Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Watson's chickens lost the right to cross the road

“When chickens start scratching, wrote the Albertan in August 1913, “there’s no telling what they will scratch up.”[1]

The chicken is in question belonged to Wilfred J. Watson, and they scratched up a missing by-law, an illegal street closure, and a conflict that made headlines for days.

This story began in 1907 when the city extended its southern city limit beyond 17th Avenue. If initial plans had been followed, Centre Street would have ended at the banks of the Elbow River opposite today’s Lindsay Park.

Instead, the street ends half a block further north, forming a T-intersection with 18th Avenue. Although never actually constructed, the missing road did exist legally. It is now the parking lot at St. Mary’s high school.

In 1908, A.L. Nunns built a home on 18th Avenue and asked the city to lease him the vacant right-of-way so he could extend his yard along the river.

There were no plans to build a bridge at that point, so the street was not needed. The city leased the land to Nunns for one dollar per year for his “quiet and peaceful enjoyment.”[2]

He planted it with trees, and soon the Centre Street “stub” was forgotten.

In 1912, Nunns to England, and he rented his property to Wilfred J. Watson. Watson raised chickens, and this quickly offended the neighbours.

“He neglected the training of the chickens,” the Albertan wrote, “and did not teach them to stay at home.”

Exasperated at seeing their gardens rated by errant chickens, neighbors sought revenge. They seized on a technicality.

When Nunns first leased the property, it was discovered, council forgot to pass the necessary street closure by-law.

Neighbors who didn't like chickens suddenly transformed into concerned citizens demanding the reopening of Centre Street. They argued that a bridge would soon be needed for the new Canadian Northern Railway yards being built across the river.

There motive was suspect. Asked when such a bridge would be required, a CNoR official replied, not “in 1,000 years.”[3]

Nunns, from his home in London, offered his own theory. He believed that a corral owner in the area, J.J. McHugh, was behind the move—so he could water his horses.

“This, he used to do before the street was closed,” Nunns wrote the mayor, “and the dirt and noise not to mention the rough language of the teamsters were anything but pleasant.”

City Council judged the 1908 lease invalid, and Watson’s chickens lost the right to scratch on the Centre Street “stub.” It continued to exist on paper, but in reality it remained a little park with trees. Finally, in 1934, council passed the by-law to close the road that never really was.

Map of the proposed Centre Street extension and  bridge to Lindsay Park. Calgary News-Telegram, 26 Aug. 1913.
This blog originally appeared in my "Looking Back" column in the Calgary Sun, 7 Apr. 1996: S7.

[1] "Chickens Scratch Up Neighbor's Garden." Morning Albertan 21 Aug. 1913: 1.
[2] Ibid.
[3] "Objection to Opening of Center Street Bridge Made by Property Owners." Calgary News-Telegram 28 Aug. 1913.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Bob Edwards foe died 100 years ago

Calgary Daily Herald, December 12, 1912
One hundred years ago today—on December 11, 1912—former Calgary newspaper publisher Daniel McGillicuddy died in Toronto. McGillicuddy had founded the Calgary Daily News in 1907 and published it until 1910. The paper later morphed into the Calgary News-Telegram and continued as one of the city's three dailies—along with the Herald and the Albertan (which became the Sun in 1980). Finally, a few days after the armistice of November 11, 1918 that ended the First World War, the News-Telegram folded and the Albertan took over its plant.

McGillicuddy started his tenure with an anonymous attack on Robert Chambers (Bob) Edwards, publisher of the Calgary Eye Opener. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography's entry on Edwards summarizes the incident:

Another of the Eye Opener’s opponents was Clifford Sifton, whom Edwards accused of having relations with a married woman in 1905, at the time of negotiations for the formation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Three years later, Edwards heard a rumour that Sifton was backing the establishment of a Liberal newspaper in Calgary to counteract the influence of the Eye Opener. A short time after, Daniel McGillicuddy launched the Calgary Daily News and immediately prior to the election of 1908 he published a stinging personal attack on Edwards, calling him a “miserable wretch of a depraved existence,” a libeller, character thief, coward, liar, drunkard, drug addict, and degenerate. Edwards sued for criminal libel and won the case, but McGillicuddy was fined only $100.
      Edwards never forgave those involved in the lawsuit. He ridiculed McGillicuddy’s lawyer, Edward Pease Davis, to such an extent that the man initiated a successful libel suit and Edwards was forced to publish an apology. Edwards also accused the judge, Nicholas Du Bois Dominic Beck, of political bias, describing him on one occasion as the “narrow, prejudiced, fanatical Beck.” As for McGillicuddy, Edwards was bitter even after the man was dead. When Edwards was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta 13 years after the suit, he would write, “Isn’t it remarkable, here we are in the legislature and McGillicuddy is in hell?”

The affair temporarily soured Edwards on living in Calgary, and he left in 1909, publishing his newspaper in central Canada and then in Winnipeg before returning to Calgary around 1911.

Calgary Daily Herald, December 12, 1912

Friday, 7 December 2012

Calgary Hebrew School centennial

"New Hebrew School Has 70 Students," Calgary News-Telegram 7 Dec. 1912: 21.
My alma mater, the Calgary Hebrew School, was established around 1920. In 1987, the school amalgamated with the Yiddish-language I.L. Peretz School to form today's Calgary Jewish Academy. But there were earlier attempts to create a Jewish school in Calgary, and one of them was featured in the Calgary News-Telegram 100 years ago today. Here is the article.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Somerset Maugham's non-visit to Calgary

A century ago, author and playwright W. Somerset Maugham was expected to visit Calgary, where it was presumed that he was researching for a play he was going to write about the phenomenon of the English remittance man in the Canadian west. He never arrived. Here is the fanciful account of a Calgary News-Telegram reporter about Maugham's non-visit—or why his visit, if it occurred, was not reported. It was first published December 5, 1912—100 years ago today:



But as Live, Progressive Metropolis It is Liable to Give Playwright Maugham Swift Jolt 


What has happened [to] William Somerset Maugham, British playwright and author, who landed at New York over a week ago and gave out that he was on his way to Calgary, Alta., to study frontier life, cowboys, remittance men and generally the primeval way of this cow town in the wild and wooly west?

Mr. Maugham has had plenty of time to reach here. In fact, he was due about four days ago, but persistent search on the part of The News-Telegram has failed to locate him.

It is surmised that Mr. Maugham did reach here for he was fully determined to come. It is also surmised that he took one long, lingering look at this place and then fled.

Any man who gives out that he is desirous of studying the bad man in baggy chaps and sombrero in his native haunt and decides that Calgary is that haunt, has a perfect right to take one look and then retreat.

According to the story telegraphed from New York Mr. Maugham was coming for the purpose of securing material for a play. Presumably he wanted material of the boisterous, gunplay type.

The impression of a man who reaches Calgary from the east with the idea that this is a frontier town and that hard riding, hard drinking and straight shooting desperadoes gallop madly about the village trails, must be odd.

Getting the Perspective

For the purpose of getting an idea of how it must feel to enter Calgary with the impression that this is the original jumping off place, a News-Telegram man wandered down through the local depot, switched his ideas and then walked back into the city.

First he was very surprised at the size of the station. Then it occurred to him that a large station was needed for the purpose of taking supplies from the trains for the settlers int eh surrounding district.

Reaching the front of the station he was astonished by the sight of the C. P. R. hotel* that is being built just west of there. From gazing on it he turned and saw the King George hotel,** then the Grain Exchange building, then the C. P. R. department of natural resources building, the various hotels along Ninth avenue and the number of automobiles passing along that thoroughfare.


Wires Get Crossed

Hastily The News-Telegram man rushed back into the station.

"I say, my deah fellow," he said to the constable on duty, "how soon can I catch the train for Calgary? This must be Winnipeg or Minneapolis or Chicago, or some such bally place. Really, now it cawn't be Calgary, for Calgary is a frontier town."

The policeman regarded the newspaper man in disgust.

"No this is not Calgary; this is London, England," he replied.

Feeling affronted at the impossibility of the suggestion, the newspaper man, playing with the greatest fidelity his part of deluded newcomer, made for the King George hotel. There he asked for some stationery. Sure enough on it was "Calgary, Alta."

With one despairing glance up and down the street, in the hope of seeing at least one wild man shooting up the town, the newspaper man rushed back to the station. So strongly had the part he was playing impressed upon him that he was only prevented from buying a ticket back to London, England, by lack of funds.

Anyway, the newspaper man came to the conclusion that he could not blame Mr. Maugham for fleeing after a short examination of Calgary.

* Palliser Hotel
* Later renamed the Carlton Hotel, now the site of the EnCana building across 9th Avenue from the Palliser.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Mustaches Come Under the Ban of Calgary's Maidens

Apropos of Movember (the annual month-long charity event when men grow mustaches to raise money for men's cancer), here is an item from 100 years ago today.

Calgary News-Telegram, November 19, 1912

Calgary News-Telegram, November 19, 1912

Mustaches Come Under the Ban of Calgary's Maidens 

Agitation Looking to Their Banishment the World Over, Is Finding General Support

There is going to be some trouble before the style of wearing mustaches will come into favor again. Slowly but surely the man with a fine showing of hair on his upper lip has here and there put behind him any criticism or sarcasm that may be coming from the girls and faced the world with a wealth of whiskers. But the revolt of the girls is at its height...

Some Peaches Here.

Now, following the British fashion, there are some fine mustaches right here in Calgary, some of the finest ever seen. It would give us immense pleasure to describe one or two, but we refrain. But whether they are looked upon as becoming by the sterner sex itself it is certain that the girls are dead against them—unless they are married and then it is no use kicking, anyway. To find out just what is ithe local opinion a canvas of the city hall was made to secure opinions among the many dainty young ladies there, and here is what they came across with:

"No, I don't like them. Of course, they suit some men, and they look a lot nicer than without a mustache, but still I think they are dirty. I wouldn't marry a man with a mustache, not if he looked ever so nice."

This was from a very nice girl, too. She limits her horizon for marriage with that declaration, but it is her firmly expressed opinion, and she is nice enough to stand a good chance with the rest of the boys who dislike hair on the upper lip just as much as she does. With an English accent, another said:

"I can't see what a man wants to wear a mustache for. It is always wanting to be waxed, or washed, and it gets in his tea, and its [sic] dirty all the time. There. A man looks far better, all round, when he hasn't a mustache, and whether he has a nice looking face or not, he certainly has a chance of letting you see all its good qualities—if it has any,"" she concluded with the usual womanly inconsistency.

Then came the girl with a bright eye, clear forehead and a trim ankle. She also said that the mustache was a nuisance and a man had to pull it back to drink, and sometimes it was dirty. (They all, it might be mentioned, look upon a mustache as dirty). Some men's mustaches improved, and she had not so much objection to them then, but personally she preferred the boy with his face adorned only with eyelashes and eyebrows. And then she sighed.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Candidate's Soliloquy

In November 1912, Calgary was in the midst of a municipal election campaign. The Morning Albertan, the forerunner to the Calgary Sun, published the following poem on its front page a century ago today—November 13, 1912. The poet references the two leading mayoralty contenders, incumbent John W. Mitchell (who went down to defeat) and Harry Sinnott (the winner). He also refers to successful aldermanic candidates Stanley G. Freeze and Thomas Arthur Presswood Frost, defeated aldermanic candidate R.J. Frizzle, and defeated candidate for commissioner George M. Lang.
Morning Albertan, November 13, 1912, page 1
The Candidate’s Soliloquy

By Harry F. Burmester

To run or not to run—that is the question;
Whether ‘tis wiser for a man to suffer the heartless wallops of
a flock of voters, or,
Take passage on a sea of troubles and by smart sailing end them
To run for office and perchance to win! Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that running there are things that come
To quiet candidates with thoughts of home,
That make them weep and wail and gnash their pet bicuspids.

O, Tempora! O, Mores! O, a lot of things!
Kidd Fate, if I could only by some occult means
Dope out just what you have in store for me,
Perhaps I’d fling away ambition, cease to yearn
For things in nightly visions that I often see
Obeisance, honor, and the praise that comes
To men of office, I would shun, I reck,
If I but know I’d get it in the neck.
Frizzle, Frost and Freeze! Gad, what a fate
These names suggest. No luck can wait them at election date.
And I see painted on that culture screen of mine
A warning—something like an old Lang sign.
It augurs ill for me.
Mitchell, Sinnot [sic], and some others, too, may feel
The beat of public pulse when people vote.
Something whispers that they’ve got my goat.
Last night the gang assembled on the Heights to talk
Planks and platforms. I was there. I’m glad I didn’t speak,
For somehow, both my knees felt very weak.
This game of politics is a game of chance.
And fortune is so fickle. ‘Ere I start and give
The boys a chance of taking all I own save life,
Hold on a minute ‘till I ask my wife.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Olympic Plaza centennial—sort of

The former City Hall Market, built in 1912-13 as the temporary post office, became the City Hall Annex in 1953 and housed Engineering Department offices. It was eventually transformed into a Bank of Montreal branch, and its final use was as the headquarters of the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts while that facility was under construction. Olympic Plaza was completed on this site in 1987. J. Lewko, photographer. City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives Engineering and Environmental Services, Series IV, Box 1, file 1

One of Calgary's best-known landmarks is Olympic Plaza, the public square opposite City Hall that was developed in advance of the XV Olympic Winter Games in 1988. Few people, howver, would use the word "landmark" to describe the plaine, one-storey structure that stood on the corner from 1912 to 1985.

But it was a landmark to the shoppers and merchants who from 1919 to 1951 knew it as the City Hall Market.

Despite its longevity, the building was originally planned as a temporary structure. At the height of the pre-First World War Calgary construction boom in 1912, the Dominion government determined that the Calgary post office and federal building at the southeast corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street SE was too small. The old sandstone post office, built in 1894, was demolished in 1913. Ottawa planned to replace it immediately with a substantial new edifice.

Meanwhile, a temporary replacement was designed for a site a block away, at the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and 2nd Street SE. One hundred years ago today—on October 25, 1912—a building permit was issued for that new, temporary structure.

By the end of 1913, however, the economy came to a halt and Calgary's boom went bust. Meanwhile, the "temporary" post office served until 1919, when the post office was moved to the Lancaster Building. It took until 1931 before the new post office, the Calgary Public Building—which now houses the foyer of the Jack Singer Concert Hall—was built.

The "temporary" post office building was sold to Theodore J. Klossoski and began operations in 1919 as City Hall Market, a retail complex with over 40 stalls, including bakers, confectioners, fishmongers, meat merchants, and grocers. Many of the vendors were Jewish, including Norman Gould, whose meat market operated there for over three decades.

In January 1953, The City of Calgary took over the City Hall Market building and turned it into City Hall Annex, which housed offices of the engineering department. Later, the building became a Bank of Montreal branch. In its final function, it housed the offices of the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts (now the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts) while that complex was under construction.

In 1985, the former City Hall Market was demolished to make way for Olympic Plaza.

(Adapted from Harry Sanders, "City Hall Market Home to Many Jewish Vendors," Discovery: The Journal of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta 10:2 [2000]: 1-2.)

In February 1988, Calgary played host to the world during the XV Olympic Winter Games. A year earlier, the $5.7-million Olympic Plaza opened across the street from City Hall. Citizens were given the chance to buy bricks with personal inscriptions for $19.88 each. City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives OCO Photos Box 55-6 PP146#29