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Matters of Money

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

 

1913 Muncipal Manual

City of Calgary Municipal Manual

Currently on display on the 4th floor of the Central Library

 

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least amount of hissing.” Jean Baptiste Colbert, 1619-1683

City Council is meeting this week to discuss the next budget and it looks like our taxes may be going up again. Governments have to get their money somewhere, and taxation and fees are generally the way they go about it. This topic came up when I was talking to the students at King George School. They will be doing a project to celebrate their school’s centennial and I wanted to tell them what life was like in Calgary in 1913. I consulted the Municipal Manual for that year (we have a complete collection of the manuals in the Local History Room at the Central Library) to find out general facts about the city and found some of the fees and taxes charged in 1913. Things were not much different then, we paid taxes based on a mill rate which was based on the assessed value of the house. Citizens could challenge their assessments if they felt they were out of line. We were charged for water, fees for taxis were set out as were fees that chimney sweeps could charge. What is a little different was how these fees were calculated. For example, annual water rates were calculated first by the number of rooms in the dwelling starting at $5.00 for five rooms and going up $10.00 for 15 rooms with 50 cents charged for each additional room. Added to the base rate were charges for each “additional convenience” such as a sink, toilet or bathtub ($1.00 for each of these). You were also charged $1.00 for a lawn and $1.00 for the first horse or cow and 50 cents for each additional animal. There were separate rates for commercial customers, hotels, churches and other concerns ($40.00 for a public skating rink for example)

The city government also raised money by charging for licenses. To hold a circus on a public holiday or during exhibition week, the license cost $500. At other times of the year it w as $200 unless the daily entrance fee was under 25 cents, for which the license was only $100. It was $4 to register your female dog, $2 for a male. Junk stores (remember those?) had to pay a license fee of $50 while a rag and bottle man paid only $5.

These fees are only meaningful if we have a look at what other things cost at the time. A lot in Capitol Hill was listed at $400 while a lot on 13th Avenue W (a much tonier neighbourhood) was $2200. A seven room bungalow-style house in Mount Royal, on a 53 foot lot, was listed at $8500 (and even then the lot was advertised as being very good site for an apartment block) while homes in the Ogden district were selling for $1600 to $2000. The going rate for a general, all-round servant was about $30 a month and employment in the new field of movie projectionist would net you about $25 a week. A good man’s suit could be had for $15 and a pair of ladies Radium brand stockings sold for 50 cents. Twenty pounds of sugar cost $1.10 while a pound of English coffee (don’t know, I’ve had coffee in England and that isn’t a recommendation but…) was 24 cents.

1913 was the beginning of the end of one of Calgary’s famous booms. Land speculators who had pinned their hopes on the expansion of the city to the north of the Bow would sell their land at bargain basement prices and growth would be stalled. Fees didn’t go down, though, and new ones were added ($25 a year for a gumball machine license in 1916). Then, in 1917 a temporary measure was introduced to help finance Canada’s part in the First World War – the income tax – and we are still waiting for that one to be revoked.

PC 50

 

Eighth Avenue Looking East, ca 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 50

Calgary's Chequered Past: Auto Racing in the Stampede City

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1270

Demonstration by the 100,000 Club

Postcards from the Past, PC 1270

I had the immense joy of being at Phoenix International Raceway for the infamous Sprint car race that saw a huge brawl in the pits after one driver deliberately forced another into the wall. It was a melee worthy of the sport. The race was only a part of the experience, however. NASCAR in the south is a cultural event and there were food vendors, beer gardens, souvenir shops, you name it and you could probably buy it at the track, for a wildly inflated price. You can visit the paddock and see the cars in their stalls and talk with the folks who make the cars go. What it really reminded me of was the Calgary Stampede without the barn smell.

That got me to thinking – the Calgary Stampede should think about having car racing as part of their events. What a novel idea, except, it has already been done. Back when cars were a novelty, the events at the Calgary Exhibition included a race on the half mile oval at Victoria Park, where horse racing normally took place. The first race was at the Exhibition of 1917 and included at least one driver who had competed in the Indianapolis 500. Also scheduled was a race between an “aviatrix” in her airplane and George Clark, the Indy 500 racer. This was cancelled due to high winds but would be on the minds of organizers into the next decade, when they scheduled Freddy McCall to race his plane against an automobile. This event was also cancelled, as Capt. McCall had been forced to land his airplane on top of the merry-go-round on the midway during a demonstration flight the day before.

Auto racing brought in hundreds of excited spectators and would be a large part of the Exhibition for several years. When the Exhibition merged with the Stampede in 1923, the track and infield area were given over to rodeo events and the car races put off to the end of the fair. But by then the novelty of car racing had worn off. Victoria Park would be used for car racing again, in the 1940s and 50s but as cars became more powerful, dirt tracks, especially those used for horse racing as well, could not accommodate them. A number of purpose-built tracks and tracks adapted for motor racing (such as the Chinook Jockey Club track which became Springbank Speedway) would be opened and closed in Calgary over the years. For more information about racing in Calgary, have a look at The Speediest Land Traveller by Richard McDonell

CDH July 1919

Panoramic view of the auto races at the 1919 Calgary Exhibition

Calgary Daily Herald, July 7, 1919 p12-13

Give Me Shelter: Civil Defense in Calgary

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Calgary Herald photograph

Civil Defense Headquarters bunker

Calgary Herald, March 29, 1955

I had the privilege of hearing some of this city’s great historians at the Heritage Weekend. Max Foran, Hugh Dempsey, Nancy Townsend and Harry Sanders all spoke about great Calgary characters and events. The highlight of the afternoon had to be Brian Brennan talking about Paddy Nolan and finishing up with “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, a song that Paddy may have enjoyed himself. All the presentations were excellent, capping off a really great weekend of heritage programs.

Dr. Foran spoke on an event which is somewhat amusing, but also speaks to the fears faced by many during the Cold War years. I had originally done some research on this story when I was looking for information about the fate of the air-raid sirens that were scattered throughout the city. There had been one in the yard of my kindergarten (which was held in the community hall) and I always wondered what they were for. Digging into the clippings files in the local history room, I found a wealth of information about civil defense and, particularly, about Operation Lifesaver, the topic of Dr. Foran’s talk.

The idea behind Operation Lifesaver was to practice an evacuation of a portion of Calgary, to simulate what might happen in the event of an enemy attack. So, the Civil Defense Authority planned the evacuation of a quadrant of the city, requiring the population to pack up and move to designated safe spots outside of Calgary. This was planned for September 21, 1955 and the quadrant chosen was the northeast. The population of that area was about 40,000 people at that time. Most were expected to participate. The populace was asked to fill out cards (such as the one below) to indicate whether they had a car, how many people the car could hold, whether they were physically capable of participating, ages of any children etc. Calgary Herald

Calgary Herald, May 5, 1955

The headquarters of the Civil Defense Authority were in a specially built bunker in the Municipal Golf Course (now Shaganappi Point). The photo above isof the interior of the bunker taken from the Calgary Herald of May 29, 1955.

In the end, Operation Lifesaver was postponed due to bad weather (it snowed quite heavily on September 21). When it took place, a week later, smoke bombs were detonated and the air-raid sirens wailed. Only 10,000 (as reported in the papers, but some estimates put it at only 3000) of the 40,000 population participated, but it was still hailed as a great success. It was the first of its kind, where citizens were directed out of the city, and cities across North America took note.

This would not be the last civil defense drill Calgarians would be subjected to. By the 1960s the focus had changed from preparing for an enemy invasion to surviving a nuclear detonation. To that end, the government released the pamphlet “Your basement fallout shelter”. This booklet, pictured here, includes a message from our PM, John Diefenbaker and complete plans for the building of a fallout shelter and instructions on how to live in it after the nuclear disaster. It is made clear in the instructions that this is not a bomb shelter, so it wasn’t advisable to hide in the shelter to escape explosions; it was designed to protect the homeowner from nuclear fallout, assuming they survived the initial blast.

Pam file

So in the next exercise, in November of 1961, the sirens sounded to alert the population to a mock nuclear attack. Most of downtown was unaffected. The people, having not heard the sirens, continued on about their business. Some sirens didn’t sound at all. An investigation blamed dirt for the malfunction.

If you would like to find out more about Canada’s civil defense policy, Andrew Burtch has just published Give Me Shelter which examines the effectiveness (or lack thereof) Canada’s policies during the Cold War. (This title is on our NextReads History and Current Events newsletter. You can sign up for it here.) CBC was on hand to film the exercise. The video is available through their archives. You can see the clippings and the booklet on building a fallout shelter in the Community Heritage and Family History Room on the fourth floor of the Central Library.

Bob Edwards

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Eye Opener June 15 1907

Cartoon from The Eye Opener, depicting editor Bob Edwards

Saturday June 15, 1907 p1

The Calgary Public Library Foundation is hosting the 37th annual Bob Edwards Award Gala this week at the Fairmont Palliser. This year’s winner is Mary Walsh who is best known for her own brand of journalism in This Hour has 22 Minutes. The Gala will raise funds for the Calgary Public Library Foundation.

Bob Edwards, for those of you who may not have heard of him, was the publisher of the newspaper The Eye-Opener, in various incarnations and locations, from 1902 until 1922. The newspaper was published in High River, Calgary, Port Arthur, Winnipeg and Calgary, again, on a fairly erratic schedule. It was unlike any other newspaper in town. Alan Fotheringham, in his introduction to Irresponsible Freaks, Highball Guzzlers & Unabashed Grafters: A Bob Edwards Chrestomathy says that The Eye-Opener “frightened the bejeezus out of Calgary….It could – and did- make or break politicians.” Edwards pulled no punches. The publisher of the Calgary Daily News, Daniel McGillicuddy, called Edwards “a ruffian, a moral leper” and “a skunk…” He also promised to prove that Bob was “a libeler, a character thief, a coward, a liar, a drunkard, a dope dealer and a degenerate.” Only the drunkard part could probably have been proven; Edwards’ relationship with alcohol was well known. If The Eye-Opener wasn’t published for a few weeks, Edwards would publish an apology saying he had been under the weather with “let us say, a very bad cold”

Though his politics were right-leaning, he would savage politicians no matter what their political stripe. His weapon was satire and he had a deadly sense of humour. For example, in the thick of the debate of which Alberta city would become the new province’s capital, Edwards, seeing that the cards were stacked against Calgary, wrote this imagined scenario, reportedly taken from the Edmonton Bulletin:

Dr. Lafferty yesterday became the first lieutenant-governor of the new province of Alberta. Edmonton was en fete. It was her first gala day since the hanging of King at the fort.

Lafferty was in great form. Every eye was bent on that weird figure as he was driven amid wild huzzahs to the scene of his inauguration, escorted by a body guard of influential real estate sharks. The tepees and shacks on either side of Main Street were tastefully decorated with bunting and streamers… while the goats on the roofs of the Irish quarter shook their shaggy beards in sympathy with the occasion.

The new lieutenant-governor ever and anon stood up in his carriage and raised his hat, smiling fatuously and wagging his head, at which hundreds and hundreds of partially Seagramized citizens raised their voices in enthusiastic acclaim…The sound of cannons issued from every billiard hall, and the screams from the neighboring asylum gave the scene a characteristic local tone. (The Eye-Opener, March 18, 1905, p1)

Edwards, along with his ability to puncture the most inflated ego, also had a soft spot for those at the other end of society. He weighed in on such topics as the inadequate wages paid by Eaton’s to their female employees, the plight of the other “working girls” and the working poor. He was an excellent journalist who was quoted by publications across the country and in the US. There are some wonderful collections of his work: Irresponsible Freaks mentioned above, and The Wit and Wisdom of Bob Edwards edited by Hugh Dempsey. Eye-Opener Bob by Grant MacEwan tells the story of Edwards’ life and career and there is an excellent short bio in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography which is accessible through the Calgary Public Library E-library. But to really appreciated Bob Edwards, you have to read his newspaper. The Eye Opener is available on microfilm in the Local History room at the Central Library. It is also available online at the Our Future Our Past website.

Bob Edwards' Residence, photographed just before demolition in 1968

919 4th Avenue SW

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0564

AJ0564