Museum at Calgary Public Library, 1912
Calgary Public Library Archives, CPL 103-26-01
This year I thought I would resolve to follow my nose, just like Toucan Sam, and research the things that really caught my eye, no matter how bizarre. Appropriately, as I was reading Harry the Historian’s Twitter feed I saw an article he had posted dating from December 29, 1913 that announced that buffalo meat was available for the first time in many years, from P. Burns and Co. The meat had come from two buffalo culled from the government ranch herd at Wainwright. Even one hundred years ago the buffalo was a novelty on the prairies and animals were protected at the Wainwright ranch. These particular animals were on their way to be mounted and placed in the Calgary Public Library. Hmmm. Weird thing to have at the library, don’t you think? So, to follow through on my resolution, I am going to find out what became of these beasts and why they were headed to the library.
When the Calgary Public Library first opened its doors in 1912, it had extra space that was not being used — probably the first and last time that ever happened at a library — so when Dr. Euston Sisley and the Calgary Natural History Society looked to establish a museum, it was housed on the second floor of the new library. We have a picture of it in our archives (see above). There are no buffalo evident in that photo, but I am guessing that the beasties were actually headed to the museum, not the library. By 1914 the Library needed more space (surprise) so the museum collection was moved to the basement of the courthouse.
Courthouse, ca 1906
Postcards from the Past, PC 1259
The collection continued to grow, especially after the museum was given to the City of Calgary. It became the Calgary Public Museum in 1928 and the collections were moved to the North West Travellers building. Long before the Tyrell museum, our own municipal museum housed one of the few specimens of duck billed dinosaurs in the world. The collection grew and became quite impressive. A 1932 article from the Herald lists some of the finest collections including trilobites, an outstanding coin and medal collection and Oliver Cromwell’s spectacles. A slightly later article (December 15, 1934) includes a photo of the natural exhibits including deer and a very large moose. There is a buffalo hiding at the back. By all accounts this was an excellent museum, somewhat lacking in focus, perhaps, but its collection of 8,000 items was a credit to the city. So what happened? Well, the depression happened. As was the case with many of the jewels in this city’s crown, the financial strain became too much and the museum closed its doors in 1935.
From there the story of Calgary’s museum and its specimens, including the buffalo, takes a sorry turn. The collections were put in the basement of the Coste House, which was another victim of the depression. The city had taken ownership of the house due to unpaid taxes. The collections were stowed there with no measures taken to ensure their safety or condition. Over the years some of the items were moved, including one of the buffalo, which was given to the Stampede and used outside the NWMP hut during Stampede week. The other two, likely the ones mentioned in Harry’s clipping, were stored in the street railway barns and finally burned in 1946. Sigh.
"Into the Incinterator"
The Albertan, October 2, 1946
Sorry for the downer New Year’s post but here’s to a happy and heritage 2014. It will only get better!