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The McKay House

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 1434

McKay House, circa 1960s

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1434

When Point McKay was developed, I was still young enough to mourn the loss of the Cinema Park Drive- In rather than contemplate the origin of the name or the heritage that it represented. At the time it looked like a great expanse of empty land – I had no idea what it was. And then I forgot about it.

And that is what is so great about my job. A customer came in looking for information about the old house in Point McKay. “What old house,” I asked in my ignorance. Well, there is an old sandstone house in amongst all the new development, which is being used as a community centre. So, of course, I had to remedy my ignorance and do some digging (I know – it’s unforgivable that I didn’t know about this, but hey, I was diverted by the drive-in!)

What I uncovered was a fascinating story of a real pioneer family. Alfred McKay originally came to this area on the original CPR survey in 1880. In 1886 he returned to Calgary and squatted on a beautiful plot of land on the Bow, across the river from the CPR line and the sandstone bluffs above it. He built a log cabin and by 1891 he had clear title to his homestead. To build his house, he would quarry sandstone across the river and, when the river had frozen, he would move the stone across to his plot. It took him several years to quarry the stone and build the house, but, according to his son Gordon, all was completed by 1904 and the family moved in. In an article, written at the time of the naming of Point McKay, Gordon and his sister, Mrs. G.S. Lord (yes, that was how women were addressed then), remembered that the house was quite modern for its time; it had a bathtub and running water and a pump run by a windmill (or by the kids, depending on the weather). The children remembered their father’s mustache, which he had sworn never to shave off as a reminder of the friends he had made on the survey. Alfred’s wife died in 1908, leaving him with seven children to raise. The house was added to over the years, making more room for the growing family.

Alfred lived in the home he had built until his death in 1940. He had donated 50 acres of his homestead to the city, land that became Shouldice Park. The house stayed in the family’s hands until 1953. That was when the land became Calgary’s largest drive-in, the Cinema Park. In the late 70s land in the city, especially on the river, was becoming a bit too pricey for something like a drive-in (and residents of Parkdale were likely never happy that it was there in the first place) so by 1978 show units were being built by Campeau. The house was nearly lost, as vandals set fire to it in 1977, but it was saved and turned into the community centre by the developer.

So, one of the wonderful old homes in the city still lives on its original site, thanks to the developer and early exponents of heritage preservation. I like learning about success stories.

If you have a home with a great story behind it, or would like to find out if your homes has a hidden past, or if you’re just curious about the history of houses in Calgary, join us on March 9 for “Research the History of your House.” Librarians, archivists and researchers from the three members of our “Heritage Triangle” (City Archives, Glenbow Museum, Library and Archives, and Calgary Public Library) will be on hand to introduce you to the wonderful world of house history. It takes place at 10:30 in the morning in Meeting Room 1, Lower Level, Central Library. Register online, in person or by telephone at 403-260-2620.

ARticle from Sep 28 1940 Calgary Herald

Photograph of Alfred S. McKay on the occasion of his 80th Birthday

Calgary Herald, September 28, 1940, p10

'88 Winter Olympics

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Pam File


Come together in Calgary, Host city for the XV Olympic Winter Games, 1988

Promotional publication from the CHFH Collection

It is hard to believe (and even harder for me to admit) but it has been 25 years since the winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988. I was working at the Central Library at the time and it was the most wonderful and weird experience I have ever had. People from all over the world speaking languages I didn’t even know existed, were here in our little town. The place was really hoppin’ and we were here in the middle of it. For ten days we were a cosmopolitan city. And I think that once we had the taste of this worldliness, we were hooked. The city changed forever after 1988. We had been given the example of what we could be and we wanted it. We were Cowtown no more.

You can capture some of the optimism that gripped the city by checking out the documentary history of the Olympics. I’d forgotten what a treasure trove we have here in the Local History room until one of my colleagues from our Virtual Services popped down to see if we had anything cool she could photograph for our Facebook page. Well, that set me off on a tangent – sometimes we get carried away and return way too much information, just like Google. I uncovered endless shelves of material that we had collected from the time of the original idea, through the bid process and on through the development and then the games themselves. My colleague was entranced by the volunteer handbook - a major document handed out to all the Olympic volunteers along with their teal blue jackets. This was an appropriate item for her to feature, as it embodied, more than any other item, the spirit of those volunteers and the pride Calgary can take in the fact that this voluntarism continues to be a distinguishing characteristic of our city.

The Olympics made us feel special, and we’ve managed to hold on to that feeling. If you’d like to relive that magical moment, visit us at the Central Library on the 4th floor and check out some of the really cool items we have in the collection. We’d love to see you.

from news releases

Artist's rendering of the proposed Canada Olympic Park at Paskapoo, 1983

From a collection of press releases in the Local History collection

Black History Month

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Black History Month

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.

Alberta is a fairly young province and most of us are descendents of immigrants of either internal or external. Our people came from all over the world, but we are often unaware of the history of black people in our province. Most of us know about John Ware, a former slave, who became a legendary cowboy and rancher in Southern Alberta. But many of us do not know of the settlers who came and established towns such as Breton, Campsie, Wildwood and Amber Valley. Many came from Oklahoma, which became a state in 1907. The government there made it quite clear that black people would be segregated and treated differently from the white settlers who were rushing in to homestead. Many of the state’s black residents fled to Canada, about 1000 to Alberta and Saskatchewan. They did not have an easy time of it. Canadians were alarmed by the influx of these immigrants and tried various measures to keep them out. In 1911 an Order in Council was passed which deemed African Americans unsuitable for the climate in Canada and prohibited their immigration. When they did arrive, they faced the difficult reality of the land which they were homesteading. They were in heavy bush which had to be cleared by hand. The land was not exactly productive and many men had to work in Edmonton to support their families. In spite of this they stayed and Amber Valley, alone among the other primarily black settlements, survived into the middle of the 20th century.

The history of the immigration of African Americans into the Prairie Provinces is a story of determination and courage. You can find out more about it in the Community Heritage and Family History collection at the Central Library. We have The Window of our Memories volumes 1 and 2 , by Velma Carter, which is the story of Black pioneers in Alberta and includes the stories of those pioneers and their descendants. Another very interesting book in our Local History collection is Deemed Unsuitable by R. Bruce Shepard which looks at the problem of racism on both sides of the border and how it affected the immigration of African-Americans into the Canadian Prairies For an interesting twist on the John Ware story, we have a graphic novel by a local author, The Duchess Ranch of Old John Ware by James Davidge and Bob Prodor. (You can find other works by searching the library catalogue using the subject terms “Black Canadians History”). We have also included a list of related works in our History and Current Events NextReads newsletter for February. You can sign up for these newsletters here. These works tell us a lot about the immigration of black people into Canada, but they also have a lot to tell us about ourselves and how Canada came to be. It is not always easy to read, but it is crucial to our understanding of our history and our future.

You can find out about related programs on the Calgary Public Library website.

Information about the nation-wide celebration can be found on the Government of Canada Citizenship and Immigration website. The theme for this year’s celebration is Black Canadians in Law Enforcement and Black soldiers in the War of 1812 You can also find interesting facts and stories at the Historica site.

CPL BHM

Upcoming Heritage Programs in Calgary

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Baintunnur Mosque Calgary

Baitunnur Mosque, Calgary

Courtesty the Baitunnur Mosque

Heritage Matters: Designing the Baitunnur Mosque in Calgary with Architect Manu Chugh

The Calgary Heritage Authority invites you to the first Heritage Matters of 2013, featuring Architect Manu Chugh. Learn about the design of the Baitunnur Mosque in Northeast Calgary. This event is being held at the Central Library on the south side of the main floor on February 22 at 5:30. There is no charge but we’d like you to register for the program.

Chinook Country Historical Society monthly program: The History of the Calgary Local Council of Women with noted author Marjorie Norris

The Calgary Local Council of Women was an important lobby group, tackling social and political issues at the beginning of the 20th century, a time when women were starting to assert their political power. Ms Norris will also talk about the role of nursing sisters in the First World War. It is a free program and will be held in the Burnswest Theatre at Fort Calgary on February 26 at 7:30 pm. You can find a more detailed description as well as see the upcoming programs at the Chinook Country website.

Research the History of Your House

In preparation for the next round of Century Homes displays we will be offering Research the History of Your House on March 9 at 10:30 on the 4th floor of the Central Library. We will be joined by our colleagues from the City Archives and the Glenbow Museum Library. Our presentation will present resources from all three institutions to help you uncover the history of your house, whether a hundred years old or younger. This will be great for Century Homes participants but also for anyone who is interested in the history of their house, the people who lived in it or their community. This was a very popular program last year, so register early.

Historical Gardens of Calgary

Following our presentation on March 9 we will be hosting Janet Melrose, Calgary’s Cottage Gardener, who will present a slide show and information about the Historical Gardens of Calgary. This program begins at 1 and will be held in Meeting Room 1 on the lower level of the Central Library. This program is filling up fast, so register soon.

Planning with Heritage in Mind

The Federation of Calgary Communities and The City of Calgary have collaborated to present “Planning With Heritage in Mind ", part of their “Partners In Planning" courses. These free workshops educate community members and the public about the planning process. This program will talk cover Heritage Planning. The Municipal Development Plan and the Calgary Heritage Strategy present a new vision where the City works with a range of stakeholders including communities to build a culture of preservation. It will include an introduction to the preservation principles of “identification, protection and management” which will be illustrated with local case studies. The program takes place on March 16, from 9:00am to 12:00pm at the Thorncliffe/Greenview Community Association: 5600 Centre Street North. Please register for this program at the Federation of Calgary Communities website.


In May 4 and 5 we will have another series of Jane’s Walks – more on that in the future, but check out The Calgary Foundation website if you’d like more information or to volunteer to be a leader.

Also, starting June 2 and running until October 27 (Saturday or Sunday, 2 pm) the cemetery tours of Union, Burnsland and St. Mary’s start up again. For more information check the 2013 Parks Program Guide.

PC 256

CPR Station Gardens, Calgary, ca 1915?

Postcards from the Past, PC 256

Thanks to Bob van Wegen for the information. If you have a heritage related program you would like us to include in our blog postings, please contact me via the comments section below.