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  • Oct 15 - The Empress of Ireland - This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. Her legacy in Canadian immigration lives on
  • Oct 7 - World War I Remembered - Calgary Public Library is offering some great programs to commemorate the start of WWI
  • Sep 30 - The Cecil Hotel - The Cecil Hotel is in the news again and its not looking good for the old fella
  • Sep 23 - Fall is the Season for Heritage Programs - There are a lot of very cool heritage events taking place over the next few weeks
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Welcome Home, Soldier

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PC 965

Dinner time for 192nd Battalion, Sarcee Camp, 1916

Postcards from the Past, PC 965

We were delighted to be a part of the last Heritage Roundtable which examined community initiatives and really turned into a celebration of all the grass roots organizations that are dedicated to preserving our heritage. Our little part was to show a few of the resources that we have available at the Calgary Public Library for researching community history. One of the sources that I didn’t cover was land records and I was reminded of two land schemes that were very important to the development of the city and the province.

After each of the two world wars Canadian soldiers were offered some opportunities to help them adapt to post-war life. After World War I, the Soldier Settlement Act was introduced to help returning soldiers re-establish themselves and to pump up agricultural production, thereby aiding in the economic recovery of the country. Soldiers were encouraged to take up homesteads on the prairies, with government loans of $2500 to help with the purchase of equipment and livestock. Returning servicemen stampeded to take up this offer. This required the Settlement Board to find more land than that which was available for homesteads. They found this land by designating certain privately held parcels as settlement areas. The board was also given the right to acquire land on Indian Reserves, school lands and forest reserves. This venture was of mixed success and much has been written on this topic (two particularly good articles, one by E.C. Morgan in Saskatchewan History Spring 1968 and one by Sarah Carter in Manitoba History Spring/Summer 1999 – both available in the Local History Room)

In Alberta, one of the settlements was just east of Carbon, on land leased to the Pope Ranch. Even now, the area is still known as the Pope Lease. You can read about the Pope family (Rufus Henry Pope was a Member of Parliament and was named Senator by Sir Robert Borden) in the history of the Carbon area, Carbon: Our History, Our Heritage (available through Our Future Our Past).

After the end of the second war a similar scheme was enacted for the soldiers returning from that conflict. The Veterans’ Land Act sought to overcome some of the problems that were created by the Soldier Settlement Act and so gave the soldiers more latitude and more opportunity. With a small down-payment soldiers could get a government loan to help buy land. More money was available for equipment and livestock. The veterans were encouraged to settle on small holdings or in the suburbs of larger cities. Lots in several outlying areas of Calgary were set aside for the ex-servicemen including Mount View/Winston Heights and Bowness. Members of the Bowness Historical Society were at the Heritage Roundtable talking about their community initiative which was to produce a second volume of their community history. This volume contains stories of the “Settlement”, which was itself a tight-knit community within the tight knit community of Bowness. Forty-seven houses were built by Bennett and White on land purchased from John Lawrie. Lots were approximately one acre, allowing for small scale agriculture such as gardens, bee hives and chicken coops. In the map below, of Bowness in 1959, shows the larger lots of the Soldiers Settlement area. (This map is also available in the Local History Room).

There are lots of very interesting bits of information to be gleaned out there. At the Heritage Roundtables we are always finding out more about our city and, of course, here at the Central Library we have the wonderful treasure trove that is our Local History collection. Come and visit us, you never know what you'll find.

Map CALG 10

Veterans Land Act Lots in Bowness

Historic Map Collection, CALG 10

 

Snowdon Building: A Success Story

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

JU

C.C. Snowdon Building, 2010 11 Street SE, a diamond in the rough

Judith Umbach Collection

Sometimes we in the heritage community get to hear about something not being torn down. These are the stories that make our day. I read a tweet the other day about just one such success story. Heritage Property Corporation, a development company noted (and appreciated) for its restoration and adaptation of historic buildings, has undertaken a massive project in Ramsay. They are restoring and redeveloping the Snowdon building on 11th Street SE. It was particularly heartening because this was exactly the kind of building that could have been razed with no one complaining. It is an industrial site, once the home of C.C. Snowdon Company, a wholesaler, refiner and importer of oil and gas products. The building is, quite frankly, an “ugly duckling.” But the developer saw the value and the potential in this building and is in the process of turning it into a red-brick beauty.

C.C. Snowdon (Campbell Camillus – don’t you love that name?) was born on May 16, 1881 in Montreal, the son of Cornelius Camillus Snowdon and Maria Peck. He graduated from Westmount school and worked for Imperial Oil before coming out to the west with the Canadian Oil Company. He formed his own company, C.C. Snowdon Co. in 1907. The first building on the site in Ramsay was a simple wooden shack. Around 1911 he built a red brick building, complete with an arched doorway. It was quite elegant for an industrial building. Over the next three years, more building was done on the site. His venture was very successful and eventually the company expanded into Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Edmonton. C.C. Snowdon was an important part of the fabric of the Ramsay area, providing employment for many.

At the time of his death he was living in Mount Royal on Durham Avenue. He was a member of the Glencoe club and was very active in the community. According to the article in the Calgary Herald that was written following his death in 1935, he gave extensively to charity, but preferred his donations remained anonymous. His family continued to run the company after his death until 1960, when the shares were sold and the company was developed into Turbo Resources. The Ramsay warehouse was in operation until 1983. In 1988 a fire destroyed part of the building and it was left unrepaired until the current developer purchased the site in 2008. As part of the redevelopment, a two story addition will be built in the area that was damaged by the fire.

I love to hear stories about buildings that are saved from the brink by the foresight and inventiveness of dedicated people. Especially when they are ugly ducklings.

The "Little Giant" Tommy Burns

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PC 831The Norman Block, ca 1910s

We recently worked on a question for a customer looking for information on an ancestor. We do that a lot and it is always interesting, but we don’t always blog about it. This time I’m going to because the person we are researching was a famous boxer who lived and worked in Calgary in the early part of the 20th Century. I had heard of him, in passing, but didn’t know too much about him, except that a fire started in his clothing store and spread to the rest of the Norman Block, burning it down for the third time.

I didn’t know what a fascinating life the “Little Giant” had led. He was born Noah Brosso into a family that would soon grow to 13 children, only 8 of whom would grow to adulthood. Noah was small, but feisty and athletic and tried his hand at speed skating, soccer, and lacrosse before realizing he was a boxer born and made. Well, born Noah, he soon became Tommy Burns, a more Irish sounding name, and less stressful for his poor mother who feared he would sully his family name.

He fought all through the United States, becoming World Heavyweight Champion, the only Canadian to do so. He was a pioneer in many ways, defending his championship against all comers in all countries, no matter what their race or colour. He travelled the world defending his World Championship, this was the only way to make it truly a World Championship, he felt. He also was the first World Champion to fight a title bout with a "man of colour." Jack Johnson, a Texan and child of slaves, had tried to box in a championship match before, but all previous champs refused, upholding boxing’s colour bar. Tommy was different and agreed to meet Johnson, but the bout had to be fought outside of the US in Australia. Tommy did not win this fight, which was stopped by police and the title went to Johnson, who became the first black heavyweight champion of the world. Burns didn’t quite retire from fighting. He beat Billy Lang to become the champion of the British Empire, but the boxing had lost its magic and Tommy needed to find something else to do. He would become a manager of fighters.

So far, so good. But what does this have to do with Calgary? Well, Tommy settled in Calgary and opened a clothing store in the Norman Block, with his brother as manager. He also groomed fighters and promoted bouts. One of the fighters that Tommy thought would have a shot at a title was Arthur Pelkey. He would need some bouts and some headlines to be able to challenge Johnson, so a match was set up for him against Luther McCarty who was also thought to be a likely contender for the championship. Burns arranged a bout between the two at the arena he had built just outside of the city limits (as boxing was illegal in the city, if admission was charged). Tickets were sold at Burns’s clothing store and were sold out in no time. On the day of the bout, Burns hired eight streetcars from the city to take the spectators out to the venue.

PC 1581Peleky McCarty bout

On the night of the bout, observers noticed that McCarty didn’t look too well. He’d fought a hard bout and was later thrown from a horse. A doctor examined him and declared him fit to fight. Early in the first round, Luther took a hard punch from Pelkey that dropped him to the ground. He didn’t get up. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Luther McCarty was dead.

Burns was charged with manslaughter in the death as was Pelkey. The Manchester Arena mysteriously burned to the ground. The death of a fighter fuelled calls for further prohibition on boxing matches. Both Pelkey and Burns were found to be not responsible for the death, but Pelkey lost the will to fight and Burns’s reputation suffered. He was broke, so in 1918 he climbed into the ring again and beat Tex Foster. He fought the British Champion Joe Beckett in 1919 but was knocked out. That was the first and last time Tommy Burns hit the canvas. He hung up his gloves and became a publican and vaudeville performer. Late in his life he found religion and became an evangelist. He died in 1955 on a visit to Vancouver and is buried there.

PC 1071The Deathbed of Luther McCarty Tommy Burns Library of Congress Bain collTommy Burns with his Championship Belt, Library of Congress, Bain Collection B2-2103-14

Calgary's French Connection

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PC 652

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Calgary, dated 1909

Postcards from the Past, PC 652

When we think of Canada’s French Canadian population we rarely think of our city. Did you know that it was a French speaking person who welcomed the North West Mounted Police when they arrived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers in 1875? Father Doucet, an Oblate, in the area to minister to the First Nations tribes who called this area home, had already established a mission at the site. The Mounties thought the area would be ideal for their fort and so asked the missionaries to move further up the Elbow. The area where they finally established their mission, Notre Dame de la Paix, eventually became Rouleaville, Calgary’s first French community.

The presence of the mission attracted other Catholic development including a hospital, cathedral, convent and schools. St. Mary’s school, started in a log cabin in 1885, is still in operation, albeit in a newer building. The settlement attracted other Francophones including Metis who were employed as the 19th century equivalent of truck drivers, moving freight in and out of Fort Benton. Father Lacombe, the visionary behind this community, sought official status for the area of land the Oblate fathers were occupying and was ceded the rights to two quarter sections. This furthered the development of the area and soon French speaking businessmen and professionals were building their mansions in the area. The earliest of these were the Rouleau brothers, Charles and Edward. (aj 1142) Charles’ lovely mansion is gone, demolished in 1939 to make way for the Athlone Apartments, but Edward’s house was moved to a spot behind the old St. Mary’s Parish Hall (now Alberta Ballet) and still stands.

AJ 1142

Dr. Edward Rouleau Residence, 114 18 Avenue SW, ca 1972

Moved to vacant lot behind the Alberta Ballet building (141 18 Avenue SW)

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1142

The existence of a French community in Calgary is unknown to many of us. La Bureau de Visibilite de Calgary and La Societe Franco-Canadienne de Calgary sponsor Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie throughout the month of March. On the 22nd of the month, these organizations along with the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association and the Calgary Public Library are presenting, in English, “Rouleauville – Calgary’s French Connection” at the John Dutton Theatre of the Central Library at 2:00. Admission is free. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about an important part of Calgary’s early history. See you there.

PC 136

Sacred Heart Convent, built 1893

Postcards from the Past, PC 136