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Research for Writers

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Filing cabinet

To my surprise and delight I was asked to present at our annual Writers’ Weekend which was held on February 4. I presented “Historical Research for Writers” to a very surprising (to me, at least) crowd of 125 people who were all eager to find out where all the good stuff is stashed. As is usual with me, I was set off on a tangent thinking about the authors who have worked in our Local History room.

I remember when Will Ferguson, author of a number of books (all available at the Calgary Public Library) had his first “office” in the local history room. While working on Canadian History for Dummies, he stored his computer (kind of a joke to call it a laptop) in the Local History workroom. He tells the story in a Swerve magazine article. You can read it here and see a picture of him in the room.

We have also recently hosted Brian Brennan, who was researching and writing the official history of the Calgary Public Library, which will be released in April (to celebrate the “official” opening of the new library in 1912). I’m looking forward to this one, because Brian is such an inspiring storyteller and what I’ve seen of the book seems to me to be his finest work yet.

We also provided research assistance for Katherine Govier, whose protagonist in the book Between Men becomes obsessed with the story of Rosalie New Grass, a Cree woman who was brutally murdered in 1889. Rosalie’s tragic story is true and Ms Govier researched the case in the Local History room. Our copy of Between Men is signed “with gratitude” for the assistance she received on her project from our staff.

As I mentioned, the Writers’ Weekend was a huge success and I was chuffed to see the crowd that came out to hear about research. Nothing turns me off a piece of writing quicker than an error. (Well, bad dialogue comes a very close second). Where the work is fiction or non-fiction, good, solid research always has a place. We are very lucky to be able to meet and assist authors with their projects. We have helped with fairly modest publications, such as family histories, and with some major projects, such as the upcoming history of the library. We are always delighted to be able to assist – it is an opportunity for us to show off our wonderful collections and we always learn something new. What I guess I am trying to say is that you should all come down and visit us and see what weird and wonderful things you can dig up.

Local History Room

Serendipity and the Search for Glenbow

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

Glenbow Residents

Residents of Glenbow Alberta, ca 1911-1913

Doreen Morden Family Archives

We have been helping and, frankly, watching in awe, one of the regular researchers who frequents the local history collection. She is working on a reconstruction of the town of Glenbow, a town that very few people have heard of. It was the centre of a quarry, which provided sandstone for several prominent buildings in the province. The town was five miles east of Cochrane on the north side of the Bow. The land was not really fit for farming as it was on a bench over the river but keen eyes noticed that in the outcroppings were seams of sandstone. Various attempts were made, starting in 1905, to set up a quarry to exploit the resources of the valley but it wasn’t until 1908 when an American, Chester de la Vergne, bought the property. He had wealth that had come from the family’s refrigeration business and soon he had excavated a town site, which eventually included a school. A post office was in operation from 1908 to 1920. De la Vergne loved the area and established the Glenbow Ranche as a home for him and his family. He built a magnificent house on the property.

At its peak, Glenbow quarry was thought to employ 500 men. By 1909 things were looking very good. A grain elevator was built in 1910 on promises that a bridge would be built over the Bow to connect the farm land on the south side with the town on the north side. But by 1912 the boom that had fueled the prosperity of the Glenbow quarry had bust. Building ground to a halt and there was no need for the fine paskapoo sandstone that had made Glenbow’s fortune. The bridge was never built so the elevator stood useless until it burned down in 1915. De la Vergne tried to start a brick making industry in order to give work to his employees, but this, too, was destined to fail. People were forced to leave the town, to look for work elsewhere. Buildings were removed or burned; equipment from the mine was sold as scrap. Three large homes, built by optimistic acquaintances of de la Vergne’s lay abandoned for many years and in the 1970s de la Vergne’s own house, empty for many years, was burned to the ground. Eventually, the Glenbow land was purchased by E.L. Harvie for farming. The land has since been donated to the Government by the Harvie family for use as a Provincial Park, but Glenbow the town has ceased to exist.

Our researcher’s task is to look for information about the town and the people who lived there as part of a volunteer effort to map the old town and quarry. Because there is so little left of Glenbow, the researchers are relying on information gleaned from any resource they can get their hands on. They are searching for the names of people who lived in the town, in hopes of finding as much information as they can. This is where serendipity has come in. (Although, serendipity does come after much hard work J)

Following a clue provided by the information on Glenbow in a local history, our researcher pursued the name of a woman whose child was put up for adoption after she died in childbirth. Using cemetery transcriptions, vital events records, online sources including Ancestry and Rootsweb, she was able to find contact information for a descendant of one of the family members. This person had a photo of some of the denizens of Glenbow standing in front of a building. That is the photo above. What we are hoping is that one of you may recognize someone in this picture. The more people that can be identified, the better chance there is of finding someone who has information. If you think you recognize anyone in this photo, please let me know. I will pass the information on to the researchers. You can post your information as a comment below (or you can contact us at

If you are interested in finding out more about Glenbow, you can check out the local history Acres and Empires either in print at the Calgary Public Library or online through Our Future Our Past. You could also think about attending a talk on February 28 at the Chinook Country Historical Society’s monthly meeting at Fort Calgary at 7:30. Brian Vivian and Susan Caen will be talking about the town site, the quarry and the area surrounding. (Check out the information here - click on 2011-2012 Monthly Program Details)

PC 255Land Titles Building (made with Glenbow sandstone)

Land Titles Building (built with sandstone from the Glenbow Quarry)

Postcards from the Past, PC 255

Family Heirlooms

by Christine Hayes


Souvenir Handkerchief showing Calgary Public Library and South African War Memorial

Many of us have things that were left to us by family members. In my family, we inherited, on the passing of our great aunt, a musical fruit plate that my brother adored as a child, and an antler cribbage board made by my great grandfather. These are not valuable monetarily but they do have great value within our family. Other people’s heirlooms can be fascinating as well. Just look at the success of “Antiques Roadshow” and the popularity of Calgary Public Library’s Antiques Appraisal day. Sometimes other people’s heirlooms cross over from family interest to local history interest – we really like those kinds of things here. Some of the more obvious examples are postcards, of which we have a major collection here that you can view in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (see the link on the left of the page).

A very interesting artifact was brought to my attention recently by a colleague who collects vintage stuff. She was shopping and found this hankie, with an image of the Memorial Park Library on it. It is a very interesting piece. We haven’t been able to find much information about it but it looks like it might be souvenir hankies, which were popular articles for servicemen to send home to their loved ones. I found this serviceman’s letter on a website called Canadian Letters and Images Project: “When up in town this a.m. I got a few souvenir handkerchiefs, one of which I am enclosing for Jean. Hoping she likes it.” The letter was from Louis Duff to his Aunt Lily, sent from Belgium in 1915. Calgary was a training centre for several units of the C.E.F. so it is a possibility that this handkerchief, like the one sent to Jean, was purchased by a serviceman.

PC 1895

Memorial Park

Postcards from the Past, PC 1895

We have an image similar to the one on the hankie on a postcard that has a 1940 postmark. It may be that the company that produced the souvenir postcards also produced the handkerchief (or that the photographer marketed his image to a number of printing houses or….). If you have any information about this kind of heirloom, please add a comment to this entry. I’m always interested to hear what you all have to say. It’s the best way to learn!

Heirlooms, such as the hankie and even the postcards, require special handling so they survive to be passed on to the next generation. We have several books in our collection that can help you, if you are lucky enough to have been passed some of these delightful objets. One is Saving stuff by Don Williams, another is Caring for your family treasures by Jane Long.

Modern Architecture in Calgary

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 43-06

Elveden House under construction, 1960

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 43-06

We were at the Heritage Roundtable last week where the subject was Calgary’s architectural history. I learned a lot from the presenters, about historic building styles, the amazing resources available at the Canadian Architectural Archives at the U of C and about historic building research. But the talk that really opened my eyes was David Down’s presentation about Calgary’s Modernist architecture. In the course of my research I often see that magnificent old buildings were torn down, especially in the urban renewal schemes of the 1960s and I wonder what could have possessed the planners of the day to allow the destruction of such historic properties. However, I sometimes look at buildings like the Calgary Board of Education across the street from us or the Centennial Planetarium and wonder “how could the planners of the day have allowed those concrete bunkers to be built?” I should really be ashamed of myself, I guess. We often don’t appreciate the things of our day. It is only when we look back, with the advantage of hindsight, that we can see the elegance and beauty of contemporary architecture.

I was exercising my newfound eyes as I rode to work through the West LRT construction. I have watched as the overpass for the train was built, using that very cool mobile crane and the process certainly fascinated me. But looking at the structure itself, I see a kind of elegance and lightness in the fluted pillars and the sculpted concrete of the overpass itself. The pillars, with their delicate reeding, remind me a little of some columns seen in Egypt (like these at Edfu - or maybe I’m just dreaming?) Edfu pillars from iStock

The question was raised about what we will consider “heritage” in the next century. Will we look at the new City Water Services building or the Bow building and see a historic site worth saving or will we ask ourselves: “What on earth were they thinking?” In any case, I am going to find out more about Calgary’s modern architecture by having a look at some of the books we have here on the subject. I think I’ll start with Calgary Modern, 1947-1967 by Geoffrey Simmins and Calgary Architecture: the Boom Years, 1972-1982 by Pierre Guimond. Both are available in the CHFH collection on the 4th floor at the Central Library as well as in the regular collection.

Discover Historic Calgary

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 52

13th Avenue Looking East

Postcards From the Past PC 52

A couple of months ago I went to a Heritage Roundtable where the City of Calgary Heritage Planners talked about a new website they were launching. It was called “Discover Historic Calgary” and it contains a whack of information about the built heritage of the city of Calgary. I was very excited to see this website because we here in the Community Heritage and Family History section of the Calgary Public Library always knew what kind of information the Heritage Planners were collecting about the buildings in the city but access to this information was a little complicated. Now it is available on a website for all interested Calgarians to see. It is well worth a visit. It includes information about buildings on the “Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources” and includes information such as location, history, significance and even historic and contemporary photographs. It also includes an explanation of the Historic Resource Evaluation System.

You can search for historic buildings by keyword, by address, or by development era. The advanced search allows you to search by use, architectural style, use or community. The “Help” link provides a really good overview of what the searches entail. This is another great resource that researchers interested in the history of Calgary can use in conjunction with our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. You can access Discover Historic Calgary at

City of Calgary Annual Reports

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 935

Horses and Wagon outside of Fire Station Number 2

Postcards from the Past, PC 935

While I pride myself on my knowledge of the Community Heritage and Family History collection, I will admit that I don’t know every item in there. And I am always delighted when a customer passes on an interesting tidbit. This week a researcher drew my attention to the annual reports from the City of Calgary for 1909 to 1914. Now, I am not really a fan of government documents, but they do sometimes turn out to be the most fascinating things. That is true of these annual reports. Did you know that in 1909 it cost the police department twice as much to feed the horses as it did to feed the prisoners? Well, the horse feed coast $294.65 while food for the prisoners cost $138.28. Also, a fire alarm was called in on the 25 of January 1910 to the home of T. Wheatley 1012 17 Avenue W. The fire caused $50 damage and was caused by “matches and mice”. Those pyromaniac rodents! The Fire Department put it out. There is a roster (listed as “rooster” in the report) of firemen and the horses who served with them. For example, Frank was a 12 year old white horse, who stood 17 hands and weighed 1500 pounds while Brownie was an 11 year old black horse (?) who stood 16.2 hands and weighed 1550 pounds. Cap was Chief Cappy Smith’s horse, and though not very imaginatively named, he was a 12 year old bay who stood 15.3 hands and weighed 1150 pounds.

As for the police, they tried 3922 cases, 1334 of which were for drunkenness, 2 for fortune telling and one for “pigamy” (one hopes that is a misprint). They even kept statistics on the nationalities of those they arrested. Only one person was from Iceland. There is a complete roster of the police force including former service, the date the person joined the police force and the date when the person was appointed to their present rank. There’s another obscure source for you genealogists!

Now if someone could tell me what the Irish Suspense Account is. It is listed in the City Comptroller’s Office Annual Statement under receipts and is $195.93. I have a notion this may be a bit of a racial slur. Does anyone have any ideas?

The reports also give a very vivid statistical picture of the concerns of the citizens and the growth of Calgary. The Medical Health Officer’s report for 1913 lists every occurrence of every disease, points out the need for a new water treatment facility and calls for the establishment of free public baths because “there are hundreds of people in the city today who never have a bath from one year’s end to the another.” Between them and the horses the town must have smelled very interesting.

These reports could be very useful for genealogists, historians and folks who just want a glimpse of the history of the city (and, believe me, it can be a very entertaining experience). They are kind of hard to find in the catalogue – you have to go to Power Search and enter Calgary into the author box, Annual Report into the title box and Budget into the subject – or you could just remember the call number 352.0006 CAL – but they are well worth the search. Drop in for a peek.

A New Year in a (soon to be) New Country

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 841

Interior of a Newspaper Printing Office, Daysland, Alberta, ca. 1914

Postcards from the Past, 841

Facing another decade in the new millennium, I was pondering, as I often do, the doings of our forebears as they entered a new year and, really, a new era at the beginning of the year that would see the formation of our country. New Year’s Day in 1867 was a Tuesday. The papers were published (at least the Globe and Mail was published) so I was able to read about the goings on in Toronto, Canada West, for that day. What were those hard working, decent people, those solid citizens, up to as they prepared to meet the new year? Well….from the front page of the Globe:


Monday Dec. 31

"…As usual on a Monday morning a considerable number of drunk and disorderly persons came before his Worship.

Michael Blake, 47, drunk, not known to police, was fined $2 and costs, in default 20 days in gaol. …It appeared that he had been found drunk on Church Street, with a considerable amount of money in his pocket, and his Worship thought that it was worth something to him, under the circumstances, to be taken care of by the constables, and so he was made to disgorge.

Margaret Kennedy, 31, vagrant, known to the police, was sent to gaol for 20 days. She …has been going round, book-in-hand, begging, ostensibly for an apocryphal widow named Sophia Shaw. Among others, she bled his Worship to the amount of a couple of dollars. She entered volubly into a history of herself, Sophia Shaw, and their affairs, which narrative was stopped with some difficulty, by the time she had succeeded in mystifying the Court and all present."

Not everyone was whoopin’ it up. The various churches held celebrations in fitting with their “dispositions”. Members of the Methodist congregation prayed out the old year and in the new. St. John’s Church held a midnight service, the bells at St. James were rung from 11:30 PM and military and other bands played.

I can read these articles because the library has a subscription to “Globe and Mail: Canada’s Heritage from 1844” in the E-Library. This is a searchable database and is just one of three historic newspaper subscriptions that we have. We also have “Toronto Star: Pages from the Past” which dates from 1894 and the “Times of London Digital Archive 1785-1985”. These can be of great interest to genealogists researching in the area because they are searchable. I ran a search on one of my family names through the Globe and Mail and found an article about a boy from Norwood who had been kicked in the mouth by a horse. Not necessarily a nice article, but one that contained information about a possible ancestor (yes, weird information but that’s what makes genealogy so interesting.)

You can also use these databases to find details about the life and times of people in the past. Because we don’t have a good index for the Calgary Herald, we often use the Toronto papers when we are looking for dates of significant events, especially in the area of military history. When we find the date of a particular battle, or of the death of a soldier, we can go to the right date of the Herald and look for local coverage.

Newspapers can be gold mines of information for genealogists and historians. Check out our historic newspapers in the E-Library section of the Calgary Public Library homepage. The link is in the black bar at the top of the page. Once you’ve entered the E-Library, choose History and Genealogy from the menu and then, from the menu that comes up, select your newspaper. You will need to enter your Calgary Public Library barcode from the back of your card and your PIN.

Influenza and the Isolation Hospital

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 755

Bird's eye view of Calgary, 1906 (Isolation Hospital in foreground)

Postcards from the Past, PC 755

It is interesting, the images that stay in one's mind. Watching the news reports about the outbreak of the new influenza A strain I remembered the photos I had seen in the newspapers (I mean the old newspapers, I read them more frequently that the current ones, I'm embarrassed to say) of Calgarians during the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919. The Alberta government had passed legislation requiring people to wear face masks when out in public. Spitoons and cuspidors were banned, as was spitting on the street. In Regina, one could be fined for coughing or sneezing. Faced with a global outbreak of a deadly disease and with no antibiotics or effective vaccines, health professionals and legislators fought back in the only way they could. That meant isolating those with the flu and keeping them from the healthy population.

That explains the photograph used to illustrate this entry. It is from our postcard collection and is, actually, the oldest postcard in the collection. It shows a view of the city to the north. The building in the centre foreground is the original isolation hospital which was situated on 13th Avenue SE on the riverbank. That is very near where the remains of the second General Hospital, the Rundle Ruins, are located near the Stampede Grounds. The Isolation Hospital was used for patients with communicable diseases such as, measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and typhoid. It was small, but generally adequate until the outbreak of the Spanish influenza at the end of World War I.

During the outbreak of the flu, the old General Hospital, which had been replaced in 1910, was reopened for influenza patients. Schools were also pressed into service as influenza hospitals as well. Schools had been closed during the worst of the epidemic along with theatres and other places where people congregated. You can see Victoria school at the centre of this photograph. Victoria school was was one of the schools pressed into service. The library, too, was closed. When it reopened on November 21, customers were promised that all books would be fumigated before they were circulated again.

There are lots of interesting books about the history of the hospitals and the history of the Spanish influenza epidemic in Alberta. For a history of the General Hospital, pick up Hospital: a portrait of Calgary General by D. Scollard. For an interesting view of the Spanish influenza outbreak, I found the chapter by Stephanie Keer in The Great War and its consequences 1914-1920 in the series Alberta in the 20th Century to be very informative. You can find both of these titles in the Calgary Public Library catalogue.

Local Histories

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 483

Carmangay, Alberta 1911

Postcards from the Past, PC 483

I was having a discussion with one of my regular customers about the kind of information one can find in a local history. I think anyone researching family, especially if they were rural people, should check to see if a local history has been written for the area in which they settled. Local histories often include the stories of families, usually written by a member of that family or by someone who remembers them. This can provide details of our ancestors lives that we would not be able to get anywhere else. For instance, I could never figure out the origin of my great uncle's middle name. It looked like a family name but we didn't have any Plante's in the family that I knew of. Reading the local history for Guelph, where the family was from, I noticed that the priest in the parish was Father Plante. Eureka! Of course, as with any anectodal resource we need to take the information we glean with a grain of salt but...

What my customer and I were discussing, though, was the detail about the history of a place that can be gleaned from these little jewels. Many of the local histories in our collection include information about the schools, churches, hotels, stores, swimming holes, you name it. They can also include lists of men who enlisted in the forces during particular conflicts, the names of the pastors in the various churches, all kinds of information that would be difficult to find elsewhere, if it could be found at all.

The importance of local histories for the study of social history is indicated by the various digitization projects that are being undertaken to make this information available to all researchers. The two that we use the most at the library are the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project, Our Future Our Past which includes digitized local histories from Alberta and the Our Roots/Nos Racines project which has digitized local histories from all over Canada. Of course, you can always visit our library catalogue and search for a local history for your area (use the place-name and the word 'history' to see what we have). Our Community Heritage and Family History collection includes a large number of Alberta histories and our circulating collection also includes Alberta local histories as well as a few for locales outside of the province. If the history you're looking for isn't in any of the above collections, we can always try to get it for you on interlibrary loan.

(The postcard used to illustrate this entry is a photograph of Carmangay Alberta circa 1911. It is postcard 483 and can be found in our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Collection which is accessible through the link on the left)

Henderson's Directories Online

by Christine Hayes - 2 Comment(s)


City directories are often overlooked by genealogical researchers, but they can provide a great deal of information. Typically, a directory entry contains much more than just a name and address. The entries often include an occupation, maybe even a place of employment, sometimes the name of a spouse. In the case of entries for women heads of household, it may include an indication that she is a widow and sometimes even the name of her deceased spouse. Directories exist for a great many communities.

In the Prairie Provinces the directories for many towns and cities were collected by Bruce Peel and made available on microfiche in the collection "Peel's Prairie Provinces." The Calgary Public Library has this collection in the Community Heritage and Family History Room. The directories in the collection cover towns like Medicine Hat, Regina, Swift Current, Saskatoon as well as many others. In the Community Heritage and Family History room we also have paper copies of the city directories for Calgary.

Recently, however, the University of Alberta has launched the Peel's Prairie Provinces collection online including some of the directories. Directories for Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Winnipeg, to name just a few, can be searched at The directories are searchable, which means you can search across the whole collection, and a new feature, "Flipbook" has been added so that you can navigate through the book. Check out the icon on the top right corner of the page.

Beyond the directories, the Peel collection includes a wide variety of information, some of it quite hard to find elsewhere, relating to the history of the prairies. It has been a very valuable collection to historians, providing access to documents that were previously inaccessible. Now, with the launch of the online version, this great collection is available to everyone. Have a look. It is a real treasure trove.

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