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

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.

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.

Pranks and Fun: Social Life at Old St. Stephen’s College

The history of Old St. Stephen’s College spans over a century and while the building itself is unique, it is the people have who have lived and worked here that bring out its uniqueness.[1] In its time as an educational facility, the college produced a large number of graduates who went on to become ministers, employed renowned educators and housed thousands of students. Residents participated in the traditions and customs of campus life and the building became eminent for the pranks that were carried out there. This post will look at the people of Old St. Stephen’s when it functioned as a theological college and some of the stories that illustrate the student’s social lives.

Students using the fire escape slide at St. Stephen's College, October 1940  (Courtesy of the University of Alberta Archives, UAA 72-58-0294).
Students using the fire escape slide at St. Stephen’s College, October 1940
(Courtesy of the University of Alberta Archives, UAA 72-58-0294).

Students were the majority of the building’s inhabitants: up to 150 youths were housed in the college at once and they didn’t spend all their free time studying. After the First World War, the college installed steel spiraled slides, to be used as fire escapes, at the end of each wing. During this time, the college had become a convalescent home for injured soldiers and the fires escapes were meant to evacuate patients as quickly as possible in an emergency. The fire escapes were never used for their intended purpose, but the students made use of them for their own enjoyment. Freshmen were initiated by their fellow classmates, who would dump the unlucky first years down the slides and then chase them with buckets of ice water. This custom continued into the 1970s, up until the fire escapes were removed during the renovations and replaced with ladders. In addition to the pranks and hazing that took place, there were water fights with neighboring residences that highlight the enjoyment of student life on campus. The students had a great deal of playful fun here.

Another tale is from when the Rutherford Library was being constructed in 1948. On the evening of the cornerstone-laying ceremony, the cornerstone mysteriously disappeared, only to turn up behind the college’s west wing fire escape. The stone weighed 700 pounds, and everyone presumed that engineering students were the culprits. However, in 2008, the secret was revealed in New Trail, the University of Alberta’s Alumni magazine. The escapade was actually the work of a group of agriculture students living at St. Stephen’s College. Turns out, the students borrowed a milk cart from the St. Stephen’s kitchen and attempted to haul the stone as far as 109 Street. Being heavier than anticipated, they only made it as far as St. Stephen’s College. To the student’s dismay, the stone was discovered just hours before the cornerstone-laying and the ceremony proceeded as planned.

Old St. Stephen’s College, 1971 (Historic Resources Management Branch, 71-R0001-29).  The tubed fire escapes on the wings of the building were installed in 1920.
Old St. Stephen’s College, 1971 (Historic Resources Management Branch, 71-R0001-29).
The tubed fire escapes on the wings of the building were installed in 1920.

Faculty members would also fall victim to the student’s pranks. The day after Halloween one year, John Henry Riddell, the College’s first principal, saw that his buggy was balanced unsteadily on one the building’s towers. Once again, the engineering students from the University of Alberta were thought to have assisted with this feat. Although no details could be found on who was responsible, it likely would have been worthwhile for the students to see the look on their administrator’s face. Pranks such as these were seemingly all in good fun, and as one former student states, they “built character and helped form fast friendships.”

In addition to pranks, there were Glee clubs, Students’ Council and various intramural activities for students to participate in. Physical recreation played a large role in student life at the college. Friendly sports rivalries were encouraged and the students had access to the tennis courts, a gym for basketball games and even skating parties were organized. Once the college’s ban on dances was lifted in the 1940s, students were able to attend university dances, including the well-known Sadie Hawkins Dance. Dormitory life helped to foster a communal atmosphere spirit among students and many residents have fond memories of their time spent at the college. Even the brochure for the St. Stephen’s Ladies’ College noted that “the social life [was] just delightful.”

Formal group portrait of the members of the Alberta College South Glee Club, 1912-1913 (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A16351).
Formal group portrait of the members of the Alberta College South Glee Club, 1912-1913 (Provincial Archives of Alberta, A16351).

When the building was home for the students of St. Stephen’s College, it was a place where friendships were formed, bonds between students and instructors were strengthened and fun was had. The building has seen thousands of staff and students pass through its hallways and numerous tales have been accumulated. These stories help to illustrate the liveliness of the former college and show us that it is the people who make history come alive.

What can you tell us about your time spent at Old St. Stephen’s College? Let us know your stories!

Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.


Alberta Register of Historic Places. “Old St. Stephen’s College.” (Accessed September 10, 2014).

Designation File # 132, in the custody of the Historic Resources Management Branch.

Elson, D. J. C. “History Trails: Faith, Labour, and Dreams.” University of Alberta Alumni Association. (Accessed September 23, 2014).access

Schoeck, Ellen. I Was There: A Century of Alumni Stories about the University of Alberta, 1906-2006. Edmonton, Canada: The University of Alberta Press, 2006.

Simonson, Gayle. Ever-Widening Circles: A History of St. Stephen’s College. Edmonton, Canada: St. Stephen’s College, 2008.

The Caper.” New Trail: The University of Alberta Alumni Association, 2008, 26-28 (Accessed September 13, 2015).

University of Alberta. “University of Alberta: St. Stephen’s College.” (Accessed September 10, 2014).

[1] A note on naming: the institution was initially known as Alberta College South. ACS and Robertson College were amalgamated in 1925 and renamed the United Theological College. The name St. Stephen’s College was chosen in 1927. It became known as Old St. Stephen’s College in 1952 when a new St. Stephen’s was built directly south of the existing college.

It’s #MuseumWeek!

Between March 23rd and 29th, museums from all over the world will join together to celebrate culture on Twitter!

#MuseumWeek began in Europe last year and 2015 will be the first time that the cultural event goes global. This event gives museums the opportunity to present their artifacts, secrets and stories to a worldwide audience, while encouraging people to snap and share photos of themselves enjoying a museum visit.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

7 days, 7 themes, 7 hashtags is the programme focus for this year. Thematic hashtags allow museums to promote and celebrate their individual history and provide tips, while connecting with communities around the world. On Wednesday, #architectureMW will explore the architectural heritage and surroundings of museums. Friday’s theme, #familyMW, will provide advice for families or schools planning to visit a museum. This is a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into your favourite museum!

A number of Alberta museums and historic sites have signed up to participate in this online initiative including the Galt Museum, Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Glenbow Museum, Royal Alberta Museum and Royal Tyrrell Museum. A full list of participating museums can be found here.

To find out more, refer to the #MuseumWeek website and follow them on Twitter to join the conversation!

Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.