calgary in the 1960s

The Bow meets the Elbow!

This photograph was taken in the late 1960s, when there was still a train bridge across the Elbow River right where it plugs into the Bow. Goose Island is there and I see the Foothills Hospital in the background! Do you recognize any of the other buildings?

Thank you to Alan Zakrison for sharing this photograph with me! You can follow this local historian on Twitter at @AlanZakrison … he leads “Twitter Tours” accompanied by maps, photographs and other great visuals.

bison

I’m reading a book called Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life by Kingsley M. Bray right now.

In both Canada and the United States, the disappearance of the buffalo was the biggest humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that you’ve never heard of. Scientists are only beginning to recognize now that cattle also introduced diseases into wild herds that weakened them.

The American government wanted the bison gone — it had two transcontinental railroads to build and dealing with freedom fighters like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was impossible as long as they had access to the food and shelter supplied by those big herds.

Here in Canada, the situation was slightly different. The government knew the bison would be gone eventually but their priority was not to be financially responsible for the First Nations people in western Canada. They thought they had time, and if you had ever seen one of those massive herds you would have understood why they believed that.

Let’s say you and I are standing on a rise in the prairie. We say to each other, “Do you hear that?” But that isn’t exactly what we mean. What we mean is do you FEEL that … the sound is coming out of the ground up through our feet. An hour later … look to the north as far as you can, look to the south as far as you can. That herd is a mile wide, and it passes us by for an hour. You would never, ever forget a sight like that.

Only two years after Treaty 7 was signed in 1877 (the agreement the Crown signed with the indigenous people and settlers in my area) the bison were gone from southern Alberta and the people here were starving. We talk about the bison on the tour of Chestermere that’s happening tonight — did we have bison herds in this area? Come to find out how glacier rocks and a natural prairie spring offer us some clues.

go stamps go: the calgary tigers

Among the recruits who marched west with the F Troop in 1874 in search of the place where the Bow and Elbow Rivers met were immigrants from Europe who brought the game of rugby with them from their faraway homes. Rugby is known to have been played in Calgary as early as 1883. This match was played at the NWMP barracks at Fort Calgary with the Deane House in the background.

Meanwhile, the First Nations people were willing to give some of the new Canadian sporting events a try. However sometimes the game made no sense. For instance, when it came to football, why would you let another person attack you? In his book NWMP: The North West Mounted Police 1874 – 1885, Jack F. Dunn describes a rugby/football match that went awry: “One day at Fort Walsh, several Indians were invited to join a rugby match. The game took other dimensions, however, when a shoulder block by constable George Adams sent one Indian opponent flying. When the downed man got up and drew a knife, Adams “made for the fort”. ”

The Calgary Tigers were formed officially at a meeting on August 27, 1908. Practices were at 5.00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays where Riley Park is located now and the season would run from September until the end of October.

The first rugby/football uniforms were canvas pants and leather helmets. Pads were not used for playing or practice until the late 1920s. Sprains and broken bones were common. Concussions happened too, but they were not recognized as causing potentially serious and permanent damage to the brain we recognize today.

Imagine we could bundle up on a beautiful September night in 1908 and head down to Riley Park to watch the Calgary Tigers in action. What sort of game could we expect to see? Well, football at the time was English-style rugby … kicking, tackling, punting. Also, North Hill in the background with not a structure or a tree in sight!

Read more:

  • Go Stamps Go! Graham Kelly
  • NWMP: The North West Mounted Police: 1873 – 1885 by Jack F. Dunn
North Hill does not have a tree or a structure on it!!
Here the Calgary Tigers are in action near what is
now Riley Park.

we are coming home

Have you ever heard of the First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA)? Alberta began the new millennium by becoming the first province in Canada to pass legislation that stated the Alberta government’s collections of sacred Indigenous objects in the Glenbow and the Royal Alberta Museum needed to be restored to the communities they came from so they could return to ceremonial use. From the First Nations perspective these ceremonial objects were not objects at all but were living beings … beings who had been in captivity for a long time. You can read more about this important legislation here and here.

Gerald T. Conaty was the curator at the Glenbow Museum when this legislation was passed and he was responsible for the repatriation of many sacred beings to Siksika, Kainai and Piikani First Nations around southern Alberta during the 1990s. You can read more about this incredible Made in Alberta true story in We Are Coming Home, a book edited by Conaty, which explores the challenging history that museums have had with indigenous people and what he and others decided to do about it.

treaty six

23 and 28 August of 1876: the British Crown signed an agreement with Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments of First Nations at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt.

Significant agreements in Treaty Six that don`t appear in any other treaty? A famine clause. Three years later the bison were gone, and there’s your famine. There is also a Medicine Chest Clause that is still disputed today.

Another significant outcome of this treaty…… some Cree Chiefs such as Big Bear and Poundmaker refused to sign it, setting the stage for the terrible confrontation between the Canadian Government and the Metis and First Nations people during the North West Rebellion.

“This is our land! It isn’t a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us. It is ours and we will take what we want.”

Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) refuses to sign Treaty Six, August 1876.

“We want none of the Queen’s presents! When we set a fox trap we scatter pieces of meat all around but when the fox gets into the trap we knock him on the head. We want no baits. Let your chiefs come to us like men and talk to us.”

Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) refuses to sign Treaty Six, August 1876.

Read More:

  • Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion by Bill Waiser and Blair Stonechild
  • Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson

cuthbert grant

On this date, 15 July 1854 – Cuthbert Grant died after being thrown from a horse.

Cuthbert Grant

Whilst Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont may be better known, many Metis in Canada and the United States trace their ancestry to Cuthbert Grant.

Grant was a farmer, the father of thirteen children, an employee of the North West Company and a commander in the Battle of Seven Oaks. You can read more about his life here.

This article describes a historic visit in 2012 by Sir James Grant of Scotland, also known as Lord Strathspey. The occasion formally acknowledged that Cuthbert Grant was a clan member, making his descendants an official sept (branch) of the Grant clan in Scotland.

bison

That natural grass looks so right with that sky, doesn’t it? And then, to make it official, these guys appeared. They walked straight out of 1870 and regarded their European visitor with curiosity.

Sometimes a miracle is the surviving descendants of a genocide, grazing on their homeland, three legs in their own wild world, and one in mine.

Not so far away, I could hear cattle calling to each other. As a rancher’s daughter, this is a sound of peace and security for me. Last night, it only made the scene in front of me more unreal. Cattle seemed at once painted on to the harsh, beautiful, unforgiving landscape of the Great Plains, and so did I.

History may be healing and reversing itself (so might it be). Too late to go back, not to too late for trying.