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Spring Events for Genealogists

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


Even if spring has decided not to happen, there is still a lot going on in and around Calgary for genealogists and those interested in family history.

The first program I want to tell you about is a mini-fair on April 29 at the Family History Centre (2021 17 Avenue SW). It is called Bridges to the Past and will include classes in getting started in genealogy, reading old German handwriting, Irish ancestry research, using social networking for your research and a whole lot more. If you register in advance, you will receive a syllabus. You can see all the classes and download the registration form at this website:

Farther afield, the Alberta Genealogical Society is holding its annual conference, Unlocking Doors to the Past on April 16 and 17 at the Chateau Louis Hotel in Edmonton. Speakers at the conference will include Colleen Fitzpatrick, the author of Forensic Genealogy, Dave Obee, whose work includes eight books on Canadian family history, and Lyn Meehan, a well-known family historian and lecturer, along with other interesting and informative presenters. You can find more information about the AGS conference at their website:

Next month, the Alberta Family Histories Society, our own local genealogical group, will be offering a beginners course on May 7 at 9:00. The program is for members of AFHS (so if you’re looking for another reason to join your local genealogical society, this may be it). You can find out more about this course through the Alberta Family Histories Society blog (

Of course, there is always our regular Family History Coaching program, on the last Saturday of the month (April 30th) at 10:00 in the Central Library. This program has become increasingly popular and the feedback from participants has been great. We’ve found a lot of ancestors!

There is also our Genealogy Meet-Up at 2:00 on the same Saturday. This provides an opportunity for further assistance as well as some time to meet with others and offer your own advice to other genealogists – many hands make light work!

Both Family History Coaching and the Genealogy Meet-Up are drop-in programs, so no advance registration is required, but you will need to have a library card to participate (and to access Ancestry LE). You can find more information in our program guide, available online through our website (click on Programs).

Old City Hall turns 100

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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Artist's rendition of proposed Calgary City Hall, 1909

Postcards from the Past, PC 221

The early part of the 20th century was a time of great optimism, not just here, but all over the world. In Calgary, that optimism was expressed in a population boom and the resulting building boom. As a result, for us here in the 21st century, there are a lot of anniversaries to celebrate. As everyone knows (;-) the Calgary Public Library is turning 100 years old on the 1st of January 2012. But another icon of the city, our beautiful sandstone City Hall turned 100 this year. It was officially opened on June 26, 1911 by the leader of the opposition, then the Conservatives, Robert Borden. That night he gave a speech at Sherman’s auditorium, where “questions of interest to Canadians” would be discussed. “Ladies,” the advertisement read, “are cordially invited.”

In order to build the sandstone building, the old city hall had to be torn down. A lament for the old building was published in the Herald in Wee Willie’s column. “They’re tearing down the old brown barn, which many people call, the poorest thing that ever held, the name of city hall. No more the filthy daily drunk, will call the place his home; no more cockroaches, beetles, rats will through its limits roam,” he wrote, concluding with “but though they may tear down the walls, destroy an earthly hell, there is a thing they cannot do—They can’t destroy the smell.” (Calgary Daily Herald, February 8, 1911, p.8) Must have been some place!

Anyway, back on track, the new city hall was built at a cost of around $300,000 which was double the original estimate. (You can imagine the political fallout from that-probably akin to the current issue in parliament surrounding the cost of fighter jets.) The sandstone came from the Bone and Oliver quarry up on what is now 17th Avenue SW. The clock in the tower was ordered through D.E. Black Jewellers and cost nearly $4000. The building has weathered the years well. It was given an exterior restoration when the municipal building was built in the 1980s and an extensive interior restoration from 1995-1997.

If you haven’t been inside this building, you should go have a look. It is quite beautiful and one of only seven original city halls still standing in Canada. We should be proud that we have kept the old girl.

Here is the link to a video, in which Heritage Planner, Clint Robertson, talks about the history of the building and the opportunities for Calgarians to take a tour of the building and the City Archives (housed in the 1962 addition next door)

We also have a large number of photographs and postcards of City Hall in our Community Heritage and Family History Collection. We also have all kinds of information in the Local History room on the 4th floor of the Central Library. Come by, maybe after your tour of Old City Hall. We’re right next door.

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Entrance to City Hall, 1966

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 1060

Old St. Patrick's Church

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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St. Patrick's Church

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 0014

At the Heritage Roundtable on March 17, here at the Central Library in the Dutton theatre, we will be hearing an update on the fate of the old St. Patrick’s Church that stands so near its Anglican neighbor, St. Paul’s , out along Macleod Trail in what used to be the town of Midnapore. There couldn’t be a more stark contrast than the fates of the two nearly identical churches. St. Paul’s is in beautiful condition, with its cemetery intact and well maintained. It has been revived and tended for many years by the Midnapore Church of England Society. St. Patrick’s on the other hand, has been allowed to fall into disrepair, a kind of demolition by neglect. Recently scorch marks were seen on the building suggesting that someone had lit a fire that may have gotten out of control. This is heart breaking as St. Patrick’s has great historical significance to the city. Ironically, the situation was once reversed. In the early part of the 20th century, Patrick Burns used to send a crew out to maintain and paint St. Patrick’s Church. The story goes that he didn’t want St. Pat’s to outshine its near neighbour, which was looking a mite shabby, so he would have St. Paul’s painted by the same crew.

St. Paul’s is actually the older building. It was built in 1885 on land that was donated by John Glenn, who, although a Catholic himself, felt compelled to give to his community. Twenty years later, his son donated the land on which St. Patrick’s was built. Money was raised for the church by the community and both Catholics and Anglicans worked to build it. There is no delineation between the cemeteries, even in death the two communities are as one. When a fire damaged St. Patrick’s, services were held in St. Paul’s until the church could be repaired. The communities, Anglican and Catholic, met and mingled and cooperated over the generations and for that reason alone, the two churches, in their cozy proximity, have heritage value.

Another aspect of the historic value of St. Patrick’s church is Father Lacombe was the parish priest at St. Patrick’s from 1906 (or 1909) until his death in 1916. Father Lacombe is a very important figure in the history of the province. In addition to his work with First Nations people, he also established the Lacombe Home for orphans, the elderly and the handicapped near to the church on land donated by Patrick Burns.

Little St. Pat’s has been declared a Provincial Historic Resource, after the land was sold to a memorial company with the proviso that the Catholic Diocese, which owns the building, either demolish it or move it. Little has been done to maintain the building, although the statue of St. Patrick has been removed and preserved as has the bell that was given to Father Lacombe for the bell tower by Archbishop Legal. There have been developments, though, and we will hear what is in store for the old church at the Heritage Roundtable on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, – quite apropos, I think. If you would like to register for this event, you can do so by calling 403-244-4111 or online at

Heritage Matters....or does it?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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St. Patrick's Church, 1956

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0016

Chances are if you are reading this blog, your answer to the above question would be “Yes.” If that is the case, you might be interested in attending a talk by Dr. Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. She will be talking about Heritage Futures for the City of Calgary: why we should care, what the preservation of heritage can contribute to the community, what success in heritage conservation looks like and what we can learn from failures. The program will be at the Central Library on the main floor on Friday March 11 at 5:15. You can register online, by telephone at 403-260-2620 or in person at your local branch. This program is offered in partnership with the Calgary Heritage Authority. We always have fun at the Heritage Matters programs (and you get to be in the library after-hours!)

There is another important, heritage-related event taking place at the Central Library on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. The Heritage Roundtable is coming to the Central Library with a line-up of really, really interesting speakers. First will be special guest Matthew Wangler who will give us an update on what is going on with the old St. Patrick’s Church in Midnapore. Father Lacombe was the priest at the church and remained there until his death in 1916. This historic building is on Heritage Canada’s top 10 endangered places list and is very close to ruin.

Also speaking will be Irena Karshenbaum, who will review the Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project which saw an historic synagogue from Sibbald moved to Heritage Park. Ray Lee of the Sien Lok Society will also relate some of the tactics used to save Calgary’s historic Chinatown from “urban renewal” and Laura Golebiowski from Project Brewery will discuss the ongoing fascination with the old Calgary Brewing and Malting site and what the future may hold for it.

Wrapping up the evening is our own Carolyn Ryder who will give us an update on the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (which is the source of most of the pictures I use in this blog). As always there will be time for everyone to ask questions, chat and enjoy some refreshments. To register for the Heritage Roundtable, please call 403-244-4111 or register online at

It will be held in the John Dutton Theatre on the second floor of the Central Library – access either through the library or from the stairs under the +15 on Macleod Trail SE, east of the library doors. Doors open at 6:30 and the speakers get underway at 7:00. I cannot stress nearly enough how informative and valuable these roundtable sessions are to people who are interested in the heritage of their city. I always learn something new and I always meet the most interesting people at these events. I strongly urge you to attend.

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Commercial Buidlings in Chinatown, 1967

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AF 0509

Finding Women in your Tree

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

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Woman on Horseback Jumping Car, Gleichen

Postcards from the Past, PC 1620

I signed up for a webinar that was called Chasing Women – it wasn’t for swinging singles, it was about finding your female ancestors. The presenter was Leland Meitzler, a well-known figure in the genealogical community.

Anyone who’s done even a little bit of genealogy knows the difficulties connected with finding female ancestors. We change our names, fib about our ages, change our hair colour (oops, that last one has nothing to do with genealogy!) You know what I mean, right? For example, I found my great-great-grandmother’s death registration and she was listed as Mrs. Stewart Coghlan – no first name, no maiden name. Not a particularly helpful document for tracking down her family line.

The webinar suggested some very good resources to help us get over the hurdles we encounter when researching the females in our family. First, a couple of very good books to help with “matrilineal descent” is The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer and A Genealogists Guide to Discovering your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. Although the emphasis is on American research, both contain a number of research paths that could be applied to any nationality.

So what did Leland recommend? First he listed what he called the “no-brainers”, those resources we would check anyway like marriage documents, family Bibles, death certificates, birth certificates, obituaries and the like. It was really driven home to me this weekend in our Family History Coaching program just how valuable an obituary can be. A customer showed me his great-grandmother’s obituary which listed all of her daughters by their married names and her brothers – hence, her maiden name.

Leland also suggested some more obscure ways of finding maiden names and married names. Things like the census, where, although the woman is listed by her married name, there may be an in-law or two living with the family. Probate records may also list daughters by married name. Sometimes cemetery transcripts can show family members buried next to each other, or land records may show land being sold to family members. Newspapers are invaluable. Gossip columns may include former names or indications of relationships. Other clues can sometimes be gained by looking at family names, sometimes the maiden name of the mother is used as a middle name. Local histories may include information regarding maiden names, other family members and the married names of daughters. Family collections may be lodged in local history societies or in archives or libraries in the town of origin. That is always worth checking.

You can also hope that your research leads you to a country where women retain their maiden names or combine them with their husband’s surnames. For example, French women use their maiden names on legal documents. In Germany and Poland, Catholic registers list deaths by the maiden name and in Hispanic countries names of the mother and father are often combined.

Whatever your path, remember that more and more information is being indexed, more and more is being digitized. What you couldn’t find last year may be easy to find this year, so don’t give up hope.

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Womens' Orchestra, 1910

Postcards from the Past, PC 1744