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.


Post Calgary: Station No. 1

Hello fire history fans! I’m Shannon Quigley, a museum assistant at the Firefighters Museum of Calgary. This summer I’ll be going around Calgary taking pictures of postcards from the museum’s collection in front of buildings as they stand today. I’ve seen this done before and thought it would be a great way to add some context. I’ll also throw some photographs from the museum’s archives into the mix.

There’s no better place to start than with Station No. 1, which served as Calgary’s Fire Headquarters from 1912 – 1973. When the fire department (and its trucks!) outgrew the early 20th century structure, Station No. 1 moved a block north and Fire Headquarters relocated to Station No. 16 in the southeast. But the old Station No. 1 still stands at the corner of 1 St & 6 Ave S.E

You’ll notice that I’m wearing some pretty colourful gloves (note to self: wear white gloves next time!). To keep it real I brought the actual postcards to photograph on site and wore gloves to prevent natural oils on my hands from damaging the artefacts.

#1 Firehall Motor Apparatus, circa 1917-1918. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection. (94-01-1132) . Calgary’s Fire Department was the first in Western Canada to use motorized vehicles, and – judging from the above postcard – they liked to show them off!

Fire Headquarters, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection. (94-01-1134). Fire vehicles have been decorated for parades and events since the days of horse drawn hose carts. We don’t know what special event is depicted in this postcard, but we’re glad someone took a photo!

Two Firefighters and a dog outside Fire Station No. 1, n.d. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection. (PI-A2002-0032).  I’ve included this photograph because if you look closely you’ll notice that there are dogs in the postcards as well! Check out close up views here and here.

Harnessing Horsepower

Aerial apparatus, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1142 recto)Aerial apparatus, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1142 recto)

The Calgary Fire Department used horses to pull heavy equipment, like the aerial wagon pictured above, until 1933! They got their first motorized vehicle in 1910, but it took a good 20 years to completely phase out the wagons. Fire horses needed to be intelligent, capable of pulling heavy loads, and able to run like they were on a race track. Chief ‘Cappy’ Smart handpicked each one and also helped neighbouring fire departments select their teams.

Left: Candid photo of two firefighters, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1151 recto). Right: Fire Hall 1, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1120). 

Calgary’s fire horses, much like today’s firefighters, wasted no time getting out of the station when the alarm sounded. If you look carefully at the above postcards you’ll notice that harnesses were hung from the ceiling directly in front of the fire wagons. When the alarm bell rang, horses positioned themselves under the harnesses, firefighters lowered the harness with a pull of a rope, and within seconds the horses were strapped in and ready to go!

Here’s another picture of a fire station with a clear view of the harness system.

Interior view of fire station with fire dogs and three firefighters (NAN).