Alberta’s Early Public Libraries

October is Canadian Library Month – a time to raise awareness about the valuable role of libraries in our communities. Thank you to guest writer, Erin Hoar, for this post about some of Alberta’s first libraries.

The earliest libraries in Canada were generally private collections of books and documents brought over by European immigrants. Some religious orders, fur trade and military posts would also collect books, but these were generally not accessible to the wider public. Canada’s earliest public libraries were offered by subscription only and began to appear in the early nineteenth century. By 1900 the modern public library, similar to what we would think of as a library today, began to acquire, classify and organize books, periodicals and newspapers with the purpose of providing users with access to these collections.

The idea of libraries was becoming more recognized as a public need that enriched growing communities, as was the case in Alberta. Many of Alberta’s early libraries were established because there were dedicated people who were passionate about providing accessible learning and educational services. This post will trace Alberta’s earliest public libraries in Edmonton and Calgary, and look at the people who brought these spaces to life to become valued and trusted resources for their communities. Read on to find out more!

Andrew Carnegie, 1913 (Public domain).

It was 1906 when the Calgary Women’s Literary Club formed to discuss the readings of Shakespeare, world news and current events, and it was out of these gatherings that the need for a public library grew. The women did what many others who wanted a public library did during this time – they asked millionaire Andrew Carnegie to build them a library. Carnegie, who made a fortune in the steel industry, was a strong advocate for learning and had a reputation for library philanthropy. In Canada, the Carnegie Foundation funded over 100 libraries and thousands more across the world, including the United States, England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Read more

POW and Internment Camps in Alberta: WWII

On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began and Canadians responded with more than one million of its men and women enlisting in the military. Many were sent overseas, and stories of the courageousness of Canadians on the battlefront emerged. This war is known for uniting the country and forging its own national identity, but a lesser known aspect from this period takes place at home. In a significant reaction to the war, internment camps were established and Canada detained citizens of its own country, discriminating against members of German, Japanese and Italian communities. In addition, Canada had an active part in accepting German prisoners of war who were captured in active duty. This blog post will look at the establishment of prisoner of war and internment camps in Alberta, and briefly at the people who were detained, and the life they experienced.

View of guard towers at the POW camp in Medicine Hat, c.1948 (Image courtesy of Esplanade Archives, 0590.0017).

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One-room Schoolhouses in Alberta: where early public education began

The image of the one-room schoolhouse is recognizable to many communities across Alberta. Fortunately, there are a few of these structures still existing that help to illustrate the origins of public education in Alberta. In this article, we will look at the development and decline of the one-room schoolhouse and the building features that make this structure such a unique example of built heritage. The schoolhouses that will be discussed here are the Shilo School, Verdun School and Chailey School. These particular buildings have been restored, indicating the public interest and historical significance of these structures to their community.

A typical one-room schoolhouse was where one teacher would instruct boys and girls of all ages and grades. Attendance to the school could range from just a few to almost one hundred. This type of early public education was common across Canada from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. In Alberta, the first one-room schoolhouse was built in Edmonton in 1881. Many more schoolhouses were erected throughout the province in the years that followed, the majority of which consisted of one room. By 1910, Alberta had 1,501 school districts operating 1,195 schools, the majority of which were located in rural areas.

Edmonton 1881 School (Erin Hoar).

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Law & Order in Coleman: The Alberta Provincial Police Building

Even before Alberta became a province, communities were in need of a local police force. The Crowsnest Pass in particular saw an increase in crime as the area began to develop as a coal mining community in the early 1900s. With the introduction of new settlers to the area, it wasn’t long before Coleman requested a police presence from the Canadian Government. A North West Mounted Police office building was constructed in 1904 and shortly after, an officer arrived to the area to establish law and order. This blog post will look at the introduction of a formal police presence into the Coleman area and highlight the importance of the still existing Alberta Provincial Police Building that was built for their use. Read more

Hangar 14 and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) is considered to be Canada’s primary contribution to the Second World War. Although the Plan was only in existence from 1940 to 1945, it left a lasting impact on Alberta and Canada as a whole. One of the most visible results of the Plan was the building construction that boomed during this time. There are examples of buildings produced during the BCATP period that are still in existence and the historical significance of these structures is evident today, one of which is Hangar 14, located at the former Blatchford Field and Municipal Airport site in Edmonton. This post will look at the foundation of the BCATP and summarize the distinct features of Hangar 14 that demonstrate the building’s significance as a provincial historic resource.

AAM 019
Hanger 14, the home of the Alberta Aviation Museum, Edmonton.
(Erin Hoar, 2015)

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The Victoria Cross Ranges (Part 2)

In a previous post, we looked at the naming of five mountains in Jasper National Park after First World War Victoria Cross recipients. It took a number of years and some persistence from the Geographic Board of Alberta to achieve this natural war monument for the service of five soldiers to the British Commonwealth in the First World War. In addition to naming the mountains, the negotiations between provincial and federal naming authorities resulted in the naming of the Victoria Cross Ranges in Jasper National Park to serve as a long-standing tribute to all recipients of the Victoria Cross. This naming decision created a naming policy that is still honoured today.

Looking west to the Victoria Cross Ranges (Image courtesy of Mountain Nerd on Summit Search)
Looking west to the Victoria Cross Ranges
(Image courtesy of Mountain Nerd on Summit Search)

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Alberta & the Great War

To recognize the centennial of the First World War, the Provincial Archives of Alberta launched the Alberta & the Great War exhibit in August of last year. Using letters, photographs and formal war documents, this exhibit captures the experiences that Albertans endured during the Great War. There are five topics within the exhibit: the Western Front, Women and the War, Opposition and Oppression, the Home Front and the Aftermath, to show that there were several struggles going on at once during and after wartime. The effects of these events produced repercussions that remain evident in Alberta to this day.

The exhibit was assembled largely from the material found at the Archives, with a few artifacts on loan from the Royal Alberta Museum. Braden Cannon, a Private Records Archivist with the Provincial Archives of Alberta, will give an introduction to the exhibit that he curated.

https://vimeo.com/123247145

The Great War had a tremendous effect on individuals and the province of Alberta as a whole. This display gives the public the opportunity to see into the lives of the Albertans who were at the forefront of the war and shows the impact of the conflict that reached the people back home. The archival materials used in the exhibit are a valuable record of this period in history. Exhibits, such as these, ensure that the individuals who served in the First World War and the substantial events of the past are not forgotten. Alberta & the Great War will run until August 29, 2015.

Video and summary by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer. A special thank you to Braden Cannon at the Provincial Archives for appearing on video!

Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.