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March is hopping with heritage events

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1880

Business District, Calgary, Alberta

Postcards from the Past, PC 1880

We attended an excellent Heritage Roundtable this month on the Heritage Trades. We heard presentations on stone work restoration, landscape restoration and the restoration of the rail cars at Heritage Park. We also had a chance to meet a lot of people involved with heritage in the city and show off some of the items from our collections. What I noticed was at the end when the announcements of upcoming events were made, is that there are a ton of heritage related events taking place at the Central Library in March, and all of them sound really interesting (and I’m not just saying that because I work here – honest).

First up is Heritage Matters on Friday the 11th. This is presented in partnership with the Calgary Heritage Authority and will be at 5:15 on the main floor of the Central Library. The last one we had here was great fun so put it on your calendars. Dr. Nancy Pollock-Ellwand will present “Heritage futures for the city of Calgary.” Dr. Pollock-Ellwand is a professor at the University of Adelaide who has an internation reputation for her study of the history and conservation of cultural landscapes. She will talk about why we should care about the city’s heritage, what we have learned from our past experiences, the value of heritage to the community and future trends. If you are interested in coming to this, please register in person, by telephone at 403-260-2620 or online through our website:

Next up is our program for World Storytelling Day – Share your stories of Calgary’s past. While we can glean a lot of history from books and other printed sources, we often lose information about the lives of everyday people. To address this, Calgarians are invited to record their memories of Calgary for inclusion in our local history collection. If you have stories to share about Calgary’s past, please register for this event. It takes place on the 4th floor of the Central Library on Friday March 18 at 2:00 PM

Then, on Sunday March 20, we are having a Jane’s Talk. While this isn’t strictly about heritage, it will be a discussion of what makes up a great city. This event is named for the great Jane Jacobs who advocated a human approach to urban planning and led many to re-evaluate what makes a city a great place to live. You will also hear about Jane’s Walks, an international event with a local focus that aims to reacquaint us with our neighbourhoods. You do not need to register for this program, just show up. It will be in John Dutton Theatre on the second floor of the Central Library at 2:00 PM

The following Saturday, the 26th, is our regular genealogy Saturday with Family History Coaching in the genealogy section on the 4th floor of the Central Library at 10:00 AM and Genealogy Meet-up, also on the 4th floor, at 2:00PM. Both of these programs are drop-in as well.

In addition to our programs, the Calgary Heritage Initiative is having another Heritage Roundtable on the 17th of March. I look forward to these events. The topics are always stimulating and the chance to meet other people concerned with heritage is invaluable. I’ll let you know more about the venue and topics early next month.

PC 938

Oil Brokers and Investors at the King George Hotel, 1914

Postcards from the Past, PC 938

Doors Open Calgary

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 0358

Crest on the wall of Lougheed House

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0358

Here is a novel way to explore your city. In October, Doors Open Calgary will invite you in to see what goes on behind the scenes in some of Calgary’s familiar landmarks. So those of us who are curious (or just plain nosy) will get to see behind the facades into the innards of buildings of historical, cultural, social or architectural significance. Participants can gain an intimate feel for a place – a kind of "warts and all" affection. This intimacy can work toward fostering a sense of caring and stewardship for heritage in our communities.

Doors Open was a concept launched in France in 1984. The idea was to give people a chance to see, for free, an inside view of significant buildings in their city, some of which might not normally be open to the public. It was take up by other European countries and in 1999 it came to Toronto, the first North American city to embrace the idea. From an idea for a millennium celebration, it has expanded to an annual event and has spread to other communities in Canada.

Doors Open Calgary started in 2003, with 10 venues on their list. Participants got to see behind the scenes at the Municipal Building, the Saddledome and Haultain School. The next year, 2004, had 32 venues for interested visitors to check out. They are currently looking for organizations that would like to make their sites available for Doors Open in October. On Saturday February 26 they are having a demo event at the magnificent Lougheed House (707 13th Avenue SW). You will be taken along “secret ways” and will be able to explore the archives. You can register for this preview at this site:

I can vouch for the feeling you get when you know a building’s intimate secrets. The Lougheed House has been doing a Doors Open-like event every year, the Ride Through Time. I have participated for several years and now feel that Lougheed House is like an old pal. I have seen her less glamorous side and love her all the more for it.

This year, Doors Open Calgary will take place on October 15th and 16th so mark your calendars. If you want to find out more or would like to participate, all that information is on their website at

Of course, if you’d like to do some exploring of the lovely outsides of Calgary’s landmarks, you can always visit our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (link at the left). It’s a good way to start your exploration of the city’s heritage.

 AJ 0001

Beaulieu (Lougheed House), 1956

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection AJ 0001

Black History Month 2011

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Keystone Legacy

Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler

by Gwen Hooks

February is Black History month in Canada. This is a fairly new recognition despite the fact that people of African descent have been playing a role in Canadian history since the time of Samuel de Champlain. Black History Month began as Black History Week in the 1970s. By 1976 it had become Black History Month. It was officially recognized by the House of Commons in 1995 and in 2008 the Senate unanimously passed a motion to recognize the event. This is a great step towards the recognition of the contribution that Black Canadians have made to the fabric of this nation. I learned nothing about the history of black Canadians when I was a child so when I came to work in the library and worked with the local history collection, I was surprised and intrigued to read about the history of Alberta’s black settlers.

Many African Americans came to Alberta from Oklahoma, after it became clear to them that the whites flooding into the new state were going to make life very difficult for black people. Life in Alberta was not going to be easy but it looked much better than facing the segregationists at home. So many made the trek and homesteaded in Alberta. There is a wonderful book that tells the story of one such family who settled in Keystone (now Breton, Alberta): The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler by Gwen Hooks. Gwen and her late husband were both descendants of settlers who came to Alberta in the early part of the 20th century. The trials and tribulations they faced were many. The land was virgin forest and settlers were expected to clear it to make a farm. Many were unprepared for the winter, not knowing how cold it could be and how much snow could fall. Farming methods were different as well. Many made the best of things, however, and eked out a life for themselves and their families.

They did not escape the prejudice and xenophobia that they had encountered in their old homeland, however. It was made clear that several groups were vehemently opposed to having communities of black settlers in the province and tried to get legislation passed that would ban their immigration and settlement. Many homesteaders had to work off their farms to supplement their income. Black homesteaders who needed to work could often only find menial jobs, their children were refused educational opportunities, public facilities were often segregated or even off limits.

Possibly to get away from the prejudice they encountered in the big cities, many settlers headed to land farther away from the major centres and settled in areas where they could establish their own institutions. The land they settled may not have been as good as that near Edmonton, but they had their own communities and were able to find a peaceful way of life.

Now, however, as in many rural communities, the young have moved away from the old homesteads. This creates all kinds of problems for farming communities but the impact is even greater for communities like Keystone. With no one in the area who remembers the old days, the history and struggles of this tenacious group of pioneers could be forgotten. That is why efforts such as those of Gwen Hooks, who not only recorded the history of Keystone, but also was instrumental in the restoration of the cemetery where many of the settlers were buried, is so important. There is also a museum in Breton that collects and displays artifacts from the black homesteader communities in the area.

The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler is a very good starting point for anyone who would like to understand the history of this group of pioneers. It is available at several library branches as well as in the Community Heritage and Family History Room. There is also a very good website that talks about Alberta’s Black Pioneers

And be sure to check out the panel discussion we have lined up to discuss “What is Black History?”:

Three New Heritage Sites

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1377

Suburban Calgary, Riverside ca. 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 933

At a well attended ceremony in Council Chambers on Monday January 24, three new heritage sites were ‘plaqued’ by the Calgary Heritage Authority. Plaques are given every two years to sites that are of historical significance to Calgary’s development based on criteria of architecture, history and context. Some of the sites that have been awarded plaques in the past are the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, St. Mary’s Parish Hall, Sunalta School, Alyth Lodge (Ogden Hotel) and the North West Travellers Building (to see pictures of any of these sites, you can visit our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library from the link on the left side of the page)

The three new sites named Monday are the Bridgeland-Riverside Vacant Lot Garden which is between 6 and 7A Streets NE; the Old North Trail (Spiller Road SE) and the Mission Bridge. Each site holds historical significance and each represents a different aspect of how we define heritage.

The Bridgeland-Riverside Vacant Lot Garden is the last of a number of similar gardens that were created by members of the Vacant Lot Garden Club as a way to beautify the city and put unused land to productive use. It was originally suggested by the aptly named Town Planning commissioner, James H. Garden and was started in 1914. Membership was $1.00 annually which entitled the holder to use one lot. Land owners such as Colonel Walker and J.C. Cockburn donated lots for use by the club. Calgarians were able to grow their own produce and reduce their reliance on “imported” food. Just as an aside, and a library tie-in, Alexander Calhoun, the first head librarian of the Calgary Public Library, was active in forming the club, as part of his role on the Town Planning Commission.

Spiller Road was a part of the Old North Trail that ran from the Yukon to New Mexico and was used by First Nations for thousands of years. According to Blackfoot Chief Brings-Down-the-Sun, the trail forked where Calgary now stands. “The right fork ran north into the Barren Lands as far as people live. The main trail ran south along the eastern side of the Rockies, at a uniform distance from the mountains, keeping clear of the forest and outside of the foothills. It ran close to where the city of Helena now stands and extended south into the country inhabited by a people with dark skins and long hair falling over their faces." (The Old North Trail by Walter McClintock, p434) When the NWMP built Fort Calgary, part of the trail became Macleod Trail, the main route to forts in the south such as Fort Macleod and Fort Benton in Montana.

The Mission Bridge was built at the place where travellers forded the Elbow River. Father Lacombe suggested that farmers coming into town from areas to the south would benefit from the building of a bridge to allow them easier access to markets. The first bridge was built in 1886 but soon became rotted and worn. In 1897 a new steel bridge was erected (see photo). In 1915 a concrete bridge (the first in Alberta) was erected. During construction, however, one of the worst floods to hit Calgary nearly destroyed the unfinished bridge and took the life of Quinton Campbell, a city worker. (This was the same flood that destroyed the original Centre Street Bridge, with the above mentioned Commissioner Garden, and the City Engineer, who planned and oversaw the construction of the Mission Bridge, G.W. Craig, aboard. They both survived the disaster.) Though this bridge has been renovated and rebuilt many times, elements of the 1915 bridge still remain.

PC 1377

Mission Bridge during flood, ca. 1923?

Postcards from the Past, PC 1377