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.


“The Best Equipped Fire Station in the West”

Five Views of Fire Headquarters

Our collection of postcards includes 30 views of Calgary’s Fire Headquarters – if you count duplicates. Old Station No. 1 is one of the best remaining examples of an early Fire Hall in Canada. And while the building hasn’t served as active station since 1973, it continues to serve as a reminder of Calgary’s history as a leader in firefighting practices.

Left: Fire Hall 1, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1120). Right: #1 Firehall Motor Apparatus, circa 1917-1918. Firefighters Museum of Calgary (94-01-1132).

Calgary’s Fire Headquarters incorporated the very latest in firefighting technology when it was built in 1912. The striking facade, consisting of five bay doors, was large enough to accommodate the Department’s expanding fleet. Located on a corner, the station was built on an angle so that fire trucks and horse drawn wagons, which had very wide turning circles, could speed out in any direction. The new engines, or ‘buzz wagons,’ could go a whooping 64 kilometers per hour!

The second level of the building consisted of dorms, offices, and lounges. This reflected the professionalization of firefighting. Calgary’s Volunteer Fire Brigade was supplemented by 40 full-time paid firefighters in 1909 and the new Headquarters was built to accommodate them.

Candid shot of firefighters relaxing in a Fire Hall. Firefighters are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. (94-01-1123)

Candid shot, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1123).

Postcards in the collage ‘Five Views of Fire Headquarters’:

Best Equipped Fire Station in the West, Calgary, Alta., circa 1913. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1149 recto).
Fire Headquarters, Calgary, Alta., circa 1912. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (FIC2013.000.005R recto).
Fire Headquarters, Calgary, Alta., early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1131 recto).
Fire Headquarters, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1134 recto).
The Fire Hall, Calgary, Alta., Canada, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1148 recto).