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

Congratulations to the Royal Alberta Museum

The new Royal Alberta Museum is opening today! Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen. We are very excited to explore the new building and galleries, and enjoy the museum for many years to come.

New Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton. Credit: Flickr/Government of Alberta.

In honour of the new museum building opening, our post today looks back at the beginning, and original opening, of the Provincial Museum of Alberta (later renamed Royal Alberta Museum) 51 years ago.

The former Royal Alberta Museum building was built as the Provincial Museum and Archives of Alberta in 1967. It was the culmination of a decades long effort to build a provincial museum in Edmonton. Funding came through the Government of Canada’s “Confederation Centennial Memorial Program”, which saw a substantial, jointly funded construction project in Read more

Did You Ever Hear the Blues? The Music, Film and Influence of Big Miller

JC-1980-Cover
Big Miller on the cover of the August 1980 edition of the Edmonton Jazzette. That shirt is due for a comeback. Photo provided by the Yardbird Suite.

Generally speaking, the ol’ City of Champs hasn’t been known as an international hub of art and culture as say, Montreal, New York City or Los Angeles. Artists of all stripes – musicians, dancers, visual artists – tend to get their feet wet in Edmonton then head off for the greener pastures of large international centres of creativity. So to hear stories of popular artists choosing to do the opposite and actually move to Edmonton to pursue creative endeavours (in the 1970s no less!), well, that’s something worth exploring.

Jazz music has a long history in Edmonton; incredible venues like the Yardbird Suite are recognized as important institutions in the city and former events, like the Jazz City Festival are recognized for their historical role in promoting the genre in the city and province. This week is the 2018 Edmonton International Jazz Festival. Since 2006 this festival has brought some of the world’s finest jazz musicians and acts to Alberta and has promoted local musicians at an internationally recognized venue. This week’s blog post is about one of those unique Edmonton transplants, one that may not be as well-known as jazz contemporaries Tommy Banks and PJ Perry, but one who certainly deserves to be recognized in the same ranks – the great trombonist and Kansas City Blues singer Clarence Horatius “Big” Miller. Read more

Newton’s Lilacs: Edmonton’s Hermitage, 1876-1900

In a remote corner of north east Edmonton, bounded by Clareview Road and 129th Avenue, is a small unmarked parcel of land commanding a dramatic view of the North Saskatchewan River valley. Only faint ground depressions and a small interpretive marker betray the fact that this is the location of Canon William Newton’s Hermitage and the birthplace of the Anglican Church in what would become the Province of Alberta.

“The Hermitage” by Ella May Walker, City of Edmonton Archives, EAA-1-27.

William Newton was born in 1828 at Halstead, Essex, England into a family of weavers. Having obtained an education through the help of wealthy benefactors, he trained for the Unitarian Church, served as a Congregationalist minister and published two books of sermons. In 1870 he immigrated to Canada and was ordained into the Anglican Church by Bishop A.N. Bethune of Toronto. He spent four years at Rosseau and Howard Township in Ontario before being accepted by Bishop John McLean of Saskatchewan as a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Fort Edmonton. Read more

Kirkness House: Two Edmonton Pioneers

Thank you to Melanie Moore (Board Member of the Highlands Historical Society in Edmonton) for sharing this important piece of history. 

There is an old house in the Virginia Park neighbourhood of Edmonton, on 73rd Street and Ada Boulevard. Now empty, it has seen better years. The shingles are coming off, the paint old and faded, the yard overgrown. When asked about the house, neighbours knew little of its story.

Kirkness House, Edmonton, 2018 (photograph by Melanie Moore).

Having recently explored the history of my own 100 year old home in Edmonton, I decided to find out more. James Kirkness, and his wife Sarah Steinhauer, built the house in 1909. Prior to that, he and Sarah lived in an adjacent log cabin where they raised their children. The City of Edmonton Archives has a painted-over photograph of James in front of the 1870s log cabin with the new 1909 house behind. Likely James had the painting commissioned, put it in an ornate frame, and hung it proudly in his new home. Read more

Ski Flyers

This post was originally published on RETROactive on December 11, 2014. We are back into ski season, so please enjoy this post that highlights the history of ski jumping in Alberta!

“If you get the right angle to float on top of the pressure of the wind you get more distance.” (Clarence Sverold, Canadian Olympian)

The huge metal ski jump at the Stoney Creek Valley in Camrose is an impressive sight. It is the legacy of the daring Norwegian flyers who made Camrose the birth place of ski jumping in Alberta. Adolph and Lars Marland, P. Mikkelson and the Engbretonson brothers formed the Fram Ski Club there in 1911. It was named for the Fram, meaning “forward” in Norwegian, the ship that carried Roald Amundsen on his famous expedition to Antarctica.

The Fram Ski club began construction in the fall of 1911 on a fifty-foot scaffold tower with a long slide in the Stoney Creek valley. Anticipation mounted for the club’s first ski jump tournament held in January 1912. People came from miles around in sleighs and cutters and happily paid the 25 cents entry fee. Adolph Marland soared seventy-four feet through the air to be acclaimed the winner.

Ski tournament, Edmonton, Alberta, 1914 (Glenbow Archives, NC-6-1308).

The Fram Ski Club soon had competition. Not to be outdone, Edmonton also formed a club in 1911, and built a bigger jump at Connor’s Hill for the 1912 season. Camrose hosted the first tournament between the two clubs on February 17th 1912. Read more