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Calgary's Aviation History

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1122

The Airport, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Postcards from the Past, PC 1122

In my last blog post I wrote about the Bay Building in downtown Calgary. It is an iconic building and its importance to the life of the city cannot be overstated. But what I found out while I was researching it was that it played many roles in the lives of Calgarians beyond just that of a place to buy stuff. One of the most interesting uses I read about was the RCAF No. 4 Training Command post on the top floor. The command centre for the west of Canada from Vancouver to Regina, 300 people staffed this post. They stayed there until the No. 4 Command was merged with the No. 2 Command and the staff and equipment were shipped to Winnipeg late in 1944.

The first manned flight Calgarians actually saw was a hot-air balloon stunt at the Calgary Agricultural and Industrial Fair in 1906. ‘Professor’ Williams (apparently all hot-air balloonists called themselves professor) parachuted from a trapeze hanging from his hot-air balloon and landed in the Elbow River. This stunt did not seem to make much of an impression on the jaded citizens of Calgary. While I can give details of the winners and their prizes from every variety of livestock, and the winners of all the horse races, there is only passing mention of the balloonist. Maybe the Morning Albertan journalist was right, that “a Calgary crowd is a quiet crowd…[that] takes its pleasure without boisterousness” (until someone blocks their view of the finish line).

A dirigible was the highlight of the 1908 Exhibition, making flights around the grounds twice a day. It’s first flight was a bit of a disappointment as the pilot, Jack Dallas, couldn’t yet maneuver the ship in high winds and it was off course for most of its maiden voyage. It calmed down later in the week, but eventually a windstorm caused the dirigible to hit a mooring tower and burst into flames. Hydrogen does that.

Planes were often part of the grandstand show at the Calgary Exhibitions. Howard Le Van, a very young pilot, flew his plane (another Strobel machine) at the Exhibition until it crashed into a fence when it caught a strut in a gopher hole. Been there!

Katherine Stinson, one of the first female pilots, made several visits to the Calgary Exhibition, performing stunts and even making western Canada’s first airmail flight, taking off from a flat spot near Stanley Jones School in Renfrew to take mail to Edmonton. This area would become Calgary’s first municipal airport, and would have the first illuminated runway in the country. The hangar built by Rutledge Air Services, still stands and currently houses the Boys and Girls Club.

Calgarians continued to be fascinated with flight. The flat lands surrounding the city were perfect for pilots to launch their homemade planes. And they did so with a passion. The papers are filled with accounts of flight attempts. Some were successful, such as an attempt by two teenaged boys, Earle Young and Alf Lauder, to build a glider powered by a motorcycle engine which eventually got off the ground with the help of a tow from Dad’s Buick.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to aviation history in Calgary. To find out more you can join us at our annual Heritage Weekend to take in the new documentary Wings of Change presented by Doug Wilson. This excellent documentary celebrates history of aviation in Calgary from the first flights at the beginning of the 20th century to the newest developments at YYC. This will take place, as I mentioned, during our Heritage Weekend on October 25 to 27. The film will be screened on October 25 at noon in the John Dutton Theatre at the Central Library. You can register online, in person, or by telephone (403-260-2620). Check out the other Heritage Weekend programs while you’re at it. We’ve got some great stuff.

PC 699

Calgary--As seen from an Aeroplane, ca 1924

Postcards from the Past, PC 699

Happy Birthday to an Iconic Building

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

 

 

PC 1665

The Hudson's Bay Company's New Departmental Store in Calgary, ca 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 1665

 

The Hudson’s Bay building downtown has turned 100 years old. It has been a part of the lives of Calgarians for a very long time. It has certainly been an important part of my life, even though I’m slightly younger than 100 (and my Nan worked at Eaton’s so I could get a discount). Still, I used to shop the bargain basement for my stockings when I was a candy bar girl (complete with red mini-dress) at the Palace Theatre across the street. I used to skip school to eat French fries and drink iced tea in the Chinook Room (because I didn’t want to run into my Nan at Eaton’s)

Now, while the building is 100, the company itself is much, much older. The Hudson’s Bay Company was established in the 17th century to take advantage of the fur trading opportunities. The first post was established in Calgary in 1876, hot on the heels of the NWMP establishment of Fort Calgary. It has always been a part of this city. Its growth was an indicator of the health of the city — kind of an indicator species, if you will. When the decision was made to run the transcontinental railway through Calgary, thus shifting the focus of settlement from the confluence of the Bow and Elbow to the west side of the Elbow River, the Bay followed suit, opening a small store at Centre Street and Stephen Avenue. But the city continued to boom and soon this little store became inadequate so a newer, more elegant store was built on the same site.

PC 587

8th Avenue looking East, (you can see the old Hudson's Bay Store at the end of the block on the left)

Postcards from the Past, PC 587

You can still see this building at 102 8th Avenue SW. As the city continued to grow, this store was added to and expanded but by the beginning of the 20th century, Calgary was booming again. The Bay needed to evolve to meet the needs of this new, sophisticated (and moneyed) town. The site they chose was on the corner of 1st Street and 8th Avenue, physically not too far from where they were, but the store the company would build was miles beyond the Victorian structure they left behind.

As they described it themselves in the announcement of the opening of the new store, their old place was “work — worn, wearied and the dear, faithful old walls “weren’t up to the challenge of the new century. It sounded more like they were describing someone’s grandma. They would be “winging their way to premises more dignified and capacious — befitting the aspirations of this progressive institution” and the aspirations of the progressive city which it served. The opening of this store, one of the grandest in the country, was a nod to the optimism and potential of Calgary.

The ad announcing the grand opening of the new location waxed eloquent about the sun setting on the old ideals and hopes and rising again on the renewed ambition and the new “life fluid coursing through [the] veins” of the new Hudson’s Bay; this could have been a metaphor for the new life blood that would be gushing through Calgary in the near future (sorry, couldn’t resist). The opening was a gala affair, kicking off on 14th Avenue east, winding its way to the Braemar lodge to pick up the Lieutenant Governor and then on to the store. There were bands and honour guards, a luncheon with speeches and toasts and band concert, held in The Rendezvous.

The Hudson’s Bay would become more than just a store for Calgarians. It was a meeting spot, a cultural centre and it even had a library for its customers. The Elizabethan Room promised an elegant dining experience and the children could be entertained on the rooftop playground. During the war its top floor housed the RCAF No. 4 Training Command, possibly because the store already had a beacon on its roof to guide pilots toward the airport. It was one of the grandest stores the Hudson’s Bay had ever opened and remains, to this day, one of the most beautiful buildings in the core. It is the Bay, what more needs to be said.

For those of you interested in Calgary's commercial heritage, our next Heritage Matters program - the launch for our Heritage Weekend - will be on just that subject. It will feature author Steve Speer speaking about his photographic vision of Calgary's skyline through his book, Building on the Bow. Landmarks of Downtown Calgary. For more information and to register check out our program guide.

PF 786.2078 PIA

Programme for a recital at the Hudson's Bay Green Room by Gordon Bryan, visiting examiner

from the Royal Academy of Music, 1933

Upcoming Heritage Events

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

doors

 

Doors Open Calgary: Do YYC Naked. This great event kicks off on Friday September 27 with a party sponsored by Yelp at Theatre Junction Grand. This year the venues that are going to allow you to see under their skirts, so to speak, are many and varied. There are a lot of City of Calgary sites, such as the Colonel Walker house, several of the city cemeteries, the Shepard landfill and the Fire Department training centre. Other places that you can see “naked” are Hillhurst Cottage School, cSPACE at King Edward School, Fort Calgary, and the National Music Centre. A map and list and an RSVP link for the kick-off party and all the other information you need to Do YYC Naked can be found at the Doors Open website.

Family History Coaching: We’re kicking off a new season of Family History Coaching at the Central Library starting on Saturday September 28 at 10 am. Coaches from the Alberta Family Histories Society and staff from Calgary Public Library will be on hand to help you with your family history research. Everyone is welcome from absolute newbies to the more seasoned researcher because, hey, we can all use a bit of help sometimes. There is no need to register in advance, just drop-in. We meet in the genealogy area on the 4th floor. Information can be found on our Programs page.

Calgary Herald Book Launch: And finally, Pages on Kensington and the Calgary Public Library are hosting the official launch of the book The Flood of 2013: A Summer of Angry Rivers Book foreword by our Mayor, Naheed Nenshi. This book chronicles how the Calgary Herald marshaled its reporters, photographers, videographers, and digital producers to cover the largest news event to have occurred in Southern Alberta. A number of special guests, including Herald journalists, photographers, and other special guests will be on hand to recount their flood experiences. This will take place in the John Dutton Theatre at the Central Library on Monday September 30 at 7 PM. For information and to register, visit our website. You can also register in person at a library branch or by telephone at 403-260-2620. Join us for this historic event!

 

Book Cover

The Flood of 2013: A Summer of Angry Rivers in Southern Alberta

By the Calgary Herald; foreword by Naheed Nenshi

(a portion of proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit the Calgary Foundation's Flood Rebuilding Fund)

 

 

 

Balmoral School Celebrates 100 Years

by Christine H - 4 Comment(s)

AJ 91 02

Balmoral School, 1968

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 0571

While chatting with some friends at the Historic Calgary Week volunteer recognition event, I was reminded that Balmoral School was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Actually, the school had planned its celebrations for June 21, but we all know what happened on that day, so it was postponed until the new school year. On Friday September 13 the celebration was held and the new clock faces unveiled. There is a great deal of history in that clock tower.

Built in 1913, Balmoral school was the last and most expensive of the nineteen sandstone schools built by the school board between 1892 and 1914. The sandstone building boom ended with the onset of World War I. After the war many of the artisans who worked the stone had returned to their homes in Scotland. Other materials were available at a reasonable cost, so no more sandstone schools were built.

When it opened, Balmoral was an elementary school, with the Crescent Heights Collegiate sharing the building. William Aberhart was principle of Crescent Heights. The High School moved to its own building in 1929.

The defining characteristic of Balmoral School is its clock tower. It has stood blank-faced since the school was completed. Stories about the clock-that-never-was abound. A favourite is that the works for the clock were shipped to Canada on the Titanic. It’s a good story, except the Titanic was sunk in 1912, a year before the school was built. The true story is that, as war approached and the boom ended, there was no money for a clock for the school. Over the years different groups have tried to remedy the situation, but fundraising is a difficult thing and there was never enough money raised. There was even a song written about it:

Old clock tower overhead,
Still no clock when we go to bed
No clock wakes us in the morn
No clock since our school was born

Finally, a corporate donor, BP Energy, offered money to pay for a clock for the tower. Sadly, the years had taken their toll on the tower and to bring it up to a state where it could hold the clock would cost over 100,000 dollars. As a compromise, clock faces, without working mechanisms, were installed to fill in the painted wood faces. They indicate 4:05, which was the time of the end-of-school bell when the school first opened.

AJ 91 02

Balmoral School taken during a snowstorm, 1966

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection AJ 91-02

We have the 1921 Census, now what?

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

Electoral Atlas of Canada 1895

Electoral Atlas of Canada, Yale & Cariboo, 1895

(This probably won't help if you have family on the Prairies or other Unorganized Territories, but may be helpful for other areas)

Genealogists were very excited when the images of the 1921 Canadian census were released to Library and Archives Canada and then put into Ancestry’s database. The ardor has somewhat cooled as many of the researchers found out that there is no name index and to find ancestors, we will need to know where they were living and then, and this is the difficult part, find out what census division and subdivision they were in. (Unless, of course, you want to scan each of the nearly 8.8 million names one by one.)

But genealogists, never ones to accept the status quo, and even less likely to want to wait for the name index to be compiled, are pulling together resources to help us find those divisions and subdivisions and offering suggestions for using the records. I’ve pulled together a few and welcome any other suggestions. According to Ancestry, the census districts were roughly equivalent to electoral districts, cities or counties. Sub-districts were often parts of cities such as wards, townships, institutions, reservations, etc. This is not always the case but it is a good place to start.

In some cases, you can check for the district and sub-district in the 1911 census, which is free to search through Automated Genealogy. This can work if your ancestors didn’t move in the intervening 10 years and if the districts and divisions hadn’t changed. I tried this with my Saskatchewan ancestors and came up empty, but it is a good place to start.

If you had ancestors who were First Nations and living on a reserve, ancestors who were criminals and were incarcerated on census day or an ancestor who was confined to a hospital on the day of the census, you may be in luck as these institutions were often enumerated separately. Again, you need to have a general idea of where they were, but as you go through the list of sub-divisions under each division you will see the reservations, penitentiaries and other institutions listed in the descriptions.

If your people did move around and especially if they were urbanites, city directories can be invaluable. More and more of them are being digitized and can be searched online. Directories for towns and cities on the Prairies are available through Peel’s Prairie Provinces .

Other directory digitization projects can be found through Library and Archives Canada.

You can also find directories (among many other wonderful things) at Archive.org. You can search the archive with the place name and the term ‘directory’ to see what is available. I was able to find a 1921 directory for Saskatchewan, which allowed me to find the name and address of the orphanage in Prince Albert where my grandmother was sent, which allowed me to locate her in the 1921 census.

And it is always worth having a look at the website for the library in the area you are researching. Many libraries offer a look-up service so if the directory you need isn’t available digitally, the local library may have it in paper.

There are some very dedicated genealogists who are pulling together finding aids for the 1921 census.

Parts of Toronto – Rob Hoare has posted this finding aid for parts of Toronto:

https://github.com/robhoare/census1921/blob/master/index/combined-toronto-city.txt

Kingston Frontenac Public Library has published this for their area:

http://reads.kfpl.ca/2013/08/08/present-from-the-past-1921-census-is-here-at-last/

British Columbia Genealogical Society has this site to help guide you through their province:

http://www.bcgs.ca/?tag=1921-canada-census

And if you have Doukhobor ancestors, the Doukhobor genealogy website has pulled together a list of settlements:

http://www.doukhobor.org/1921-Census-Settlement.htm

 

Do you have any tips? I would appreciate hearing from you. Just post a comment to this site and I’ll add it to the list.

We're Back!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

cpl 104-03-01

Circulation Department, Central Library, 1963

Calgary Public Library Archives: Our Story in Pictures, CPL 104-03-01

The Central Library officially re-opens today after the floods closed us down for more than two months. It is good to be back. We opened quietly to shake out some of the new procedures last week and it was so good to see many of our old customers return to welcome us.

Our old building took quite a beating but just like its staff, it has proved to be resilient (mostly, we’re still not 100%). In the 50+ years this building has stood, even before it was built, it has faced all kinds of adversity. A citizen challenged the legality of the city borrowing money for the new Central Library without requiring a vote on a money bylaw. A judge ruled that because the library would be built using funds held in reserve, council could proceed without a vote. That was in 1962. At this time the Memorial Park branch was so crowded that administrative offices, the technical services department and the reference and technical library were moved to building on 6th Street and 9th Avenue, more than 6 blocks from the main library.

The building of the new central library was long overdue, according the Mr. Castell, the head librarian at the time. The location of the new branch was to be next to the new police building and across from city hall. That raised some eyebrows as well, as the “East End” as this area was known in the 60s, was kind of a shady area. But council stuck to their guns, claiming that a new central library would be the starting point for a regeneration of the east end of the city. It was, in fact, said Mayor Hays, the safest place in the city, what with all those policemen all over the place. The plans went ahead and the new library was officially opened in June of 1963. It was a very different place from what it is now. The children’s department was in the basement (I’d always wondered why the fixtures in the staff bathroom down there were so low) ...

cpl 104 05 01

Children's Department in the New Central Library, 1963

Calgary Public Library Archives: Our Story in Pictures CPL 104-05-01

...and there was enough extra space that the Glenbow had a gallery on the 3rd floor. There was a bindery, administration offices, an auditorium on the 6th floor and a sweeping staircase to get customers to the reference library on the second floor.

CPL 104 09 01

Glenbow Gallery, 3rd Floor of the New Central Library, 1963

Calgary Public Library Archives: Our Story in Pictures CPL 104-09-01

Over the years the library has been extended, with an entire new building added to the north side in the 1970s, and renovated and rejigged to keep up with changes in the way we use the library and to make room for innovations like photocopiers, online catalogue and circulation systems, public access computers, coffee shops and the like. Though it seems that libraries are staid and conservative and have remained unchanged since the library at Alexandria, they are actually constantly in flux and continually change to meet the needs of the customers. We will look on this latest “reconfiguration” as just another opportunity to adapt, since we are so good at it.

Check out our archives photos if you want to see the Central Library in its original state. And drop by to say hi – we’re delighted to be back and would like to see you all again. We missed you.

CPL 10419 01

New Central Library under Construction in 1963

Calgary Public Library Archives: Our Story in Pictures, CPL 104-19-01

The Weir

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 229

Head Gates and Irrigation Canal, Calgary, ca. 1907

Postcards from the Past, PC 229

I seem to be obsessed with water these days. Or maybe it’s a normal reaction to betrayal by your rivers. Possibly not a healthy obsession, but I am going to write one more water-related post and then I will stop, promise. What caught my attention this week was the closure of the Harvie Passage, the man-made rapids designed to make the area around the weir safer for experienced paddlers (although they still strongly recommend that novices and folks in rubber rafts portage around the rapids) Harvie Passage is closed because the mighty Bow has rearranged the area and repairs need to be made before it is safe for use.

I remember going to a meeting where the plans for Harvie Passage were explained. It seemed like such an innovative way to deal with the “drowning machine” as the weir was known at the time. The building of two channels, designed to enhance the experience of the Bow, opened up that area of the river and allowed for enthusiasts to paddle without portage.

Growing up on the Bow, I knew the weir was there, but it wasn’t until much later in my life that I knew, first what a weir was exactly and second, why it was built. It may not seem like it this year, but the area in which we sit was considered by the early explorer John Palliser to be essentially a desert and not suitable for settlement unless irrigation could be provided. That section, still known as the Palliser Triangle, wasn’t even considered good enough to give away to homesteaders so it was taken out of the homestead scheme.

When the CPR came to claim their alternate sections of arable land as payment for building the railway, they also looked at the Palliser Triangle. They had just built a railway from coast to coast. Irrigating the prairie “desert” (the largest irrigation project in North America) would be a piece of cake by comparison and could increase their profits enormously. It was to this end that the weir was built, starting in 1904. This diversion would send water into a canal to send it on its way to the arid lands to the north and east. The Main Canal carried Bow River water to the Reservoir #1, or, as we call it today, Chestermere Lake (that was news to me too).

The weir was always a dangerous spot. A brief search through the old newspapers turns up many accounts of people drowning at that spot. Warning signs and buoys didn’t stop people from attempting to “shoot the rapids.” The idea of turning such a deadly, but necessary, area of the Bow into an attraction, was an inspired one, and I hope all will be well with Harvie Passage in the future.

We have some fascinating material on the history of the Western Irrigation District including Flow Beyond the Weir , which is the history of the Western Irrigation District, and some of the original reports and conference proceedings of the Western Canada Irrigation Association. Drop in to the Local History room at the Central Library and have a look.

PC 668

Canadian Pacific Irrigation Department Building, Calgary, 1907

Postcards from the Past, PC 668

The Old Swimmin' Hole

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

 

PC 190

Swimming in Elbow Park, ca 1940s (?)

Postcards from the Past, PC 190

Finally it is summer! Yay, just in time for fall. I was looking for a postcard to illustrate something about Elbow Park and I happened across this one that shows people swimming in the Elbow River. It was also posted as a nice summertime picture for Photo Fridays on our Facebook page. This got me to thinking about one of the best things about living at the confluence of two rivers – we have awesome swimming holes.

If any of you have heard Harry Sander’s list of 100 Awesome Things about Calgary, you will have heard about the rope swing on the Elbow River in what is now Lindsay Park. Well, back in the olden days, when I was a kid, there was no development in Lindsay Park, it was just waste ground owned by the city and the CNR. That made it a great hiding place for us to play hookey on a warm summer day (or a cold winter day, we didn’t need much of an excuse to duck school). We used to swing on the rope swing and drag our feet in the swimmin’ hole, sort of an inlet in the already shallow Elbow River. The more adventurous of us would drop in to the water and spend the rest of the afternoon lying on the bank in the sun trying to dry out our blue jeans. That was a really good excuse not to go back to class.

 

PC 960

Kiddies Pool at Bowness Park, ca 1920s

Postcards from the Past, PC 960

One of my other favourite places, and not just to swim, was Bowness Park. The company my dad worked for used to have a family picnic there every year. We got to ride on the rides and boat around the lagoon and swim in the kiddies pool. While not exactly a swimmin’ hole, it was a great place to spend a hot summer day.

The wading pond at Riley Park was a kind of swimming hole as well. Originally it was just a mud-bottomed slough (familiar to those of us who grew up on the prairies as the place where the cows drink and the ducks float). By the time I was old enough to paddle in the pool, it had been cemented and a lovely clump of willows planted in the middle. It is still a favourite with families in Calgary – my son loved to paddle in the pool when he was a baby.

Pool at Riley Park

Pool at Riley Park, prior to 1930

There were other excursions as well. When we were older we would ride our bikes out to Twin Bridges near the YMCA Camp and wander around in the silty river bottom. When we got our drivers’ licenses we’d pack up the car with towels and beer and dogs and spend the day and the evening hanging out and swimming in the river, until the RCMP whooshed us away and sent us all home.

Our junior high school used to hold its summer field day at Glenmore Park, and when we could shake off the chaperones (our moms and teachers) we would sneak a dip in the reservoir. Swimming in the city’s drinking water was not, apparently, limited to sneaky kids. Before the Glenmore Reservoir was built, there was a city reservoir roughly where Richmond Green is now. Militia units trained in the surrounding park and the soldiers were known to cool off after a long day of training in the reservoir, much to the dismay of the medical officers.

With the recent uprising of our peaceful rivers, it would be best to check on conditions before you try to take a dip in any of Calgary’s swimmin’ holes. But while you’re reminiscing, why not post your swimmin’ hole story in the comments section? We’d love to hear it.

The 1921 Census of Canada is Here!

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

 

Calgary in 1921 Census

Cover page for Calgary, District 4, 1921 Census of Canada

Courtesy Library and Archives Canada

 

Since we’re already on a census theme, I am overjoyed to announce that the 1921 Census for Canada was released by Statistics Canada to Library and Archives Canada earlier this month and the images are now available on Ancestry Library Edition. There is no name index as of yet, but Ancestry is hard at work trying to get all 8.8 million names indexed. This census has been eagerly awaited by genealogists. Given the wrangling required to get the 1911 census released, we weren’t sure we were ever going to see this one. For many genealogists, this may be the first census on which we can find our parents or grandparents. I know it is going to answer any number of questions for me once I can locate my mom’s mom and her family.

I had a boo ‘round Ancestry this afternoon and had a bit of a time finding where they had stashed the images. Because they are not indexed, the records don’t show up in a search or in the card catalogue. But nothing will stand in the way of a genealogist on a quest. The way I found them (thanks to my colleague for assisting) was to log into AncestryLE, hit the Search button at the top of the page and then choose Explore by location in the middle of the page. Then I selected ‘Canada and then Alberta. You can choose any province except for Newfoundland, which wasn’t a province in 1921. Once you’ve selected your province, you will see a list of record types. Census and Voters Lists are the first category but the 1921 is not listed. Select View other… and you will see the 1921 Census at the bottom of the list. You can monitor progress on indexing by looking at the number to the right of the heading. Right now, there is a zero beside it. As indexing is done, the numbers should increase.

Once you’ve clicked on the link for the 1921 census you will see a box to the right labeled Browse this collection (see below).

Select your province and go wild. You can actually do this from home—check out Library and Archives Canada’s information page for a link—but to use indexing, once it is done, you will need to have an Ancestry subscription or use your library card for free, in-library access to Ancestry Library Edition. The images are great, especially compared to those of the 1911 Census, and the names are very easy to read. Have fun!

1921 Census in Ancestry

The 1921 Census Navigation Page on AncestryLE


And here is a reminder for those of you with Heritage Homes which may have been damaged in the floods, there is another information session being held tomorrow night, August 15, at Christ Church, Elbow Park, 3602 8th Street SE. You may have seen one of the presenters, Eileen Fletcher, on the Global Morning News talking about these sessions. There will also be a drop in session from 4-8 p.m. at the same location. You can find out more about this at the City of Calgary’s website and at the Calgary Heritage Initiatives website.

 

PC 51

Elbow Park, Calgary, 1940s

Postcards from the Past, PC 190

They've taken leave of their census!

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst

Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst

From the National Archives

I don’t want to talk about flooding anymore. I’m still feeling blue about being displaced and all the havoc that my once gentle rivers wreaked on my beautiful city so I am going to concentrate on genealogy for a while. One thing you can count on when you do genealogy, there is always something worse to discover.

I have a specific topic in mind and that has to do with a kind of ‘did you know thing” relating to finding your female ancestors in the UK. Deciding that if they were not to be considered as citizens when it came to voting, suffragettes, led by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, declared that they would not participate in the census being taken on April 2, 1911. The census asked that the householders list everyone present in the dwelling on census night. To avoid being enumerated, suffragettes took one of two approaches: Either they defaced the form, writing such things as "I will not supply these particulars until I have my rights as a citizen. Votes for Women” or they arranged to be out of the house on census night. To facilitate that many events were organized across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This was not as frivolous as it seems as refusing to participate in the census could land one in prison.

The papers carried wonderful stories of the evening’s events. One enterprising woman was discovered in the crypt of the House of Commons on the Monday following census night. She had concealed herself there to avoid being enumerated but was “duly returned” on a census form provided by the police for that purpose. Another woman had hidden herself in a broom closet for 46 hours. Edinburgh protesters spent the night in a vegetarian restaurant and in an abandoned store. Some women slept in vans in parks. The biggest event, however, was an evening rally in Trafalgar Square that was broken up by police. The suffragettes had rented the Aldwych Skating Rink (roller skating, not ice-skating) and retired there to listen to speeches and skate until morning.

The London Times reported that the suffragettes efforts were largely useless as the women were counted by police, however, their particulars were not recorded and this has an impact on researchers looking for female ancestors in the United Kingdom (as if finding female ancestors was not hard enough). If your ancestor was a suffragette, she may not show up in the 1911 UK Census. I can find no indication that suffragettes in Canada and the US attempted the same strategy in any organized way but this doesn’t mean that there weren’t some dedicated women who staged their own census boycott. So, if you’re looking for a female ancestor around that time, keep the boycott in mind and also keep in mind that there may be records elsewhere (such as police rosters, Votes for Women organization lists, newspapers accounts of the boycott, lists of contributors to the cause and other documents. ) As always, be inventive and think outside the page (the census page, that is).

Census

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