There and Back Again

PI-A2002-0042 recto, marked

A local photography studio captured this picture of Calgary firefighters before they went off to fight in the First World War. A handwritten note on the back of the photograph identifies them as Clarence Brooks, Clem Whitbread, Dave McCartney, Fred Carr, Morley Markle, Heck Frazer, Bill Cowan, and George Rosam. Calgary’s Fire Department carefully tracked the names and fates of these men, along with every other firefighter who enlisted to fight or called back to active duty, in this log book:

The logbook shows us that these firefighters enlisted on the same day – March 5, 1916 – which accounts for the group photo. It also indicates when they “Returned to Duty,” meaning the date they resumed their jobs as firefighters after the war.

Every firefighter in the above photograph made it back to Calgary’s Fire Department in 1919. When they enlisted, they did so knowing that they would be able to return to their jobs. Fire Chief James ‘Cappy’ Smart made this policy explicitly clear in a letter from the Chief’s office. Of the sixty-one firefighters listed in the logbook, four were noted to have died in action, and forty-three resumed their duties in Calgary after the war.

Letter from Chief James Smart, circa 1914-1918, Calgary. City of Calgary Archives.


A Postcard for Peace

It’s been 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War and we’ve been busy researching how what was supposed to be the ‘war to end all war’ impacted Calgary’s Fire Department. We recently installed a temporary display Keep the Home Fires Burning (‘til the boys come home) in the Military Museums’ community exhibits area. The title and theme ties in perfectly with this postcard of Calgary’s 1918 Peace Celebrations, a parade that marked the day the boys could finally come home.

Calgary Peace Celebrations. Grant., 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (95-01-1701 recto)Calgary Peace Celebrations. Grant., circa 1918. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (95-01-1701)

The postcard shows us Calgary’s official victory parade, which started in front of Fire Headquarters at 2:30 p.m. on November 11, 1918. At first all you can see in the postcard is a blur of activity, but if you look closely you’ll spot a fire truck, with its big loud bell and firefighters piled high.

Unofficial celebrations kicked off the day before and true to form, Fire Chief James ‘Cappy’ Smart was at the centre of the action. On Calgary Public Library’s blog, Christine Hayes described the role Cappy played in letting all of Calgary know the armistice had been signed:

“Immediately on the news that Germany had accepted the terms of surrender, the news desk at the Albertan alerted Mayor Costello and Fire Chief Smart and the church bells and fire bells began to ring. It was 1:30 in the morning. Cappy Smart threw open the doors to the fire hall and sounded the bells on the fire-fighting equipment for a full 15 minutes. This drew people into town and soon the War veterans had started a parade which grew in magnitude as the day progressed. They partied all night long.”

The Calgary Daily Herald reported on the victory celebrations and outlined the program of official ceremonies on the morning of November 11. They noted that firefighters had been kept busy during the “good-natured exuberances” of the night before:

“the firemen officiated at some real excitement as, in the tail end of the celebration, someone set fire to a heap of rubbish at the corner of Eight avenue and Centre street, and a big blaze resulted for a few minutes…  The firemen also had to answer several false alarms caused by excited citizens “pulling” fire alarm boxes at various corners.”

The ‘Programme of Peace Celebration’ outlined in The Daily Herald, described your typical fanfare as well as a more sinister celebration. A float in the official parade resembled a gallows and mannequins, or effigies, of the German Kaiser and Crown Prince were hanged from it before being paraded through town and burned in front of city hall. If you squint you can see the float in the top left quarter of our postcard and you can see the gallows clearly in the picture Christine featured in her blog post. Ceremoniously burning effigies might seem a bit morbid, but a similar scene still unfolds every year on Guy Fawkes Night throughout the United Kingdom. We just hope the revelers paid enough attention to fire safety!

Left: The Calgary Daily Herald, November 11, 1918. Courtesy of Our Future Our Past. Right: Peace Celebrations in Calgary, 1918. Postcards from the Past, PC 1378, Calgary Public Library.

For more about firefighting and the First World War, be sure to check out our exhibit at the Military Museums in the hallway leading up to the Founder’s Gallery. And keep an eye out for a flag from our collection that was signed by Calgary’s firefighters and sent to the front, on display in the Wild Rose Overseas: Albertans In The Great War’ exhibit at the Military Museums until December 15, 2014.

Lives, Legacies, and Legends of the Calgary Fire Brigade

Hello All! I am Kesia Kvill, one of the Museum’s summer students. I am finishing off my BA Hon. in History this summer as a Co-op Student at The Firefighters Museum of Calgary. Over the past month or so I have been working on a research project we have titled “Lives, Legacies, and Legends of the Calgary Fire Brigade.” This project is a combination of two things for me: first my interest in the history of cemeteries (my Honours Thesis was on cemeteries), and second my new interest in the history of the Calgary Fire Department.

As July 25th will mark the 75th anniversary of Chief “Cappy” Smart’s death in 1939, the Museum staff wanted to take time to reflect upon the lives and legends of Calgary’s early fire department and honour the legacy of “Cappy” Smart and others affected by the Fire Department.

My research for this project has included the compilation of information on members of the Calgary Fire Department buried in Union Cemetery, as well as those who perished in a significant fire (or fire department related) incidents, and relatives of “Cappy” Smart. This list includes the locations of each person’s final resting place, as well as short tidbits of history surrounding them and their relation to the fire department. We will be posting a PDF self guided tour in August so you will be able to take a walk through the cemetery at your own pace, learn about the history of the CFD, and take time to remember the impact the early department, and Chief Smart, had on the city of Calgary.

If you wish to join us on our remembrance of the “Lives, Legacies, and Legends of the Calgary Fire Brigade,” the Museum staff will be meeting at the Spiller Road entrance at 11:00am on the 29th of July to walk through Union Cemetery 75 years to the day that “Cappy” was brought to rest there by a full Fire Department processional from his funeral at Knox United Church.