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It's Archives Week in Alberta

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

File Cabinet

It is Archives Week in Alberta. It is not widely publicized and many people may shrug and say, “So what?” I know a lot of people think of archives as dreary, black and white kinds of places but they are, in fact, filled with exciting and valuable stuff. The theme this year, Archives in Living Colour, was chosen to draw attention to the fact that archives are more than just dusty repositories for old paper – they are living and vibrant and have relevance for all of us. We’ve all heard the adages about keeping touch with the past – well, archives fulfill that role. They are the, often overlooked, keepers of our history. Just check out their virtual exhibit . It includes images from 23 archives throughout the province including the City of Calgary, Glenbow, the Museum of the Highwood and the Whyte Museum. You will also be able to view virtual exhibits from past Archives Weeks.

In particular, family historians and genealogists should get to know their archives. In addition to keeping documents that are obviously of use to genealogical research, such as older vital event records, church records and census, local archives often collect the papers of people who lived in the area. They also collect information about the area that can include municipal records, including documents relating to land, taxes and businesses. Old newspapers can be found in archives as can employment records. Some archives collect family letters and photographs, and even genealogies and family trees. It pays to know about the archives in the area that your ancestors lived – they can be a treasure trove of valuable information. Here are a few titles to help you find and use archives in Canada:

Archives for genealogists (929.1072 BAR)

Researching Canadian Archival Centres (R929.1072 TAY)

and from our Government Documents collection on the Third Floor here at Central - Heritage institutions published by Statistics Canada (STATS CAN 87F0002)

13th Avenue Looking East

Postcards from the Past, PC 52

PC 52

Artist Within: History Under Construction

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

JU 060810-13

Penny Lane Mall

Judith Umbach Photography Collection, JU 060810-13

We have a number of very significant photography collections here at the Calgary Public Library. We have our Postcards from the Past, the Alison Jackson Collection and the Judith Umbach collection. Judith, who is a former Calgary Public Library Board member, a ‘Living Book’ in our collection, a heritage buff and a beloved customer, will be giving a talk about Calgary’s built heritage using pictures from her own photography collection (which lives in the CHFH Digital Library). Inspired by another great advocate of heritage preservation, Alison Jackson, Judith has been taking pictures of Calgary’s changing landscape for a number of years. Her photos of the implosion of the General Hospital and the building of The Bow, to name just two, are an important record of Calgary as it grows and will be a vital historical collection in the years to come. So, we would like you to join us for “Artist Within: History Under Construction” at the Louise Riley Library on Monday October 3 at 2:00 PM or at the Village Square Library on Friday October 7 at 1:00. The program at Louise Riley is a drop-in so you don't need to register in advance. We would like you to register for the one at Village Square, however, and you can do that by clicking here

You can also view the Judith Umbach Photography collection through the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library, which you can find under "Books & More" on our website or by clicking here

York Hotel before facade removal

Judith Umbach Photography Collection


Brace yourself!

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


My mother always cautioned me about looking too closely into my family history. She was sure I would find one of them buried on Boot Hill. This was a long time ago, of course, as evidenced by the reference to Boot Hill, but her caution was well intentioned and, for the time, when everyone wanted to be like everyone else, it didn’t do to have family “buried on Boot Hill.” Well, I ignored my mother and plowed headlong into family history research and turned up some very interesting things, none of which were particularly shocking, since I have a great tolerance for peculiarity and pecadillos.

I also have been working as a genealogy assistant for a very long time and have encountered the family stories of hundreds of people, so, in comparison, my family is boring. This is perhaps a privilege of my occupation – that I get to hear the stories of so many different families but one thing I have noticed and want to pass on to anyone interested in starting their family history is brace yourself. You are going to find information that you may not want to know. You know the Ancestry ad, the one about the grandfather’s multiple marriage certificates, that is tame compared to the grandfather who had about eight different families. There was only one marriage certificate, however, which meant that gramps was a bigamist. In one family, it turned out that grandmother was purchased from her father for a horse and buggy. And I can’t tell you the number of people who never married yet had children, who went to prison, who were found floating in the river, and on and on.

Many people accept these family stories with aplomb. There is actually a subset of genealogists who celebrate their black sheep (although the definition of a black sheep varies from family to family – in my family it was someone who married outside of the church) But every now and then I encounter a genealogists who is truly shocked and unable to come to terms with what they have found. There is a belief that people in the past were more moral and disciplined, that they followed the rules and, with a few exceptions, behaved in a much better manner than we do now. What I have found is that this is simply not so. Our ancestors swore, cheated, drank, cavorted and behaved badly. And I think that when we start our family stories we need to be prepared for the eventuality that our ancestors may have feet of clay.

It's This Weekend: THE Heritage Weekend

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


Calgary's Sight Seeing Car

We are hoping to see millions (well, hundreds, maybe) of people out this Friday and Saturday for our annual Heritage Weekend. I have decided on the movies I will show for our Reel History lunch break. I will show a disc of slides from the General Hospital nursing school from 1956, a short featurette of the Midnapore Cycle, a play performed about the history of the area around St. Mary’s College and a short presentation on the history of the CPR and one of the six dvds from the Family Tree Narrative series, this one on the Hungry Wolf family of the Blood Tribe. This will be a nice break from our other programs and will allow you to rest and eat your lunch.

The other programs I am especially excited about are the one on the Heritage Resource evaluation system at 1:00, the medical history at 2:00, the panel discussion about social media in a heritage world at 3:00 and the tribute to Hugh Dempsey at 4:00. To be honest, I am excited about all of the programs but I won’t be able to come to the ones in the morning since I am running the Family History Coaching program in the genealogy area from 10:00 to 12:00. All you genealogists out there, pop on down for the coaching and stick around for the rest of the day. It’s going to be fun. The morning programs that I will have to miss are the British Commonwealth Air Training Program and the lantern slides of Mary T.S. Shäffer. Both of these look great and I’m sorry I will miss them.

You can register for these programs (or at least the ones that require registration, some are drop-in) through the Programs link on our website ( or by calling 403-260-2620. We’d like to see lots of you down here. These programs are always fabulous and sometimes we even have goodies (not that I’m promising anything)

Oh, and don’t forget that we are having a Heritage Matters program on the evening of Friday the 23rd. Matthew Siddons, a graduate of the U of C’s Urban Studies program will talk about the legacy of five different cultural groups in the heritage of our city. It starts at 5:30, after the library has closed for the evening. We always have a lot of fun and learn a lot at these programs so I heartily encourage you to register and come on by.

Heritage Weekend

It's Heritage Weekend Time Again!

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Heritage Weekend 007Stephen Avenue Then...and Now

It is once again time for our Heritage Weekend. We had a wonderful turnout last year and are looking forward to seeing even more folks down here on Friday September 23 and Saturday September 24. This weekend features a great line-up of people who are involved in the heritage community in Calgary and the talks and programs promise to be interesting and thought-provoking.

We are going to start the weekend off on Friday evening at 5:30 when we will host another Heritage Matters program on the main floor of the library (and after-hours, too, so you can see what happens after the customers go home!) The topic will be “The Convergence of the World in the Last Frontier” by Matthew Siddons, a recent Urban Studies grad. He will discuss the contributions of several different cultural groups to the heritage of Calgary.

On Saturday, join us in the Dutton Theatre for displays, discussions, films and more. We will be hearing about the British Commonwealth Air Training Program, Calgary’s historic resource evaluation system, medical history and how heritage groups are communicating in the age of Twitter. We are also hosting Reel History at lunch time. We will show short documentaries relating to the history and heritage of Calgary and Southern Alberta. Although this year we won’t have the clack-clack of the actual film projector, this still promises to be a diverting lunch time pursuit so bring your brown bag and join us. As part of the "festivities" we are also launching a new season of Family History Coaching. Volunteers from the Alberta Family Histories Society will be on the 4th floor in the genealogy area from 10-12 on Saturday to help you with your genealogical challenges. (This program is a drop-in so you don't need to register in advance - but we ask that you register for the other programs, please.)

The final program of the weekend will be a tribute to the great historian Hugh Dempsey, on the publication of his memoirs Always an adventure. In the heritage community Hugh Dempsey is an icon. He has been a great author, advocate and mentor and there will be many people at the Dutton Theatre who want to congratulate him on his exemplary career and his latest publication. Please drop by and offer your best wishes to this legendary historian. (This is also a drop-in program so you really can just pop on by).

Always an adventure by Hugh Dempsey

You can register online at or by calling 403-260-2620.

We hope to see you there.

The Heritage Triangle

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Heritage Triangle

Part of the reason we are so happy to be staying in the East Village is that we will still be smack dab in the middle of a very important group of heritage partners. Some years ago we formalized our association with our near neighbours and history colleagues, the City of Calgary Archives and the Glenbow Museum, Library and Archives. We call ourselves the Heritage Triangle, because within the radius of a couple of blocks there sit three very valuable repositories of information for researchers. (Once we move, the triangle may need to be renamed – maybe we’ll become the Heritage Line or the Heritage Ellipse) In the few years we have been actively collaborating, our affiliation has been very productive. We never hesitate to take advantage of our partners, in the best way of course. Each of us has wonderful and unique stuff and while we may covet just a little, we have also gotten to know the people and the collections so well that we know where to send researchers if we don’t have what they need. This is a very efficient and effective way to operate and it provides a very good service to our customers.

Each of the organizations involved in the triangle has its own different and interesting stuff. Among the Glenbow’s many strengths are an amazing collection of personal papers from individuals and families in Calgary and area, extensive data on Metis genealogy and an unrivalled collection of historic photographs of Calgary and Southern Alberta. They also have an outstanding map collection as well as directories from many different locales. You can visit the Glenbow site and see some of what they have to offer at

Next door to us is the City of Calgary Archives (officially, the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives.) Their mandate is to acquire, preserve and protect civic documents. Civic documents are the papers of people and departments of the City and its predecessors and organizations and individuals that have a close affiliation with the City. These can be of great value to researchers as they are the primary source materials for the administrative history of the city. The strengths of the City Archives collection include records relating to building research, such as records of tax assessments; records of official representatives of the municipal government such as mayors and aldermen/councilors and a whole swack of documents relating to the Calgary Winter Olympics. You can find the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives online by going to the new, user friendly City of Calgary website ( and searching for Archives.

We here at Calgary Public Library are the last (but not least) leg of the Heritage Triangle. We have a wonderful collection of material in our Community Heritage and Family History Collection that is just waiting for you to explore. There is great material for historic research in other departments as well, such as our government documents collection on the 3rd floor. Some of the items in our collection are a complete run of Calgary Henderson’s Directories and telephone directories, an extensive collection of local histories of Southern Alberta towns, historic newspapers, a complete collection of Canadian Census on microfilm as well as three great photograph collections, available online through our website. We also have a great staff who are always available to help you – and I can say that for our partners as well, having worked with them as a colleague and as a researcher.

You can see the Heritage Triangle brochure through the link right next to this posting or by going to Do come down and visit us – ignore the construction – we would be delighted to see you.

8th Avenue SE

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1331

Stephen Avenue

Irish Genealogy

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

Trinity Library Dublin

Library at Trinity College Dublin

I recently finished a course through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies on the basics of Irish research. Anyone who has tried to find family in Ireland knows of the obstacles that are the realities of Ireland. What I didn’t know, was that there are so many resources still around.

I love Ireland – my husband’s family is still there and I cherish the time I spend there. But it is a different country. One cannot approach Ireland believing that because it is an English speaking country, for many years under British rule, that it is anything like Britain. It is not. In many countries where the British ruled, the people absorbed much of the British culture and adopted some of the ways of Britain, with regards to government and record keeping, things that genealogists rely on to find info about their ancestors. The Irish sort of did, but not entirely. Irish culture was strongly matrilineal. Irish women often retained their birth names. Any time during a child’s minority, the mother could “name a father” for the child. In this way family relationships became very wide reaching and sometimes had little to do with actual blood relationships. The culture was bardic and much of the early record keeping was done in the form of poems and recitations about families or tuaths. To this day, I can get more information about family relationships from my husband’s cousins than I can from the records that exist. In some ways, the family relationships in Ireland remind me of the family structures in the First Nations communities around Calgary. Children are “fostered” but are in no way less members of the family that the natural born children. This way is changing in Ireland, but within my generation, there are still family members who are “like brothers”. All this is, of course, preamble to the actual methodology I use to find my ancestors but, it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to.

Anyhow, the best advice I can give to any researcher looking for their family in Ireland is get yourself a really good how-to manual and make yourself familiar with what records are available. We have a number of books that are invaluable to the Irish genealogy researcher. How to trace your Irish ancestors by Brian Mitchell and Tracing your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham.

Another invaluable resource for Irish researchers is a reference book specifically to assist researchers in locating records: Irish records: sources for family and local history by James G. Ryan. The book tells you what records there are and where they’re held. This is a very good starting point because I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to assist genealogists looking for records that simply don’t exist (or haven’t been found yet – we can always hope)

We also have a good selection of manuals on how to find and access the different records available such as civil registration, monumental inscriptions, and testamentary records, as well as guides for researching in specific areas of Ireland. You can find these in the catalogue by searching the terms Ireland Genealogy.

Although challenging, researching your Irish forebears can also be very rewarding. Ireland has a rich and colourful history, both at home and here in Canada. In a visit to a Wexford graveyard, I discovered the burial site of Thomas D’Arcy McGee and met an wonderful local historian who filled me in on the families in the area and a Calgary ex-pat who, coincidentally, had worked with my father and my brother (these things always happen in Ireland – I believe it is magic) So, hard work though it may be, there is that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – left by leprechauns or fleeing rum-runners, I’m not sure, but it is there and it is worth the work.

Keep in mind that our genealogy Saturdays kick off again in September (the 24th to be exact). If you're really stumped or would just like to discuss your project, come on down.

Library Interior Ireland

The Times (and our Website) They are a' Changin'

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 947

Cecil Hotel, 1912

Postcards from the Past PC 947

You’ve probably noticed by now that we have changed our website. Moving to a new website is very similar to moving to a new house. Stuff gets moved around. If you’re here, you have already found where the blogs are living. The new website puts the newest blog entries, no matter which blog they are from, at the top of the list. For the others you can click on the “Blogs” heading and you will see a list of all of them.

Another thing that has changed is the location of our digital library link. It used to be on the Calgary Public Library front page and was available from the Community Heritage and FamilyHistory blog as well. Now to find it you need to click on the link Books and More, where we’re listed in the main menu and in the menu along the left side of the page. As well, if you’re checking out some databases in the E-Library, there is a link to Community Heritage and Family History on the left hand side. The link will take you to the digital library and the blog.

AJ 83 14

Burns Block, 1964

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 83-14

Once you go the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library you will see that we have changed that a bit, too. You can still find all the great pictures from the Alison Jackson and Judith Umbach collections and Postcards from the Past, but the interface is a little easier to use and offers some options that we didn’t have before. You will see that you can browse thumbnails of each set of pictures without having to leave the landing page. Click on the arrows to advance the images and get an idea of what is in each collection. You can view larger images by clicking on the name of the collection you want to view and using the arrows to roll the pictures back and forth. You will also see a list of new additions to the collection, on the right side of the page. (You can also subscribe to the RSS feeds and be notified of any updates. )

When you’re in the home page for each collection, you can perform a search which will limit your results to that set of pictures only. Also notice that if you want to narrow your search, there is the capacity to search within your results. If at this point, you want to change your search, though, you will have to change the drop-down menu beside the search box to “New Search.” (I found that one out by accidentJ)

The advanced search has also been upgraded to allow a lot more search parameters to be entered such as date, format or photographer just to name a few. This is a vast improvement and allows you to home in on the image you are looking for. This makes our wonderful pictures much more accessible and now you have no excuse not to look at the great stuff we have in our digital collection. Give it a whirl!

JU Photo

York Hotel, before the removal of the facade, 2006

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

Update on St. Patrick’s Church

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

St. Patrick

St. Patrick's Church, 1956

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 08-16

I was thrilled to receive an email from a colleague who is involved with the St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church. This is a relatively new parish, which was founded in 2008. The partner church of St. Patrick’s, the Anglican St. Paul’s, offered the parish a home in their restored little church but the St. John’s parish kept growing and has outgrown the little church. The very good news is that the Catholic diocese has given the members of St. John’s permission to rehabilitate the church and use it for an extended period. This is very good news. They have been in contact with the Historic Places Research and Designation Program and are very keen to get to work on restoring the church.

St. Patrick’s was the cause of much despair in the heritage community. It has been neglected for many years and was at very high risk of falling into “demolition by neglect” or of being burned down by vandals. The little church had the dubious distinction of being on Canada’s 10 most endangered buildings list in 2008 in spite of the fact that it had been designated a provincial historic resource. There were many heroic efforts made to do something to save the building, which had been the parish of Father Lacombe from 1909 (or 1906 in some accounts) until his death in 1916. As recently as March, concerns were being raised about the future of the building (see our previous posting at

With the news from the Russian Orthodox community we can all breathe a little easier. If you are interested in finding our more about this project, you can contact the parish at (403) 257-4899 with your questions or to offer your support. There is also a Facebook page ( and a YouTube video ( with more pictures and information.

Grafitti on the interior walls of St. Patrick

Cleaning St. Patrick

Parish members removing grafitti from the interior of St. Patrick's Church

Courtesy the Parish of St. John Chrysostom

More Good News for East Village (and a tangent on the brutalist style)

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

JU 030518-4

East Village from Bow Valley College

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection, JU 030518-4

By now you know I am passionate about my adopted neighbourhood. I love the East Village and I am so excited about the developments that are taking place down here. You have all probably heard that our new Central Library will be down here in the Village and I saw on the news today that Bow Valley College had purchased the old Calgary Catholic Board of Education building which is just across 6th Avenue from us. This is yet another expression of the optimism that many Calgarians feel for the future of this area.

The Calgary Catholic School District building is relatively new, in heritage terms, but it does carry a great deal of sentiment. It was built in 1967 to commemorate the country’s centennial. A few years later, to celebrate the city’s centennial 10,000 students were asked to make terra cotta tiles. These were mounted on an obelisk that stands on the grounds of the building. The CSSD has indicated that they will be preserving and moving the obelisk. The CSSD building has been at the centre of some debate as it is one of the few surviving examples of brutalist architecture in Calgary. Other examples include the building’s neighbor, the Calgary Board of Education building, and the former planetarium (Telus World of Science). The Catholic School District building was a part of an earlier attempt to revitalize the east end of Calgary, a process called “urban renewal” (which is nearly a swear word in the heritage community.) Many buildings of historical interest went down to build these brutalist beauties and now they, themselves face the wrecking ball. But it is ever thus. What is seen now, as an eyesore – as were many of the old houses in the east end (as the area was known) may be viewed differently in the future.

The talk now of brutalist architecture raises some of these same questions. Brutalism lives up to its name because it is quite brutal on the eyes – no one could argue that these concrete structures are traditionally beautiful. In fact, it was the brutalist style that Prince Charles was referring to when he said, “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.” It is hard to generate love for something that is unattractive – think pandas versus gila monsters – but it is something we must consider when we are looking at buildings. If you are interested in brutalism you can find good books on architectural styles in the library catalogue by searching “architectural styles” in the general search. If you’re particularly interested in Calgary’s buildings, you can search “Calgary architecture”. And if you’d like to see some of Calgary’s brutalist architecture up close and personal, the Calgary Heritage Initiative is going to be holding another “Brutal Bus Tour” in November. Check out their website for more information.

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