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November 11, 1918

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

PC 1378

Peace Celebrations in Calgary, 1918

Postcards from the Past, PC 1378

I am always looking through our photograph collections to find pictures that capture moments in Calgary’s history. November is the month when we celebrate our veterans, and the sacrifices they made. We have lots of really great photographs of camps and soldiers and parades but the one that most intrigues me is the one at the head of this entry. It is from the end of the First World War and in many ways the times were similar to now. There was a great influenza pandemic that was sweeping across the world, brought home with the returning soldiers who had been made vulnerable by malnutrition and stress. People were jubilant, though, because the war was over and the boys were coming home. The evil Kaiser had been vanquished and peace was upon the land. But first, we needed to celebrate. And how better to do that than with a parade and a hanging? Immediately on the news that Germany had accepted the terms of surrender, the news desk at the Albertan alerted Mayor Costello and Fire Chief Smart and the church bells and fire bells began to ring. It was 1:30 in the morning. Cappy Smart threw open the doors to the fire hall and sounded the bells on the fire-fighting equipment for a full 15 minutes. This drew people into town and soon the War veterans had started a parade which grew in magnitude as the day progressed. They partied all night long. Some of the “horseplay indulged in by the jubilating throng” included starting a fire in a pile of rubbish and overturning garbage cans. As the Herald noted the “alarm raised over the alleged shortage of liquor in the province was somewhat premature.” The revelers had no trouble finding spirits to fuel their jubilation.

The official celebration took place the next day, November 11, which Mayor Costello had declared a half-day holiday. The day included a parade, which formed up at the fire hall and was led by “massed bands of the city”, followed by veterans of the war, who were followed by the piece de resistance, the float containing the effigies of the Kaiser and Crown Prince, which were to be burned later at City Hall. Guards had to be placed so the excited crowd didn’t torch them before dark. At 8:30 in the evening bonfires were lit on the North Hill and the hill overlooking Elbow Park and the effigies were burned with due ceremony.

You will notice in this picture that a very few people are wearing the mandated ‘flu masks. Announcements in the paper insisted that the mask rule would be enforced, but special permission was granted to churches who wished to celebrate the end of the war. Short services could be held as long as they were held outside and not in the church building. The joy of the war news was interspersed with articles about deaths from the influenza and the severity of the outbreak and the need for volunteer nurses to help with the ‘flu cases. As many or more people would die of the 'flu as died on the battlefields of Europe.

You can access newspaper accounts of the end of the war and of the influenza epidemic through the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project's Early Alberta Newspapers. There is also a very interesting book on the subject of the Spanish influenza in Canada, The Silent Enemy.

St. Patrick's Day, 1893

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1376

Calgary Brewing and Malting Co.

Postcards from the Past, PC 1376

The Calgary Brewing and Malting Company was founded in 1892 by A.E. Cross and his partners. It was just outside of the outskirts of the city on land that Cross had purchased from his father-in-law, Colonel James Walker. The property had a river fed aquifer giving it great water (as we know, "it's the water..." that makes a great beer!) and it also had access to the rail line. The brewery was such an important part of the community, providing jobs for many people, that the residential area that grew up around it was known as Brewery Flats.

Brewing began on March 9, 1893. A story has come down to us regarding the first batch of beer brewed on the site. As the tale is told, a group of gentlemen of the Celtic persuasion, frantic to procure libations for their St. Patrick's Day festivities, stormed the new brewery trying to persuade Cross to give them some of the new brew. The fact that the ale was still "green" did not deter them and much of the town spent the next day suffering the ill effects. Is this, perhaps, the origin of the green beer tradition in Calgary?

Calgary's First Fire

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 540

Fire Hall #1, built 1887 demolished 1913

Postcards from the Past, PC 540

The first major fire in Calgary occurred on January 8 1885 in J.L. Bowen's house on Atlantic Avenue (now 9th Avenue). The house, valued at $575, which would have made it one of the finer homes in the city, was completely destroyed. Bystanders were unable to stop the fire mainly because there was no nearby source of water. Snowballs were hurled at the blaze and a bucket brigade was started to bring water from a town water tank, but to no avail. The best they could accomplish was to save some of the furniture and to drag the nearby henhouse, with its occupants, to safety.

It may have been this fire that spurred the approval for the digging of eight wells around the city. It also led to the development of the Calgary Hook, Ladder and Bucket Corps in August of 1885. James Smart, who would become Chief in 1898, was "hookman" on that brigade, .

The photograph above shows the Calgary Fire Hall built in 1887 on what is now 7th Avenue between Centre Street and 1st Street E. It comes from our postcard collection which is accessible through our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. Information about the history of the Calgary Fire Department can be found in our Local History room on the 4th floor of the Central Library.

January 2, 1912

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

pc 596

Public Library and Central Park, ca. 1915

Postcards from the Past

On January 2nd, 1912 Calgarians celebrated the official opening of Calgary Public Library in Central Park. The building still stands and houses the Memorial Park Library.

This was Alberta's first public library and was the first Carnegie library in the province, so called because it was partially financed by wealthy American steel industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The library opened with 5000 volumes on its shelves; 1000 fiction titles, 1000 in biography and history, 1000 in travel, 1000 children's books and 1000 reference books. T.A.P. Frost was the first of over seventy citizens to register as borrowers that first day which was remarkable considering that though the books were on the shelves, they were not available for borrowing.

This postcard, from our Postcards From the Past section of the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library, shows the bandstand and the South African War memorial statue by Louis Hebert.

For more information on this beautiful library visit our Virtual Tours of Historic Calgary .

There are a number of books which discuss the history of the library and the people behind it. Esther Gorosh's Calgary's Temple of Knowledge: A History of Calgary Public Library (027.47123 GOR) outlines the early history of the library system. Alexander Calhoun by Donna Lohnes and Barbara Nicholson (020.924 CAL L) is a brief biography of the fascinating man who became the Chief Librarian of the new library and whose vision gave shape to the library for generations to come.

Christmas at the Grand Union Hotel

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 696

The Grand Union Hotel, designed by noted architect William Dodd, was built in 1905 on Atlantic Avenue (or Whisky Row, as it was affectionately known). It was operated by A. Moodie, who also owned the Royal Hotel. The horse-drawn bus, seen in the picture, ferried travellers to and from the train station, four blocks away. The balconies could be seen from the station and offered views of the activity along Atlantic Avenue as well as views of the mountains. In 1906, just a year after it opened, it offered a sumptuous menu for Christmas dinner. The menu included familiar favourites such as creamed potatoes, corn on the cob, mince pie and French fries. It also included the more sophisticated fare:

Canape of Caviar, Clear Green Turtle Soup, Cream of Oysters

Planked White Fish de Hanover Sauce

Sweet Breads Braized [sic] a la Rothchild

Domestic Duck with Boston Clam Dressing

Saddle of Venison, Black Currant Jelly

Lobster Salad au Cresson

For dessert you could choose between Plum Pudding with Brandy sauce, three kinds of pie and pineapple trifle, ice cream, Oka cheese and jelly.

The Local History Collection in the Central Library includes many menus from Calgary establishments. You can find them in the library catalogue by typing the name of the establishment and the word 'menu' in the search box on the Calgary Public Library homepage (

Grand Union Menu coverMenu

Merry Christmas

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 152

Carnegie Library, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1912

Postcards from the Past, PC 152

Anyone who has read this blog knows about the very cool postcard collection that we have here in the Local History room. Many images on the blog are pulled from that collection, which can be viewed from the Community Heritage and Family History site by clicking on the link Postcards from the Past on the left side of the page. In that collection are quite a number of Christmas postcards – generally consisting of a vignette of a building or a scene from Calgary in an embossed card with a Christmas greeting in red around the picture. The card in this entry is a view of what is now Memorial Park Library.

These cards mostly date from the ‘teens, a time when the craze for picture postcards was at its highest. All kinds of innovative cards were produced, such as “diamond dust” cards on which the picture was outlined in a kind of sparkle. These cards wreaked havoc with the electric stamping machines and were, for a short time, banned.

Though Christmas cards were invented in 1843, the postcard craze at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century reduced their popularity. Postcards were less expensive to send and were a quick and easy way of sending greetings to family back home.

To see more examples of Christmas postcards from the Calgary Public Library collection, visit the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library and search the site using the term “Christmas”.

City Hall - Centennial of the Laying of the Cornerstone

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

City Hall

September 15 marked the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the "new" city hall. In 1908 dignitaries, including Mayor Arthur Cameron, R.B. Bennett and Colonel James Walker, were on hand to celebrate this momentous event.

The cornerstone is embedded outside of City Hall on the northwest side of the main entrance. It is a red granite plaque engraved with the names of the mayor and aldermen, the City Clerk and the architect, William Dodd. Dodd was dismissed in 1909 and replaced by architects Gilbert Hodgson and Ernest Butler.

A sealed copper box was placed under the cornerstone. Inside were financial reports, bylaws of the city, and a copy of the New Testament.

For more information on City Hall, visit our Virtual Tours of Historic Calgary by clicking on the link on the left side of the page.

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