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

by Christine H - 0 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.

The Cecil Hotel

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

AJ 89 11Cecil Hotel before the paint job, 1965 Alison Jackson Collection

It’s in the news again, and the news ain’t good. It looks like we may be saying goodbye to the infamous, but decidedly colourful, Cecil Hotel. The city is in the process of selling the hotel to the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, the organization that is responsible for the redevelopment of the East Village. The land the hotel sits on could be turned in to a short term parking lot. The argument against preserving the building is that over the years the distinguishing heritage characteristics of the hotel have been stripped away. On the other side of the argument is that the building is much more than a physical object. The value in many of our heritage properties also lies in the intangibles – the purpose and the people associated with the site. This may be what is plaguing the efforts to preserve the Cecil. In the last years of its life, it became a byword for murder and mayhem. The police were spending as much time there as the patrons. While a little scandal can often be a positive (think of the black sheep in your family) the level of crime and violence associated with the Cecil is proving to be detrimental to its preservation.

The Cecil wasn’t always a dive. Built in 1911, it was a working man’s hotel and included a dining room and bar, along with a billiard room and a barbershop. A quick search of the Henderson’s Directories shows that blacksmiths, mechanics, stablemen, and other tradesmen called the Cecil home. With a booming and transient population, these kinds of hotels provided short and long term residences for men working in and around Calgary. An article in The 100,000 Manufacturing, Building and Wholesale Book stated that “be it stranger or Calgary citizen who enters the portals of the Hotel Cecil he is at once impressed with the atmosphere of good fellowship which permeates every nook and cranny of this popular hostelry.”


PC 947Cecil Hotel 1912 Postcards from the Past

The Calgary Public Market was next door and many of the storefronts of the Cecil were occupied by businesses that capitalized on this proximity. One of the businesses that operated from the hotel was Der Deutsch-Canadier, Western Canada’s largest German language newspaper. The proprietors of the hotel, who were German immigrants to the city, were also the publishers of the newspaper.

There is no trace of any of the other buildings that made up the area around the market. In fact, there are only 10 heritage buildings left in the whole East Village, a sad fact given that this end of the city was the hub of activity in the pre-WWI years. I’d be sorry to see the Cecil go. It would take with it one hundred years of human history in all of its grubby glory.

For an interesting perspective on the Cecil, you can visit the site “This is my Cecil” started as a part of the “This is my City” program.

I've Got a Bushel of Green Tomatoes, Thanks Mother Nature!

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

PC 1606And we thought we had a lot of snow, Postcards from the Past, PC 1606

Well, September is here and boy did it come in like a lion! I’m assuming this means it will go out like a lamb, or is that only for May? Anyway, having slogged through ankle deep snow and wrestled the fallen branches from my poor old birch tree, I am feeling rather icy toward Mother Nature. My dog is delighted, but he is the only one I know who is.

Even though I am a native Calgarian, I cannot reconcile myself to the climate here. Every year I plant tomatoes, dreaming of the hot late summer days when I will pick the ripe fruit from the green and fragrant plants. And nearly every year, I am out in the freezing cold picking hard-frozen, green orbs from blackened, frost damaged and, quite frankly, pathetic-looking remnants of my labours. Does this make me an optimist or a fool? (Quite likely, a bit of both—a foolish optimist?).

Certainly this phenomenon would explain the hundreds of recipes calling for green tomatoes in the prairie cookbooks we have in our Local History collection. I thought I might have to resort to one of these as I looked at my hastily harvested crop. And since I am using a recipe from our cookbook collection in Local History, you get to share my experience.

So, here is a recipe for green tomato marmalade—which is something I had heard of but never eaten, until I saw a ripe tomato version at a shop in the Farmer’s Market. This one is from the Blue Bird Cookbook by the Domestic Science Department of the American Woman’s Club of Calgary (call number 641.5 BLU). The recipe courtesy Ms. H.L. Freeland:

Chop 2 quarts of green tomatoes fine, 2 lemons cut fine, a little water. Boil until tender and add cup for cup of sugar. Cook until it jellies and add ginger root for taste.

What could be easier?

Another one I’m going to try is green tomato chow chow, just because I like the name, also from the Blue Bird cookbook. Recipe courtesy Mrs. A.E. Shore.

Green Tomato Chow Chow

1 peck green tomatoes
4 large onions
6 green peppers
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Chop tomatoes (not too fine) and let stand in brine overnight. Drain and cover with vinegar (not too strong). Add peppers, onions, sugar and spices and cook until tender. Place in bottles or jars with parowax over them if corks or covers are not available.


Winter Elbow RiverA lovely winter

How to Find an Old Newspaper

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


CPL 238 05 04People reading newspapers on microfilm, CPL Archives

Genealogists and historians know how important newspapers are in any kind of historical research. Whether you’re looking for an obituary or trying to find out what was going on in your hometown, nothing captures the tenor of the times like a newspaper. How do you find those newspapers, though? If you’re not from a major urban centre, it can be tricky even finding out what the newspaper was called, especially since researching the various permutations of a newspaper’s names and its publication history can be a genealogical research project in itself.

Our national library, Library and Archives Canada, collects lots and lots of newspapers. They receive print copies of select Canadian current dailies, all Canadian ethnic newspapers, all Canadian Aboriginal newspapers, and student newspapers received from Canadian University Press. They also receive some international papers. While you can consult any of these newspapers at Library and Archives Canada in person, not all of us can make that trek. But do not despair – much of the library’s holdings are available on microfilm (200,000 reels of it!) and can be borrowed on inter-library loan. And to help us find those newspapers, Library and Archives Canada has launched a new database — well, actually an enhanced version of a much-loved and oft used database.

This site has always been an invaluable resource for the names and publication history of Canadian newspapers. What the upgrade has given us are links to digitized versions of the papers, where they exist. Sites such as Peel’s Prairie Provinces, Our Future Our Past, Google News, and various other digitization projects can be accessed from the LAC list. The site also includes a list of general indexes to Canadian newspapers, including online paid sources, free sources and print sources as well as a geographical listing of indexes for specific newspapers or places. Have a look at what is available for Alberta.

There is also a section of online sources for news and indexes to the news. It’s a one-stop shop for all things newspaper.

BTW, our Family History Coaching program kicks off its new season on September 27. Join us for one-on-one help with your family history project. Volunteers from the Alberta Family Histories Society will be on hand in the genealogy section of the Central Library from 10 a.m. to noon. 

Harnam Singh Hari

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

From Sodbusting to SubdivisionHunam Singh and his son Ujugar, taken from Sodbusting to Subdivision

Calgary commemorated its first Sikh settler on the weekend, naming a park in honour of Harnam Singh Hari, in Kingsland, the community that occupies the land where he established his farm in 1909. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know this man’s name or the history of the Sikhs in Alberta. I remembered, however, that I had come across the name Singh while I was searching for soldiers who had enlisted for service in the First World War and was surprised to find them there. To remedy my ignorance I went digging in our Local History collection. (Luddite that I am, I always start my research with books). I found Splintered Dreams: Sikhs in Southern Alberta by Jaswinder Gundara that tells the stories of several Sikh families including that of Harnam Singh Hari.

The stories of our earliest non-European immigrants are always inspiring to me. People came to Canada in spite of a hostile environment and sometimes even more hostile communities. Chinese immigrants were charged a head tax, other Asian immigrants were required to have at least $200 with them while immigrants from Europe were only asked to have $20. Women and children under 18 were prohibited from immigrating, meaning that a lot of the Punjabi men came to Canada alone, leaving their families behind. In spite of all of this, people still came to Canada and men like Harnam Singh Hari worked hard and flourished. After purchasing several sections in what would become the Kingsland area, Harnam Singh and his son, Ujugar, purchased more land in the DeWinton area. The family is still farming in the area, and were chosen as Farm Family of the Year in 2011.

Harnam Singh returned to India in the 1950s taking with him ideas for the improvement of his home village and a share of stories to tell. His great grand-daughter has written a moving article about him for the Indian Quarterly. He passed away in India in 1969 but, thanks to the park that bears his name, he will not be forgotten.

Happy Anniversary, Princess Patricia's

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1673Currie Barracks "this is the cook"s house..."

For many years the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was stationed here in Calgary at the Currie Barracks. They were back last week, as part of the Memorial Relay in which soldiers are running from Edmonton to Ottawa carrying a baton which contains the names of all 1,866 members who have fallen in active service.

The PPCLI was formed in 1914, in response to the declaration of war. Hamilton Gault, of Montreal, offered to raise and equip a regiment. In honour of the daughter of our then Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, the regiment was named the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Princess Patricia personally designed its badge and colours for the regiment to take overseas to France. As the regiment's Colonel-in-Chief, she played an active role until her death. The PPCLI Colonel in Chief today is Adrienne Clarkson, our former GG

PC 1568Princess Patricia"s Mum and Dad, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, 1912

Raised in August of 1914, the regiment was in France by September of the same year. They were the first of the Canadians to serve in that theatre of war. By December they had lost 238 men and their original Commanding Officer. In May of 1915 the Patricia’s saw action in the Ypres salient, meeting the enemy in the battle of Frezenberg. In mere hours, 175 men had died. The baton being carried in the relay will be taken to Frezenberg to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle known in the regiment as the “Death of the Originals.”

The PPCLI came to Calgary after the Second World War and were stationed at Currie Barracks. Shortly after their arrival, they were converted from a Regular Army brigade to an Airborne Mobile Striking Force. This change was enthusiastically received as many of the men had served in the First Parachute Brigade in WWII. The Patricia’s became Canada's first peacetime parachute battalion. If you would like to read more about the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, you can check out their website or read any one of the great books written about them. Maybe start with David Bercusons' recent publication, The Patricia's : A Century of Service

The PPCLI was an active part of the Calgary community until the decision was made to reduce the number of bases so the battalion was moved to Edmonton. We welcomed them back, though, with open arms

Government Documents - A Treasure Trove for Genealogists

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Genealogy Records

One of my very first jobs at Calgary Public Library was as a summer student, sorting through the government documents collection on the third floor. It was a very interesting experience, albeit one I did not wish to repeat (although I did enjoy reading the pamphlet on mink ranching.) It wasn’t until I started doing serious genealogical and historical research that I came to see the value of these documents. I am often asked to talk about “obscure sources” and these are what come immediately to my mind. At Calgary Public Library, government documents are held in two locations, for the most part. Local History has a collection of documents relating to the history of Calgary, including planning documents, documents from the Geological Survey, reports relating to industry, governance, etc. The Government Documents collection holds the bulk of the material and it is located on the third floor.

Certainly, when we talk about resources in genealogy one of the first sources we talk about is actually a government document. The census was not taken for the benefit of future genealogists. It was actually taken by the government to get an idea of what the population of the country looked like at a given time. The genealogical value is just a bonus. The same holds true for the military records I have been using for the Lest We Forget program and other presentations I have been doing to mark the anniversary of the start of WWI. The Department of Defense took and kept the information, making this treasure trove a gov doc (as we call them in the biz).

I recently took a little tour of the third floor gov doc collection and found some other, less likely, resources that genealogists might find useful – or at least interesting. For example, I did not know that, in the 1950s at least, the annual report of the Calgary Police Department included information about notable cases that include the names of victims and perpetrators. There is also a list of cases that needed photographic evidence which includes the name of the accused. It also includes the names of people killed in fatal traffic accidents. So, if you have an ancestor who is a bit of a baddie, or someone who was a victim of a baddie, you may want to have a look in the police reports. The dates given could help lead to newspaper articles and other documentary evidence. (Call Number is CA4AL C PO AR date)

PC 968Calgary Police Dept. in front of City Hall, 1912

Another little gem I discovered were reports documenting the claims made following WWI by people who wanted reparations paid for various losses incurred during the war. I didn’t expect to find this is our collection, since there was no fighting in Canada, but there it was. I hadn’t thought about it, but Canadians were affected by enemy action. There were Canadians aboard the Lusitania when it was sunk. And the reaction to the sinking of the ship led to rioting and destruction of the homes and businesses of Canadians of German origin. There was also the explosion in Halifax harbor for which people sought reparations. Soldiers and their families sought payment for the loss of personal effects sent home by the military. There are also claims such as the one by a gentleman in Daysland who claimed that a certain person of German origin set fire to his grain elevator. The proceedings are indexed by name, so it is easy enough to check to see if one of your ancestors suffered a loss for which they later sought payment. (call number is CA 1 WC REP 1930) Again, who would have known, eh? Yet another hidden resource for genealogists, researchers and nosey folk like me.

A Calgary Soldier's Story

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1478I.O.D.E. War Memorial outside Memorial Park Library

I’m a little late with this post. We were in the throes of preparing for our Historic Calgary Week presentation “A Calgary Soldier’s Story” which we delivered successfully (whew!) at beautiful Memorial Park Library last night. We told the story of Joseph A. Convery, an Irish immigrant who came to Calgary from Belfast at the age of 16 and made a success in his farming endeavours, which allowed him to bring his parents and sister to live with him. He was a brave young man who, possibly sensing that the war was coming, joined the 15th Light Horse, a militia unit in Calgary, became a Lieutenant, and then enlisted in the CEF. His bravery and daring (how else would you describe a man who came alone to the barren prairie at 16) led him to the Royal Flying Corps, those Knights of the Air, who were so important to the success of the forces in Europe. Sadly, he lost his life when his plane went down near Arras just before the last major German offensive of the war.

As usual I learned a lot about many different things when I was researching this gentleman. I found out about the Canadians in the RFC/RAF, whose fearlessness allowed them to climb into these canvas and wood crates and fly over enemy territory, sussing out the lay of the land and dropping bombs from the cockpit. Some of the great men of Canadian history passed through the RFC/RAF including Roland Michener, Lester B. Pearson, Kenneth Irving, and other men of note. This fact leads me to wondering what would have become of our intrepid Irishman had he survived the war.

Joseph’s story was just one of many and I was honoured to be able to bring it to life and share it with everyone. Our history (and I know I harp on this, forgive me) is the history of people just like Joseph Convery, who came and made something of himself and the offered all that to the defense of his adopted home. It is the story of people like Joseph that is the story of this country – the pioneers who came and stayed, even though the weather sucks and the animals will kill you. We are something else, aren’t we?

The C-Train: One of the 10 Triumphs of Canadian Transportation

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

PC 1333Calgary, looking along Memorial Drive, showing the new, modern LRT

What do the Avro Arrow, the Canadian Pacific Railway, Pearson Airport and the C-Train have in common? They are all on the list of 10 Triumphs of Canadian Transportation as chosen by the Transport Association of Canada in honour of its 100th anniversary. At least two of the above are resounding successes (sorry Pearson) and both the Railway and the C-Train have had a huge impact on our city.

The coming of the railway to Calgary is a pivotal point in the city’s history. Becoming the hub of the rail system west of Winnipeg insured that Calgary would be a “big city”. It was the starting point for settlement and was also the place where those settlers came to pick up their goods and machinery and deliver their products. This started the first of the city’s great population booms. Without the railway, we would not be the city we are today. The railway was so important to the people settled around what would become Calgary that when the location of the station was announced, folks packed up their homes and moved them to be closer to what was going to be the centre of the town.

PC 604The Imperial Limited arriving at Calgary

The C-Train also changed the landscape of our city. I remember when we got around the city on electric trolley buses. While great, they did not allow for rapid movement so commutes could be nightmarish (especially in the winter, when the slip-sliding trolleys would lose their contact with the overhead lines on a frighteningly regular basis). We became a city of cars, but not, sadly, of roads that could handle them. Rush hour was sometimes traumatizing – more than once a commuter, trapped in his or her vehicle in unmoving traffic, leapt from their car in a claustrophobic panic. The coming of the C-Train, fraught as it was with conflict, allowed us to move further and further away from the core (for good or ill) and has allowed the city to grow to over a million people. The C-Train just came to my neighbourhood and I am in total agreement with the Transport Association of Canada that it is a triumph (but that’s just my personal opinion)

PC 969Streetcar accident at the corner of 14th St and 17th Ave SW, 1919

The Community Heritage and Family History department has a lovely collection of early transportation images online as well as an outstanding collection of books and other documents about the history of both the railway and the transit system in Calgary. One of the newest books we have on how the railway could have shaped Calgary, had we followed their plan, is Development Derailed by Max Foran. Copies are available in the Local History room as well as in the general collection.

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