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Christmas 1914

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1562"The 103rd out of Calgary left yesterday for war" Postcards from the Past

Christmas of 1914 was significant because it was the first “war Christmas.” Canadian troops were not yet involved to a large extent in the hostilities, but many men were training in England over the Christmas period. The war diaries for that time (accessible through Library and Archives Canada Archivianet) show that the Canadian soldiers in England were in training but had Christmas day off and attended services, had dinner and were entertained. The National Liberal Club in London was asking for volunteers to provide holiday hospitality to the estimated 5,000 Canadian troops who would be at loose ends in the city over the Christmas vacation.

There were field hospitals set up and they were seeing a lot of soldiers with influenza and meningitis, which were believed to have been caused by the damp and chilly conditions of the camps on Salisbury Plain. The pundits were still claiming that the war would end within a few months, with the headline on the 26th of December edition of the Morning Albertan declaring “Allies now ready to drive out Germans.” This wasn’t to be, but as hostilities had not ramped up to their eventual level, there were lulls in fighting in some areas which became known as the Christmas Truce. There is information about that truce, including a wonderful commercial produced by an English grocery chain at The Great War website.

At home, even though many people were without some of their family members, Calgarians tried to celebrate their Christmas as usual. The Morning Albertan of December 26 declared “Calgary spends its Christmas as usual: Forgets woes in orgy of shopping and destruction of turkey.” What better way to drown ones sorrow?

I hope that you and yours have a happy holiday season.


PC 1586The Duchess of Connaught sent a gift to every man and officer on Salisbury Plain, in Bermuda, and on the Canadian ships in the Atlantic Postcards from the Past, PC 1586

Hillhurst United Church

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 87-08Hillhurst United Church, 1965 Alison Jackson Photograph Collection

Many historic buildings face an ugly and ignominious end so I really like to be able to write about a beautiful building that is as busy today as it was when it was built. That is the story of Hillhurst United Church. The congregation there has ambitious plans for the future, not just for themselves, but for the whole community. To facilitate that, they are looking at building a structure in place of the old annex, built in the 1960s. In a very interesting twist on the RFP procedure, Hillhurst put out a call for designs from new architects for a building, to be built in place of the annex. The criteria were that it the design must feature community space and also enhance the existing, 100 year old structure. The responses came in from all over the world. You can check out the winning designs at Avenue Magazine.

This is a wonderful way of keeping an older building relevant and alive. What is now Hillhurst United was built as a Presbyterian church in 1912-1913 using plans adapted from those for St. Andrew’s. In 1925 the local Methodist congregation, St. Paul’s and Hillhurst Presbyterian’s congregation, joined the Church Union and the new congregation met at the brick church, abandoning the small frame St. Paul’s Methodist.

From the time of its construction, Hillhurst has been an active and interesting church. A quick search through our local history collection turned up several programs for musical evenings, one featuring the Keates organ that was originally installed in 1912 and then completely refurbished in 1952 and another for the Excelsior Glee Party Grand Concert. We also have several cookbooks by the ladies of Hillhurst United. My favourite recipe is for “Cooking a Husband” (no, not cannibalism) The first line reads “A good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mismanagement” I’m just sayin’.

One very interesting recent undertaking by the church was to appear as a both a hospital and a hockey dressing room for two Heritage Minute segments that were filmed by local production company Stir Films here in Calgary. There is more information on the church’s website.

You can see the Winnipeg Falcons minute at Historica Canada. The Nursing Sisters minute should be out soon.

The Lancaster Building is in the News

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PC 1947MacKay [sic] Block / Lancaster Building Postcards from the Past, PC 1947

One of the most delightful buildings in the downtown core is in the news – and not because it’s going to be torn down. The Lancaster, at 300 8th Avenue SW, home of the Unicorn Pub and a charming little food court among other things, will soon be occupied by Simons, a Quebec based fashion retailer. Change is always difficult and I was sad to hear that the Unicorn, an important part of my youth (wink wink) will no longer be in the building after June 2015 to make way for the renovations needed to house the new company. I’m hoping that the changes won’t be too radical, because the Lancaster has some wonderful period detail. The CEO of Simons has expressed a desire to treat the building with respect. I’m glad to hear that.

I’ve always called this building the Lancaster, but while it was being built it was known as the Mackie Building, after the man who built it, James Stewart Mackie. On its completion, it was named Lancaster, or so I have read, after the House of Lancaster, eventual victors in the Wars of the Roses. The building remained in the control of the Mackie family for a very long time – well into the 80s - and it may have been this continuity of care that has kept it from being demolished. The owners decided to renovate rather than remove it in the 1970s and for that sympathetic restoration the architect, Harold Hanen (father of our +15 system) won a Heritage Canada award.

The building, which was the first ten storey skyscraper in Calgary was built with a steel frame, by Dominion Bridge a design by James Teague, a Victoria based protégé of Francis Rattenbury. Construction was started in 1913 but only the skeleton was completed before the start of World War I, which put the kybosh on most construction. The building was completed and opened following the end of hostilities in 1918. The building boasted hot and cold running water to all areas and “high speed elevators” at least one of which, I believe, is still in operation.

PC 1389Eighth Avenue W - The Lancaster is the skyscraper in the back, Postcards from the Past, PC 1389

Mackie himself, was a very interesting and intrepid man. He was born in England and moved to Canada in 1882. He eventually ended up in Calgary in 1886 where he opened a sporting goods and gun business with Walter MacKay (confusing, no?) He took over the Thompson Stationery Company’s Calgary store and became involved in real estate. He served on city council for several years and eventually became mayor in 1901. He lived on and off in Calgary for the rest of his life, eventually taking rooms in the Palliser Hotel, where he and his wife lived until their deaths. The Lancaster remains as evidence of the spirit of James Mackie and is a legacy of those golden times in Calgary when optimism and innovation were in boundless supply. I hope this legacy lives on.

But I'm Not a Writer - And Other Excuses

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1591People in a rowboat, possibly in Bowness Park, Postcards from the Past

No, this isn’t a crossover from the Writer’s Nook blog. This post is about the importance of writing your family history and the myriad excuses we have for not doing it. A few weeks back I had the privilege of attending the Alberta Family Histories Society seminar. John Althouse, a noted Edmonton-based genealogist, was speaking about writing family stories and his presentations got me to thinking about what we lose when we fail to record the stories we have locked up in our heads and stashed away in our filing cabinets.

We often get people into the library looking for information about family. Each and every one of them has a fascinating story to tell, and we always say “you should write that down.” I think people often feel we’re just humouring them, but in fact, we look at these stories as an important part of history. The stories of our families are as important as the any other historical resource, maybe even more so, because the everyday people, our ancestors, are the builders of this province and their history is often lost to succeeding generations because no-one thought it was important enough to record.

For many genealogists the building of a family tree is an attempt to find their personal history. Shows such as Ancestors in the Attic and Finding Your Roots are popular because they tell the stories of individuals and we watch with rapt attention. Doesn’t this tell you something? Our stories are just as interesting, people! Write Them Down!

If you’ve got that box of documents, look through them, sort them out, build a framework to hang your story from and then dig some more. If you’re just getting started, we have resources to get you on the path to finding your family and telling its story. Check out our programs, such as Family History Coaching which happens nearly every month. Start thinking like a storyteller and keep a journal (paper or electronic) where you jot down the stories that come to mind. Many genealogists were the nosy kids who eavesdropped on the adult conversations at family gatherings. Write down what you remembered, Nosy Parker, and then do your investigating to find out the truth behind the story. We have any number of great books to help you organize your story and make it exciting such as Sharon De Bartolo Carmac’s You can write your family history But most importantly, recognize that this is an important task and that if you don’t do this, your family’s story will be lost. If you can talk, you can write your family history.

Lest We Forget

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Poppies by Katariina JärvinenPoppies from Flickr by Katariina Järvinen

This year's celebration in remembrance of our soldiers is especially poignant given what happened in Ottawa. The deaths of two members of our armed forces are a painful reminder of the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the service of our country.

This weekend was the kick off to our Heritage weekend and we had five great programs all focused on different aspects of the First World War. I was very moved, during our backroom tour of the Glenbow Library and Archives, by letters of soldiers written from the front. The letters tell the story of the war in a way that the history books can't. Some portions of the letters were blacked out by the censor but, following Jeff Keshen's lecture on the propaganda of WWI, I realized that even if the censor hadn't excised portions of the letters the young men censored themselves to avoid alarming the folks at home. The soldiers writing these letters would have been men just like the two soldiers who died so recently, men who believed in their country and were willing to put their lives on the line for her defense. The truth of the horrors they faced often were never spoken of, even after they returned home. There were those who eventually were able to relate what had happened in all its horrific detail and we should be grateful for that as well. There is always a lesson to be learned. (One particularly interesting title, mentioned during the Propaganda in World War I programs was The 50th Battalion in No Man's Land by Victor Wheeler. This can be borrowed from Calgary Public Library)

Now, as always, we need to remember those who served and be grateful that there are men and women who are willing to stand up for our country.

PC Soldiers at Sarcee Camp, Postcards from the Past

For a look at life on the home front, join us on November 16 for Eating Your Way Through World War I. We, from Calgary Public Library, and our Heritage Triangle Partners, the Glenbow Library and Archives and the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives, will look at the effect the war had on our dietary habits.

Ah, For the Good Old Days

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)


PC 1281Eighth Avenue, ca. 1930, The Palace Theatre is almost visible on the right Postcards from the Past

I attended a concert last week at Flames Central. I hadn’t been in that building since I was a candy-bar girl at the Palace Theatre back in the 70s. Then it was a charming, but run-down old building. I was very young but even then I had an appreciation for the velvet corduroy seats, the beautiful plasterwork in the ceilings (though it had been painted over so many times it looked like it was a panorama of slugs) the beautiful grille work on the organ lofts. I loved that old girl. The balcony was closed to the public most of the time, and we were allowed to take our breaks up there and chat with the projectionists. Our change rooms were down in the basement, and the old boiler (which could very well have been original to the building) used to scare the living daylights out of me when it fired up. We kept the marquee letters down there, as well, and we would make messages out of them (usually involving some kind of obscenity) for other staff members. My favourite part of the job was going backstage to open and close the curtains. To get up there you had to pass Reveen’s room, which is what we called the green room backstage. It was mostly used for storage – there were bolts upon bolts of the old rose velvet corduroy stacked back there – but back in the day, it had been the room set aside for Reveen, who described himself as an “impossiblist.” His shows included magic and hypnosis and were so well known to people of my generation that most of us can probably still sing “the man they call Reveen.” His shows were famous throughout Canada and he ended his career in Vegas. One of his first gigs was at the Palace, where he sold out 28 consecutive shows.
The Palace was declared a National Historic site in 1996. but its conversion to a nightclub and later to Flames Central had me dreading what I might find. I was sure the character that I had fallen in love with when I was a candy bar girl would be gone or, at the very least, hidden. I was very glad to see that I was wrong. The beautiful plasterwork has been restored, the grilles of the organ lofts have been retained, and even the marble staircases to the upper level are still intact. In many ways the old girl looks better that she had in a while. It was quite an experience to go back there and I’m sure people were wondering who this weird woman was, with her head craned back, oohing and aahing over the walls and ceilings. It was quite an experience and in a way it is appropriate that I should have been there to see a musician perform. When it was built, the Palace was used for all kinds of shows, not just movies. I remembered a shaky bit of flooring right in front of the stage that someone told me had been an orchestra pit and had been boarded over. I was later able to confirm this by looking at some of the pictures at the Glenbow. So in a way, she’s come full circle. That makes me happy (though I do miss the smell of popcorn!)

JU 060604-13Palace Nightclub 2006 with Theatre Marquee still in place Judith Umbach Collection



Don't forget that our World War I Remembered programs are happening this month. For more information visit my earlier blog post or our program guide.

Inglewood: Not Urban Renewal, Just Renewal

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

AJ 0035McVittie cabin, one of the original Inglewood buildings Alison Jackson Collection

Inglewood, once home to porn theatres and used car lots, is now one of five finalists in contention for the title of Greatest Place in Canada. This story is very heartening for those of us who value the heritage in this city and it is also an example of how a strong community can work together to make their neighbourhood what they want it to be.

Back in the day, I used to make the trip through Inglewood on my way to my job at the Alyth Yards. The main street, once called Atlantic Avenue, was something of a wilderness of shabby old buildings and not-very-nice businesses. There was alway a bit of a bohemian buzz about it, but for the most part it was forlorn-looking. But when I veered off the strip and poked around a bit in the neighbourhood, I came to realize that this had indeed been the heart of our city.

For an old building lover, the old houses, generally left untouched by gentrification, the railways workers’ cottages, the beautiful tree-lined streets were a paradise. And talk about urban wildlife! Strange and wonderful birds flitted in the trees and wandered the banks of the river, thanks to the proximity of the bird sanctuary. And you could hear lions roaring and wolves howling from their home at the zoo. It was a charming, quirky neighbourhood – and I am so happy to see that it is still a charming and quirky neighbourhood.

I am also delighted that the heritage of the area has been preserved. Inglewood was the very first area to be settled of what would become Calgary. When Fort Calgary was established in 1875 at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, the town kind of sprung up around it, albeit a town of tents and cabins built from whatever could be found. The McVittie cabin, shown above, was made of packing crates and other waste wood. Further development was spurred by the announcement that Calgary would be the railway hub for southern Alberta. It was assumed that the station would be in the area of the Fort, which didn't turn out to be the case, but in any event, Calgary's first neighbourhood was born.

In 1892 the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. opened at the end of Atlantic Avenue and the area became known as Brewery Flats. Over the years there was more industrialization in the area, with the opening of the rail yards, an abbatoir and stock yards and other processing and manufacturing industries. But over time, the area east of the downtown became run down and neglected. In time Inglewood would be facing what many other older areas of the city had faced — the dreaded "urban renewal scheme."

Had the "urban renewers" had their way, much of what is standing in Inglewood would have been razed in the 60s and 70s to make way for roads, interchanges and parking. It was an area in decline and in the 1960s the answer to that was to tear it down and put up new stuff. This had happened down here, in the area around City Hall. Old hotels and businesses were seen as dilapidated eyesores and were torn down to make way for development. As we know now, that might have been a bit of a mistake. Losing many of our old buildings robbed this end of the downtown of its character and walkability and exacerbated the problems that the scheme was designed to remedy. But that wasn't allowed to happen in Inglewood. It has undergone a renewal, for sure, just not urban renewal.

If you are interested in the history of this part the city we have scads of stuff in the Local History room at the Central Library including a building inventory and other general histories. There is also a self-guided walking tour available here that you can use to explore Inglewood and visit some of its historic sites — and great shops and cafes.

The Prairie Book Scheme: The Prairie's First Bookmobiles?

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

CDH July 9 1937Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir in Calgary, July 9 1937 from the Calgary Daily Herald, July 9 1937


One of my favourite parts of my job is the chance it gives me to talk to people. I had a patron call our Central Information Service for a telephone number. In the course of the conversation, we started talking about the library and she told me that in her youth, she did not have access to a local library in Manitoba so she got her library books by train. This intrigued me. I knew that the railways had been lifelines in many ways, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they might have been the first “bookmobiles.”

A little more digging and I found an article about the Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Books Scheme. Moved by the destitution she saw on her trip through Canada following her husband’s appointment as Governor General, Lady Tweedsmuir organized a kind of traveling library system. The people needed good books, she thought, to help them get through the long, dark winters and to divert them from their economic woes. There were very few public libraries outside of the urban areas on the prairies, so she called on the Women’s Institutes to help organize a scheme that would bring books to the people.

Boxes of books, either donated or chosen by Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir and purchased with donated funds, were sent to locations throughout the prairies. Free shipping by rail had been organized and each town that had received the books was asked to arrange a swap with a neighbouring locale.

The kinds of books included in these shipments were similar to what would be found in a public library. Non-fiction, biography, popular novels, children’s materials, journals—you name it. If it was a “good book” it could be included. She observed the differing tastes of the various provinces: “Saskatchewan…appears to like non-fiction while Manitoba likes fiction. The people in Alberta ‘like anything you send them—they seem to read everything.” (We haven’t changed much in Alberta). By the time she left for England, after the death of her husband, the scheme had distributed 40,000 books. With the departure of its guiding light, the books from the program were distributed to various locations and in some cases became the foundation collection for small town public libraries.

Lady Tweedsmuir also encouraged the local Women’s Institutes to record the history of their area. These became known as the Tweedsmuir Histories and due to the foresight and encouragement of Lady Tweedsmuir, we have a wealth of local histories from prairie towns.

If you’d like to read more about the Lady Tweedsmuir’s Prairie Book Scheme, there is an excellent article, “The people must have plenty of good books” by Geoffrey Little in the June 2012 issue of Library & Information History which you can access through the E-Library in the database Library and Information Science Full Text. There is also plenty of great material in the Local History room on the history of the Women’s Institutes. You can find it by searching ‘women’s institute’ in the catalogue.

The Empress of Ireland

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

PA 116389Empress of Ireland, Library and Archives Canada PA 116389

The sinking of the Empress of Ireland is this country’s worst maritime disaster, but many Canadians don’t even know about it. This may be in part because the event was overshadowed by the declaration of war just two months later. But the sinking of the Empress and the loss of 1,012 of the 1,477 passengers and crew was a loss equivalent to the sinking of the Titanic, and deserves to be more widely recognized.

One hundred years ago, on May 29, 1914, the Empress of Ireland, en-route from Quebec to Liverpool, struck the Norwegian coal vessel Storstad in the St. Lawrence River, and sank within 15 minutes. On board were nearly 1500 people, among them 138 children. Only 5 of the children were among the survivors. The shipwreck was rediscovered in 1964 and remains in the St. Lawrence, six kilometres from Ste. Luce-Sur-Mer . In 2009 the Canadian government named it a National Historic Site. The Canadian Museum of History has launched an exhibition about the Empress and her passengers.

Recently, I was contacted by a researcher who is interested in finding out more about the descendants of the passengers from that last voyage. He is looking for anyone who may be connected with a passenger who was aboard the Empress on the night she sank. If you are connected in some way to the Empress of Ireland, you can visit his siteand get in touch with him.

There were some Calgarians aboard, notably the Garnetts, who were part of a large contingent of Salvation Army members on their way to London. You can view the complete list of Calgary passengers in the Morning Albertan. Library and Archives Canada also has an online aid to researchers who may have family connections to the Empress of Ireland or really, for anyone who is interested in doing more in-depth research on this tragedy

Prior to her sinking, The Empress of Ireland played an important role in the settlement of the west. She made 96 voyages between Quebec and Liverpool and many of the people she carried were immigrants looking for a new life in Canada A search for Empress of Ireland in the Canadian Passenger Lists index in AncestryLE pulled up numerous hits. Not all of these would have been new immigrants, but many were and many of these were heading to the west. A look at some of the lists tells the story of the settlement of the prairies. Stories like that of the Hobdays, who came over on the last voyage of the Empress from Liverpool. Sidney, 21, and a new immigrant, was coming over with Albert, his brother, who was marked as a returning Canadian. Sidney was a farm labourer, while his brother was a fireman. Just these details can tell the story of a family looking for a new life in a new country.

We should remember the Empress of Ireland, not just for the tragedy that took her and so many of her passengers, but also for the contribution she made to the history of Canada.

World War I Remembered

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


We are commemorating the centennial of the start of World War I by hosting a whole raft of programs relating to the history and impact of the war, both here and abroad.

Military historian Stéphane Guevremont will be exploring the factors that lead to the war in What Caused World War I on October 30 from 7-9 p.m. in the John Dutton Theatre at the Central Library.

He will also explore The Eastern Front 1914 and how events that took place one hundred years ago continue to have an effect today. This program is on November 14, in the Dutton Theatre at 7 p.m.

Also on November 7 is the Heritage Triangle Walking Tour during which staff from the three points of our heritage triangle, the Calgary Public Library, the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives and the Glenbow Library, will tell you about the WWI related gems in their collections. This starts in the Local History Room on the 4th floor of the Central Library at 1 p.m.

Later that same day, Stir Films producer Brent Kawchuk with speak about the making of the Heritage Minute’s First World War vignettes in our first Heritage Matters presentation of the new season, Filming WWI History in Calgary. This will be on the main floor of the Central Library.

Don Smith, Emeritus Professor, University of Calgary, will present the history of Calgary’s Grand Theatre in the Great War. By exploring war-time entertainment, he will also be examining issues that had an impact on the theatre such as war service of those involved in the industry and women’s suffrage. This program is on Sunday November 9 at 1 p.m., also in the John Dutton Theatre.

Women’s role in the war will also be explored by researcher and writer Adriana Davies, the creator of the Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Her program, A Genius for Organization takes place on Sunday November 9 in the Dutton as well but this one starts at 3. You could stay and make a day of it because at 2pm, Jeff Keshen, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at MRU, will be talking about The Media and World War I. He will talk about the role played by newspapers, and examine the propaganda at the outbreak of the war.

Southwood Library is having a very interesting, ongoing program, the World War I Book Club. Participants will read and discuss books set during the Great War. They meet once a month on Sundays, October 19, November 16 and December 14 at 2 p.m.

Now, for the one I’m really looking forward to, Eating Your Way Through World War I. This takes place on the main floor of the Central Library on Sunday November 16 at 1:30 p.m. Presenters will talk about how Calgarians ate during the Great War years.

Later in November, on the 28th, Stéphane Guevremont will talk about Christmas on the Western Front. He will help us relive the first five months of the war and the astonishing Christmas truce that took place in 1914.

Register online, in person at any community library or by telephone at 403-260-2620.

PC 569Soldiers 1914?

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