Stories from the Archives

Glenbow's Archives hold thousands of stories of western Canadian lives and events. In November 2013, with the generous assistance of The Calgary Foundation, we invited retired Calgarians to explore some of our little-used research files and to prepare articles about what they discovered. This was a pilot project aimed at involving more people in the community telling community stories using Glenbow's resources.


Gwen Smith landscaping her new home in Westgate in a view taken by Don Smith, September 1960. (author's private collection)

Calgary in the early 1960's: Personal Recollections

by Gwen Smith

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Landmark buildings in the downtown business section of Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1960. Adapted by Don Smith in 2014 from a photograph which appeared in the 1960 City of Calgary Municipal Manual. (Glenbow Library)

In July 1960, we received notice that Pan American Petroleum Company, my husband's employer, was transferring us and several more employees and their families from an area office in Edmonton to its head office in Calgary (Pan American later became Amoco Canada Petroleum.)

Calgary at this time was home to over 300 oil and gas companies, and one in five Calgary workers were directly or indirectly employed by the industry. This move meant a big change for us and our five-month-old daughter, but it also seemed an interesting challenge. Below are some of my early memories of Calgary in the 1960s, accompanied by a City of Calgary map on which I have identified places that were part of my neighborhood.

In 1960, Calgary was a thriving city - with a population of 261,200. The city covered 75.8 square miles, including several areas annexed in 1956. City council consisted of Mayor Harry W. Hays and twelve aldermen - each elected for a two-year term. There was lots to do and it was easy to get around. Calgary had nine golf courses, many city parks and an excellent transit system. Two daily newspapers, the Calgary Herald and the Albertan, plus five weeklies kept us up to date with all the news. Like most residents, we had the Calgary Herald delivered weekdays by a paper carrier. A main public library and five branches were complemented by a unique Bookmobile that served several communities on of a regularly scheduled basis. The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was a well-established annual event attracting about half a million visitors in its one-week program in early July.

Calgary had good educational services. The Calgary School system consisted of 92 Public Schools (39,500 students) and 30 Separate Schools (7600 students), and seven Business Colleges provided training for office and business personnel. In the 1960s, Mount Royal College was situated on 7th Avenue at 11th Street SW. SAIT was well established and the University of Alberta had a campus at 26A Avenue and 26th Street NW. The University of Calgary had a reserve location but no buildings. Construction on the campus began in 1958 and by 1960 several facilities were completed. The University of Calgary had full autonomy by 1966.

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Aerial view of downtown showing new suburbs to the west of Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1960. This photo, provided by the Calgary Board of Industrial Development, appeared in Henderson's Calgary (Alberta) City Directory, 1961. (Glenbow Library)

Fifteen movie theatres showed first-run and popular movies, and we particularly enjoyed watching moves in the beautiful Grand Theatre. The recently built Jubilee Auditorium was a great venue for opera, ballet, and celebrity performances. Drive-in theatres were very popular with families with young children - an evening out without having to hire a baby sitter. (They were also popular with the younger generation for other reasons.) The home we chose happened to be very close to the 17th Avenue Drive-in (in fact, we could watch the screen from our dining room window).

Two railways had busy stations in Calgary: the CPR station on 9th Avenue and Centre Street SW and the CNR station, (later the Nat Christie Centre, home of Alberta Ballet) at 141-18th Avenue SW. The CNR station was soon part of our new life in Calgary as my father-in-law made regular trips to Calgary from Saskatoon in his capacity as a brakeman for CNR. We were always pleased when the train brought my mother-in-law for occasional visits. (Often, she graciously offered to stay with our daughter while we took a break).

Pan American's head office was in the Bentall Building in downtown Calgary, on 7th Avenue across from the T Eaton department store (between 3rd and 4th Streets SW). This meant we would be looking for accommodation offering transit close by and an easy commute.

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Detail of a map of Calgary showing the community of Westgate and some of the local businesses and services of significance to the Smith family during the 1960s. (Glenbow Library G3504-C151-1959-A333)

We were looking to purchase our first home, and we spent hours poring over maps of Calgary and choosing the right area. We concentrated our search in three newly developing districts - Fairview, Westgate and Wildwood.

We found a nice starter home in the Westgate district which was then the western perimeter of the city (in an area that had been annexed in 1956). The two main project homebuilders in the area were Art Sullivan and Engineered Homes. Engineered homes had metal Youngstown kitchen cabinets which we didn't like. Art Sullivan had an excellent reputation, having constructed a large number of very satisfactory homes in the nearby Glendale district. Fortunately, there were still two Art Sullivan homes immediately available for procession.

We chose a nice three-bedroom bungalow of about 1000 square feet with one bathroom. There was no landscaping or garage so it was something of a rush to clear weeds and get the grass planted before the fall frost. As I recall, it was priced at $13,695 with a down- payment of only $2,000! Surely, we thought, this relatively low down- payment could be recovered easily in any upcoming move or transfer.

Like all project homes, this one had a warranty ... of sorts. Buyers were advised, "If you have any problems, any problems at all, just call our service representative Mr. Payne." This proved to be an appropriate name for their representative. Shortly after moving in, we found that several of the doors were sticking... not a serious matter but well within the "any problems at all" definition. We called, and eventually Mr. Payne arrived with tool kit in hand. His analysis of the problem was that it was not the contractor's fault; the house had probably been "caught in a twister". After an animated discussion with their representative, some minor repairs were reluctantly carried out. Fortunately, as time passed there were no more twisters in the Westgate District, and we were spared any further service calls by Mr. Payne.

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The Smiths' Westgate home as it appears today in a view taken by Don Smith, May 2013. (author's private collection)

Many of the homes in Westgate had been purchased by our associates in the oil industry so we knew many people. The community grew with homes bought by Firestone employees who had been transferred from Kingston Ontario to work in the newly constructed Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. Ltd. plant in northwest Calgary.

Our new home faced an open green space with no other homes in front of us. Fifty-third Street was the main traffic artery immediately west of us (later Sarcee Trail, a major city expressway). At this stage, it was a quiet unpaved road with a treed hillside to the west.

This became a favorite area for walks, enjoying wildflowers and in season, picking Saskatoon berries (with a little competition from a group of horses pastured there). This western area also became a popular spot for the neighborhood children to climb trees, explore and feed grass to the resident horses.

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A view of the Glenmore dam showing the single lane causeway traversed by the Smith family whenever they headed to Chinook Centre or other destinations in the south-east section of the city, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1940s. (Glenbow Archives NA-5406-10)

A number of elementary schools were within easy walking distance for the students in most of these newly developed communities. Westgate Elementary was about a ten-minute from our home when the time came to need it. There was also an established community centre beside the school. In the 1960's, kindergarten was not part of the public school system, but for a donation to the community-building fund and a monthly fee, a position for a five-year-old could be reserved in the kindergarten class in the community centre. Nearby Vincent Massey, a junior high school, and St Michaels, a separate school, served older students.

There were several established churches in the area. Of particular interest to us was Woodcliffe United Church built just above Edworthy Park on land donated by the Edworthy family. The 1883 Edworthy family farm (78 hectares), ranch and sandstone quarry was located at the northern perimeter of our area of the city just east of 53rd St. and Banff Coach Road. In the 1950's the upper area was sold to the city for the development of the Wildwood community, and in the 1960's the remainder was purchased to become Edworthy Park, a great area for picnicking along the Bow River. The Douglas Fir Trail in the park is still a popular hiking area of about three kilometers just above the river along the CPR tracks. This is a residual old growth area which contains Douglas Fir trees estimated to be from 95 to 285 years old!

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Route 6 bus route and time table, Calgary Transit Service, 1965. (author's private collection)

In the 1960's, home delivery of milk was part of daily life. Milk was about 25 cents a quart, and milk chutes were a standard feature of most homes. These chutes were a box in the exterior wall near the back door, with an exterior opening accessible by the milkman and an interior door enabling the homeowner to bring milk, cream, butter etc. into the home. On delivery day, empty clean glass milk bottles were put in the chute with tokens or cash for needed dairy products. If nothing was required on a delivery day, a "NO MILK" card was put in a window viewable from the street by the milkman. Eggs at the time were 55 cents a dozen and bread was about 25 cents per loaf.

We settled in and found our way around the neighborhood and downtown Calgary. The #8 Killarney trolley bus was convenient (after a 15-minute walk to the nearest stop on 45thStreet SW and 17thAvenue). The bus came about every 15 minutes, and the fare was 15 cents for adults. Children's tickets were six for a quarter. In 1965, the No.2 Killarney bus route was extended down 17th Avenue to Glenside Drive, making it an even closer stop.

We had several choices nearby for grocery shopping; including a Safeway and a Loblaw's nearby on 17th Avenue SW in the vicinity of 37th Street. However, the first and only Calgary Co-op store at the time (downtown on 11thAvenue near 1st Street SW) became our weekly grocery destination. Our Co-op number suggests that we were part of a group of less than 12,000 members at that time... there are over 900,000 currently!

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Map of Calgary showing points of interest and some of the local businesses and services of significance to the Smith family during the 1960s. (Glenbow Library G3504-C151-1959-A333)

The few dining out experiences included the Sunrise Restaurant (and drive through) on 37th Street, Smitty's and Phil's Pancake Houses. For special occasions, there was Hy's Steak House. Downtown, Hudson's Bay and the T.Eaton department stores provided fairly convenient shopping for our most of our other needs. Woodward's store in the newly opened Chinook shopping centre and Simpsons Sears in the Calgary (latter named North Hill) shopping centre were only a short drive away. The Chinook shopping centre was most directly accessed by a one-lane road over the Glenmore dam (the causeway was a few years from being constructed). Traffic on the top-of-the-dam road was controlled by a traffic light which designated who had right of way, a system that worked surprisingly well.

Westbrook Mall, on 37th Street, opened very near the Westgate community in 1964. An interesting feature included in the mall was a branch of the Calgary public library - most convenient for us.

When we moved into the district, the nearest branch of the library was the Glengarry site located at 2609 19th Avenue SW. It had a good selection of interesting books and an obliging librarian - Miss Peach (sister of Calgary historian Jack Peach) who was always very helpful and concerned with our reading interests. Central Memorial Library on 12th Avenue was also popular. The travelling Bookmobile was a welcome sight when it appeared in our neighborhood on a weekly basis.

We found family doctors at the Calgary Associate Clinic downtown on Sixth Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets SW (now Bow Valley Square). There was even a pediatrician, Dr John D Birrell, who made house calls - what a relief with a baby in the house!! The Medical Centre on 8th Street and 8th Avenue had many doctor and dentist offices. Our regular dentist was Dr Gordon K Minty. The nearest Well Baby Clinic for immunization and health monitoring checkups was in a small house located on 17thAvenue SW in the Scarborough area, an easy bus ride for a non-driving mom. The YWCA on 11thAvenue near 4th Street offered swimming lessons for babies and older children. It was a fun way to meet other mothers with children of a comparable age and for our daughter to acquire some swimming skills.

Calgary in the 1960's offered many options for family outings. Bowness Park was visited after a circuitous trip via the 14th Street bridge. The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary was always fascinating. Riley Park with its wading pool and cricket matches on a Sunday was a fun destination, as was Stanley Park and Sandy Beach. The Calgary Brewing and Malting Company offered a wonderful aquarium for the public at no charge, as well as a brewery tour with sampling (for adults) at the conclusion of the tour. The Brewery also had an outstanding Christmas light display. The Calgary Zoo with its Dinny the concrete dinosaur and the collection of live animals was another great outing.

We have enjoyed our fifty plus years in Calgary. Who would have believed that after all this time we would still be in our "starter home". There have been many changes in Calgary and the neighborhood. The city has grown to an area of over 280 square miles. The western city boundary is 101st Street SW and a recent survey showed a population of 1,149,553. The West LRT line goes practically by our front door (and it has great and rapid access to the downtown area and Glenbow Museum).

After 50 years, worry about future transfers has long since passed. Guess we're here to stay!


Bibliography

Glenbow Museum Clipping Files
Henderson's Calgary Directories, 1960, 1961
Municipal Manual, Calgary Alberta ,1960
Robert M. Stamp, Suburban Modern, Published by TouchWood Editions Ltd. 2004
Google and the Internet
Roberta McDonald, The Calgary Book of Everything, MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc 2007
Max and Heather MacEwan Foran, Calgary-Canada's Frontier Metropolis, Windsor Publications (Canada) Ltd. 1982
City of Calgary Records Archives, Calgary Transit report 1965


About the Author

I have been a volunteer at Glenbow since 1982. There have been several interesting assignments in the 30 plus years since. Currently, I volunteer for the Glenbow Library and work in the "map room." When the Stories from the Archives project was mentioned, and after viewing a 1905 map that had been processed, it seemed there might be some interest in putting some points of interest on a map from the early 1960s. An AMA map from 1959 seemed to be appropriate and served as my reference point. It has been an interesting project, and the travel back in time has refreshed memories of our experiences from the time of our transfer to Calgary in 1960.

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