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Titanic - The Calgary Connection

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

Public domain

Titanic in Southampton, April 1912

One hundred years ago, on April 15, the Titanic went down. It took three days for the ship that rescued the survivors, the Carpathia, to reach New York but when it did, there was media frenzy and 250 policemen had to be on hand to control the crowd and make sure that only family and friends of the survivors had access to them. In spite of that, the press got through, one even making it onto the Carpathia. The papers were full of the stories of the survivors and many of the tales surrounding the sinking of that magnificent ship were born.

One of the most enduring examples of the heroism that was seen the night of the loss was that the band played as the lifeboats were loaded in order to keep the passengers calm. It was reported that the band continued to play even as the ship went down. Interestingly, the first report of this came from Vera Dick, a Calgary woman, who had been on the Titanic returning from her honeymoon. In an interview, said to be “one of the most comprehensive and connected stories of the disaster,” Vera reported that “as the steamship went down, the band was up forward and we could faintly hear them start ‘Nearer my God to Thee’.” She continued, “There was no evidence of panic while we were on board and I first laughed at the idea of the Titanic sinking.” (The Morning Leader, April 19, 1912).

Vera’s husband, Albert (known as Bert) kept fairly quiet about the disaster until he reached Calgary. Then he gave his report to a reporter in New York and the interview was picked up by The Calgary Daily Herald (April 19, 1912). His report is essentially the same as Vera’s but he adds that while Vera was in her nightdress and kimono, he managed to get into his pants and jacket. He also had high praise for the crew, who maintained order in the face of mounting panic and stayed with the ship until the end.

Following the disaster, the few men who survived were looked on with suspicion. The rule at sea is ‘women and children first’ and, while most of the women and children (at least those in first and second class) were saved, it is often overlooked that a boatload of women and children would have been expected to need men to row the boats. Women, especially those in the privileged classes, were not encouraged to undertake vigorous physical exercise. It was for this reason, claimed Vera, that her husband was forced into the boat with her. Indeed, the reports of the survivors are filled with reports of crew members and other men taking charge of the lifeboats and rowing them away from the suction of the great liners’ sinking.

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Dick, it was reported that the family of Frank Marshall, a carpenter living in the Riverside area of Calgary, were also on board. His wife and two children were initially reported missing but I can find no further information about them (and they aren’t listed on the passenger lists I have seen) Reports, sent through the company of Niblock and Tull, agents for White Star in Calgary, indicated that Kate Marshall was rescued. It appears, however, that Kate Marshall was travelling with her husband and was not related to Frank. Does anyone know about this family? I’d be interested to hear if they were on the ship or if this was a bit of a hoax.


If you'd like to read some of the news reports from the time of the event, you can check out our two subscription services "Toronto Star: Pages from the Past" and "Globe & Mail: Canada's Heritage from 1844" both of which are in our E-Library under "History and Genealogy." You can also check the newspapers at Our Future Our Past and the newspapers in Peel's Prairie Provinces.

Photo of Albert Dick from interview

Calgary Daily Herald, April 19, 1912

Albert Dick from Calgary Daily Herald

We Are 100 Years Old!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

CPL Archives 103-01-01

Alex Calhoun and Staff working in an office in City Hall, 1911

Calgary Public Library Archives CPL_103-01-01

This is a very big year for the Calgary Public Library. It is our 100th anniversary. On January 2, 1912, the new public library in Central Park opened its doors to the public. It was a very exciting time for the City. Not only did we get a brand, new Carnegie library, but many other projects were started or completed in the early part of the second decade of the new century. City Hall had just been completed. As matter of fact, while the new library was being built, Alexander Calhoun worked out of an office on the top floor of the new city hall building, alongside the Health Department. As part of the celebrations of our centennial, we will be launching a new photograph collection from the Calgary Public Library Archives. These photos span the entire history of the Calgary Public Library and all its branches. The photos included with this blog post are from the earliest collection, dating from prior to the library’s opening and just following it.


Empty shelves prior to opening, 1911

Calgary Public Library Archives CPL_103-23-01

The library was a beautiful building both inside and out. Marble staircases led to the second floor (they are still there). There were two mahogany trimmed fireplaces on the main floor. The back of the building curves gracefully and include an expanse of windows that look onto the park. Its setting qualifies it as one of the best situated libraries in the city. The recent revitalization of the park has only enhanced the beauty of the setting. The restoration that was done on the building in 1976 maintained much of the beautiful interior and exterior detail, so the library and its surrounding park constitute one of the gems of Calgary’s inner city. If you haven’t seen it, you must come and attend some of the centennial programming that will be going on in the library. Keep checking the website for details.


Calgary Museum Room in the New Library, 1911

Calgary Public Library Archives, CPL_103-26-01

What did you do on Christmas Day?

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


PC 142

Mission Hill, up which they ran

Postcards from the Past, PC 142

Christmas day is usually a time for family and friends. Some folks volunteer to serve dinner to those who are less fortunate. But how many of you ran a marathon? In Calgary, starting in 1906, the Calgary Herald ran a road race outdoors on Christmas day. The 1906 event was led by Cappy Smart, the fire chief, who was described as “no mean athlete.” And for every year following, except the year he was in hospital due to an automobile accident, he started the race by firing his pistol. The dates of the race changed over the years, but in 1911, it was run on Christmas day. The race started and finished at the Herald offices and ran up Mission Hill and under two of the ‘subways’ under the railway tracks. It was won by Alex Hepburn- a recent immigrant from Scotland- who ran the 6 mile plus race in 34 minutes 57 ½ seconds.


Map of Calgary Herald Road Race

Map of the 1911 Calgary Herald Road Race

From the Calgary Herald December 23, 1911

This was a very big deal, with competitors coming from all around the country. It was also another way for Calgarians to beat Edmontonians at something or other. It was started by the publisher and editor of the Calgary Herald, J. J. Young, to prove that such races could be run in Calgary during the winter. I have read accounts of baseball games being played in January in Calgary (with the comment that a nice breeze kept the day from getting too hot) but all of us who live here know that it can be either extreme. And so it was in 1937 when a cold snap forced the cancellation of the event. From '38 tyo '40 it was held on Remembrance day and in 1941 it was moved to Thanksgiving. It's last run was in 1950 but in 1970 the race was revived and run at Heritage Park in July. Are we getting softer?

Anyway, I did not perform any athletic feats on Christmas day, unless eating is a sport. Here's looking at 2012 - our centennial year.

Merry Christmas

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 152

Merry Christmas Postcard showing Carnegie Library, Calgary, 1912

Postcards from the Past, PC 152

I like to look in the newspapers and see what was going on in Calgary in earlier times. This is becoming more of a habit now that the library is celebrating its anniversary next year. Now I have a legitimate excuse to be reading the paper (albeit from 1912) at work. I think that newspapers provide an interesting window into the world of our ancestors. What I have generally found is that we are not so very different. Sentiments around Christmas have not changed over the years – well, maybe we’re more crassly commercial than our Edwardian ancestors – no I take that back. Have a look at the some of the newspaper ads of the time and you will see retailers shilling all kinds of goods to be purchased for the Christmas season. I even have one posted over my desk: “Give your horse a Christmas present”. Another favourite of mine is “Don’t Blame Your Wife…if she doesn’t appear as attractive as when you were courting her. It’s because you don’t buy her nice little presents of Jewelry as you used to do.” So a visit to C. Campbell Welch, Jeweler and Optician, will solve your problem, gentlemen.

Newspaper ad 1910 Herald

Advertisement from Calgary Daily Herald, December 23, 1910

I like this one, too, for Hennessey Brandy. Perhaps we can see where the temperance movement got its inspiration: “Suppose someone is taken ill at night and you had promised to get Hennessey Brandy but ‘forgot it’…Will you risk precious lives by being caught unprepared?” Interestingly enough, you probably could have gotten a prescription for brandy during prohibition, as medicinal use was not illegal. So, stock up, and prepare for the worst. And of course, have a Merry Christmas, brandy or no.

Ad from Calgary Daily Herald, Dec 23, 1910

'Bob Edwards has left us - gone over the hill'

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 0564

Bob Edwards' Residence, 919 4th Avenue SW

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, photograph taken 1968

On this day in history we lost a unique voice in Alberta journalism. Bob Edwards passed away on November 14, 1922, due to a leak in his heart (as reported in a special edition of The Calgary Eye-Opener) Likely the cause of death was pneumonia, possibly from influenza, possibly from his particular relationship with alcohol, to borrow a phrase from my sister-in-law.

Whatever the cause of his death, Edwards’ passing left a huge hole in the journalistic world. Never a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of journalist, he wrote scathing and often libelous articles criticizing politicians and social figures. He had a biting wit and a “forcibility of expression” as was stated in one of the many eulogies printed in the Eye Opener. His wit and forcibility of expression often got him into trouble and more than once he was taken to court to defend his words against charges of defamation.

But he was funny! It is well worth the time to read the Calgary Eye Opener. It offers a different perspective on staid old Calgary. Nothing escaped Edwards’ eye. One of my favourite articles is from the Eye Opener of July 15, 1905: “The Edmonton Fair Association this year featured the climbing of a greasy pole, on the top of which was hung a five dollar bill. Every little while the Edmontonians do something to indicate that they don’t think the world expects very much of them.”

He was something of a paradox, however. He was highly critical of politicians, but in the end, he became one, joining the Alberta Legislature as an MLA in 1921. (Maybe that's what killed him.)

If you'd like to read about Bob Edwards, you can find an article in the Dictionary of Canadian Biographyavailable online through our E-Library under History and Genealogy. Or you can read the excellent "chrestomathy": Irresponsible freaks, highball guzzlers & unabashed grafters : a Bob Edwards chrestomathy : in which are collected extractions from the Calgary eye opener, Wetaskiwin free lance, The channel (Boulogne-sur-Mer, Fr.) & other estimable broadsides helmed by the late R.C. Edwards, M.L.A. : fact, gossip & fiction for readers of the English language the title of which neatly expresses the style and "forcibilty" of Edwards' journalistic style, or you can read the brilliant biography by Grant MacEwan, Eye Opener Bob. These are all available at the Calgary Public Library. I also highly recommend that you read the Eye Opener itself. It can be read online at the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project website Select Early Alberta Newspapers and then use the drop-down menu to choose Calgary. It is also digitized at Peel's Prairie Provinces. We also have the paper on microfilm in the Community Heritage and Family History Room at the Central Library and we have paper collections of articles as well. Drop down and visit and we'll introduce you to the wit and wisdom of Bob Edwards.

City Hall Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

pc 1349

Calgary City Hall, ca. 1911

Postcards from the Past, PC 1349

Calgary’s Old City Hall turned 100 years old yesterday. It must have been a very exciting time in Calgary and although the newspaper coverage of the opening was somewhat lackluster, it did include the following message from Robert Borden, then leader of the Opposition. He wrote:

“Pray convey to the citizens of Calgary my warmest thanks for the most civil and generous reception which was accorded me today.”

He toured the new city hall and gave a speech that evening at Sherman’s Auditorium Rink. He believed, he said, that the number of people in the auditorium exceeded the entire population of the city at the time of his last visit in 1902. It was estimated that 6000 people attended his speech.

In 1911 Calgary was a city to be reckoned with. The economy was booming. Reports in the paper indicate that the city was going to triple the water supply with the addition of more gravity feed supply pipes. A group of businessmen, eager to have a street car line in their neighbourhood, had offered to build 11 miles of track, running from the Cushing Bridge to the edge of Hubalta and back again, and donate it to the city. Boosters from Spokane were on their way to promote their city in Calgary and to see this wonder of the west. The Calgary Auto Club was in full swing and preparing for their first trip through the Crowsnest Pass into the Kootenay Valley. In order to accomplish this, they would need to ship gasoline ahead to ensure there would be an adequate supply.

As the city grew, so too, did the speculation on land. Numerous ads were place looking for buyers for lots in the new areas, such as Sunalta and Capitol Hill. You could get 4 corner lots in Sunalta for $4800.00. Or, if you wanted to move up to the North Hill, a lot could be had in Capitol Hill for $260.00. However, if you felt flush and wanted to live on the same street as some of Calgary’s more illustrious families, you could by a 9 room house on 13th Avenue for $10,000. It did include a stable in the back and, the ad said, would make a great rooming house. This was not, obviously, the purchase for the everyday man. Wages for a bonded cashier were $100 per month (and you were required to post the $500 cash bond yourself).

While all of this was going on, the police in Edmonton were confronting bands of demonstrating socialists. They had had to quiet 7 demonstrations by these “rabble rousers” in the past month. The socialists went before a judge, claiming they were “less a nuisance than the Salvation Army” who was allowed to hold public meetings on the street with no problems from the police.

Of course, like all Calgary’s booms, this one would not last. We did come out of it, though, with a beautiful new City Hall. Happy birthday, old girl.

If you would like to see a tour of the beautiful old building, you can watch this video, hosted by Heritage Planner Clint Robertson.

And if you are interested in the clock, you can take a tour of the clock tower at this url:

AJ 30-08

Calgary City Hall, 1958

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 30-08

Black History Month 2011

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Keystone Legacy

Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler

by Gwen Hooks

February is Black History month in Canada. This is a fairly new recognition despite the fact that people of African descent have been playing a role in Canadian history since the time of Samuel de Champlain. Black History Month began as Black History Week in the 1970s. By 1976 it had become Black History Month. It was officially recognized by the House of Commons in 1995 and in 2008 the Senate unanimously passed a motion to recognize the event. This is a great step towards the recognition of the contribution that Black Canadians have made to the fabric of this nation. I learned nothing about the history of black Canadians when I was a child so when I came to work in the library and worked with the local history collection, I was surprised and intrigued to read about the history of Alberta’s black settlers.

Many African Americans came to Alberta from Oklahoma, after it became clear to them that the whites flooding into the new state were going to make life very difficult for black people. Life in Alberta was not going to be easy but it looked much better than facing the segregationists at home. So many made the trek and homesteaded in Alberta. There is a wonderful book that tells the story of one such family who settled in Keystone (now Breton, Alberta): The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler by Gwen Hooks. Gwen and her late husband were both descendants of settlers who came to Alberta in the early part of the 20th century. The trials and tribulations they faced were many. The land was virgin forest and settlers were expected to clear it to make a farm. Many were unprepared for the winter, not knowing how cold it could be and how much snow could fall. Farming methods were different as well. Many made the best of things, however, and eked out a life for themselves and their families.

They did not escape the prejudice and xenophobia that they had encountered in their old homeland, however. It was made clear that several groups were vehemently opposed to having communities of black settlers in the province and tried to get legislation passed that would ban their immigration and settlement. Many homesteaders had to work off their farms to supplement their income. Black homesteaders who needed to work could often only find menial jobs, their children were refused educational opportunities, public facilities were often segregated or even off limits.

Possibly to get away from the prejudice they encountered in the big cities, many settlers headed to land farther away from the major centres and settled in areas where they could establish their own institutions. The land they settled may not have been as good as that near Edmonton, but they had their own communities and were able to find a peaceful way of life.

Now, however, as in many rural communities, the young have moved away from the old homesteads. This creates all kinds of problems for farming communities but the impact is even greater for communities like Keystone. With no one in the area who remembers the old days, the history and struggles of this tenacious group of pioneers could be forgotten. That is why efforts such as those of Gwen Hooks, who not only recorded the history of Keystone, but also was instrumental in the restoration of the cemetery where many of the settlers were buried, is so important. There is also a museum in Breton that collects and displays artifacts from the black homesteader communities in the area.

The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler is a very good starting point for anyone who would like to understand the history of this group of pioneers. It is available at several library branches as well as in the Community Heritage and Family History Room. There is also a very good website that talks about Alberta’s Black Pioneers

And be sure to check out the panel discussion we have lined up to discuss “What is Black History?”:

Calgary's Military Heritage

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1660

Mewata Armoury ca. 1934

Postcards from the Past, PC 1660

Last Saturday we enjoyed a march past of the Calgary Highlanders and the King’s Own Calgary Regiment. Both were celebrating their 100th anniversaries. The Queen’s Own Rifles was also celebrating their anniversary of 150 years, which makes them the longest serving infantry regiment in Canada. For several years, first and second battalions of the Queen’s Own were stationed at Currie Barracks here in Calgary. To celebrate this momentous occasion, Princess Alexandra, the Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment, was supposed to come to Calgary. The volcanic eruption in Iceland put the kibosh on that plan but the veterans who assembled, though somewhat disappointed, were glad to have the chance to celebrate and connect with other veterans.

The King’s Own and the Highlanders can both trace their origins back to the 103rd Calgary Regiment, Calgary Rifles. The regiment was formed on April 1, 1910. The 103rd formed several battalions during the First World War. The King’s Own Calgary Regiment grew out of the 50 Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In World War II they were reorganized and had several names, among them the 14th Armoured Regiment (Calgary) commonly called the Calgary Tanks. The King’s Own have been an infantry, machine gun and tank regiment but are currently a reconnaissance unit. They are based at Mewata Armoury.

The Calgary Highlanders also grew from the 103rd Regiment. In 1921 they became a highland regiment, known from then on as the Calgary Highlanders. They were a volunteer regiment with members holding regular jobs. They trained on weekends and in the evenings. They were mobilized for the first time on September 1, 1939. Twenty-two of the Highlanders landed on Dieppe in August of 1942. All returned safely to England. Today the Highlanders are once again a regiment of “citizen soldiers” who train Wednesday evenings and one weekend a month.


Postcard describing the history of the Calgary Highlanders including insignia, ca. 1940

Postcards from the Past, PC 768

These regiments are a part of Calgary’s proud military heritage. If you are interested in researching more about the military in Calgary, we have a great collection of information in the Community Heritage and Family History Collection here at the Calgary Public Library’s Central Library. We are also very lucky to have the Military Museums located right beside the Currie Barracks site which is also rich with the history of Calgary’s military.

Frank, 107 Years after the Slide

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

PC 819

Front or Dominion Street, Frank, before the slide

Postcards From the Past, PC 819

“At dawn, on April 29, 1903, a huge rock mass, nearly half a mile square and probably 400 to 500 feet thick in places, suddenly broke loose from the east face of Turtle mountain and precipitated itself with terrible violence into the valley beneath, overwhelming everything in its course. “ This is how the report on the landslide describes the terrible events of 107 years ago. 100 people of the population of 600 lived in the path of the slide. Seventy were believed to have perished. Property destroyed included the tipple and plant at the mouth of the Canadian American Coal and Coke Co. Mine, a barn and seven cottages belonging to the company, a half-dozen outlying houses and ranches and a considerable number of horses and cattle. The railway track was buried for 7000 feet.

The structure of Turtle Mountain, looming over the town of roughly 600 people, was unstable and may have been further destabilized by coal mining. The rail line to the town was buried but the quick actions of Sid Choquette, a brakeman, stopped the Crow’s Nest express passenger train that was on a collision course with the tons of rock on the track ahead. It was reported in the newspaper that the trauma of witnessing these events caused Mr. Choquette to suffer a breakdown (“gone crazy” was how the newspaper put it). Even several days after the event, the cause was not known and speculation was that it was caused by a volcanic eruption or an earthquake.

The paper includes some miraculous tales of survival, like that of the Ennis family whose house was rolled over three times but the family survived with just bruises. Some of the miners, who were trapped inside the mine by the slide, were rescued. The Daily Herald of Thursday April 30, 1903, included a list of those who were known to be killed by the slide and includes nine unnamed Russian Polish miners, six unnamed miners from Lancashire, and two unknown miners from Wales in addition to the merchants, miners, ranchers, men, women and children whose names were known.

PC 432

Dominion Avenue/Front Street after the Slide

Postcards from the Past, PC 432

Some of the oldest newspaper clippings we have in the Community Heritage and Family History collection are clippings from 1903 about the slide. We also have the official report, issued in 1904 by the Department of the Interior (PAM FILE 363.349 MCC). We also have photographic postcards of Frank both before and after the slide. The contrast of what it was and what it became is quite startling. You can look at these postcards in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Collection (the link is in the left hand column) by searching the term “Frank”.

This was one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Alberta. The events of that night have remained in the minds and imaginations of Albertans since then. The site remains mostly as it was and serves as a monument to those who lost their lives and a reminder of the power of nature.

PC 270

Frank, Alberta, nestled at the foot of Turtle Mountain

Postcards from the Past, PC 270

Black History Month, 2010

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Black History Month

February is Black History month in Canada. This is a fairly new recognition despite the fact that people of African descent have been playing a role in Canadian history since the time of Samuel de Champlain. Black History Month began as Black History Week in the 1970s. By 1976 it had become Black History Month. It was officially recognized by the House of Commons in 1995 and in 2008 the Senate unanimously passed a motion to recognize the event.

Albertans are often unaware of the history of black people in our province. Most of us know about John Ware, a former slave, who became a legendary cowboy and rancher in Southern Alberta. But many of us do not know of the settlers who came and established towns such as Breton, Campsie, Wildwood and Amber Valley. Many came from Oklahoma, which became a state in 1907. The government there made it quite clear that black people would be segregated and treated differently from the white settlers who were rushing in to homestead. Many of the state’s black residents fled to Canada, about 1000 to Alberta and Saskatchewan. They did not have an easy time of it. They faced prejudice. Canadians were alarmed by the influx of these immigrants and tried various measures to keep them out. In 1911 an Order in Council would be passed which deemed African Americans unsuitable for the climate in Canada and prohibit their immigration. They also faced the difficult reality of the land north of Edmonton. Their homesteads were in heavy bush which had to be cleared by hand. The land was not overly productive and many men had to work in Edmonton to support their families. In spite of this they stayed and Amber Valley, alone among the other primarily black settlements, survived into the middle of the 20th century.

The history of the immigration of African Americans into the Prairie Provinces is a story of determination and courage. You can find out more about it in the Community Heritage and Family History collection at the Central Library. We have The Window of our Memories volumes 1 and 2, by Velma Carter, which is the story of Black pioneers in Alberta and includes the stories of those pioneers and their descendants. Another very interesting book is Deemed Unsuitable by R. Bruce Shepard which looks at the problem of racism on both sides of the border and how it affected the immigration of African-Americans into the Canadian Prairies. And, for those of you who would like to try out an old-school format, we also have a thesis on microfiche by Judith Hill, “Alberta’s Black Settlers: a Study of Canadian Immigration Policy and Practice”. (You can find other works by searching the library catalogue using the subject terms “Black Canadians History”). These works tell us a lot about the immigration of black people into Canada, but they also have a lot to tell us about ourselves and how Canada came to be. It is not always easy to read, but it is crucial to our understanding of our history and our future.

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