Burns: Cattle King available at the Calgary Public Library. You can also view pictures of the many buildings and businesses owned by Pat Burns in our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. Just search using the name Burns.
The second Irishman whose efforts helped make the city what it is today is John Glenn. He was born in 1833 in County Mayo, Ireland and rattled around England and the United States before finding his home where Fish Creek met the Bow River. When he settled there in 1875 he became one of the first European settlers in this area. He sold his original farm to Edgar Dewdney, the Indian Commissioner, in 1879 and moved to the south side of Fish Creek near the Macleod Trail crossing. He was one of the first farmers, along with neighbour Sam Livingston, to cultivate a cereal crop in the district. He was also responsible for the first irrigation system on the prairies which he shared with his neighbour Sam Shaw, who also used the irrigation system to operate his woolen mill.
John Glenn contributed the land for the building of St. Paul’s Anglican Church near Midnapore. This was in spite of the fact that Glenn was a Catholic. When the Catholics of the area wanted to build a church, it was John Glenn’s son, Patrick, who donated the land right beside St. Paul’s for the Catholic St. Patrick’s Church.
John Glenn was also a pioneer investor. When the CPR was selling lots for the townsite of Calgary in 1883, Glenn was the first to purchase. He built the Frontier Livery Stable, which was then the largest in the city, as well as two other buildings. When he died as the result of an accident in 1886 he left an estate valued at $2600. John Glenn was remembered as a charitable and hospitable man whose name was to be found on many a charitable subscription list in and around Calgary. The Glennfield picnic area in Fish Creek Park is named in memory of John and his wife Adelaide. Information about the Glenn family can be found in the Community Heritage and Family History Collection at the Calgary Public Library by searching the catalogue with the subject “John Glenn Calgary” (so you won’t get books about the astronaut). In particular, the DeWinton and area history book From Sodbusting to Subdivision has a lot of information.
There were many, many more Irish folk who came to Calgary and left their mark. These are only two of those notable sons and daughters of Eire. Slainte!