The Fifties are often characterised as a time of conformity. Perhaps it is fairer to call it a time of belonging. A city the size of Calgary presented an impressive number of clubs and community organisations. Service clubs abounded, every church had its auxiliary, there were charities, sports leagues, speech-making societies, study groups, amateur theatricals, and so on. Television had not yet consumed people's attention; government had not yet assumed many of the duties of church and charity. Clubs were an important part of the social fabric, and their meetings and activities were the stuff of news copy and photos.
The decade was the heyday of the service clubs and fraternal orders. They predated the Fifties, but it was the time when belonging to the Jaycees, Kinsmen or the Rotarians, the Elks and the Shriners, was the thing to do. Both service clubs and fraternal orders raised money for charity and provided a place for businessmen to meet socially, and in the case of fraternal groups, sometimes to party. Everyone belonged to some type of group: people seemed to take comfort in the company of their fellows, perhaps in reaction to twenty years of doubt and uncertainty.
Women had their own clubs, societies and sisterhoods. Denied the outlet of careers, women had maintained volunteer organisations for many years. Older groups like the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire were still vital, while the Daughters of the Nile replicated the vague orientalism of the fraternal groups. The Women's Auxiliary, part of every church, was a vital part of socialising as well as an agency of good works. The concept was applied to hospitals and even organisations like the United Commercial Travellers, an association of travelling salesmen.
Like today, many groups worked to raise funds for charity. Whether Jaycee or Rotarian, presenting large cheques to worthwhile causes was an important activity. The new Children's Hospital was a great favourite, reflecting the impact of diseases like polio and the baby boom. Facilities for public recreation were another popular choice, and groups like the Kinsmen raised thousands of dollars for civic amenities like swimming pools and arenas that were not yet a priority for municipal government. They were opened with parades and ribbon cuttings, civic booster extraordinaire Mayor Don Mackay presiding with mandatory white hat.
There were a plethora of societies dedicated to different interests in Calgary. Some were well established, like the Calgary Horticultural Society. Others were recent creations: speech-making clubs like Toastmasters – or Toastmistresses – were all the rage. Much of the city’s cultural life resided within groups like the Calgary Music Club or the Allied Arts Council in the Coste House. The proliferation of clubs and societies was not a new phenomenon; rather it was inherited from the pre-television age. The Fifties, however, would be not only a high water mark but also the beginning of a long decline for many such groups, as the tube increasingly kept people at home.
Sports were participatory in the 1950s, as reflected in the popularity of league sports, both for adults and children. The sports page was not yet solely the domain of the professionals and there were many photos of happy participants in amateur sports. Curling was one favourite. Baseball was another, but bowling, golfing, badminton and tennis all made the pages of the Albertan, the winners of tournaments and bonspiels smiling for the camera.
It may seem quaint that one of the city's major dailies would devote so much space to community groups. Those who experienced the Fifties first hand, however, often talk about the strong sense of community that existed, and Calgary was in many ways still a small town. In a close-knit community, who was going to head the local chapter of the Jaycees or Lions' Club, or who won trophies at the local high school track meet was a source of pride and interest. Today the deliberations of the local chamber of commerce and the dinners of the church auxiliary are still reported in small town newspapers; so it was in Calgary in the Fifties.