Cathy’s Christmas Memory

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Me and my big sister at the Ottawa Firefighters Christmas Party, 1983.  (photo courtesy of my mom)

Not everyone knows this about me but I’m a firefighter kid.  Both my sister and I were born and raised in Ottawa where both my  dad and grandfather were firefighters. We lived on a street with other firefighter families, played with their kids and became part of the firefighting family.

Every Christmas, my mom  dressed me and my sister in brand new dresses, did our hair pretty, and took us to the Ottawa Firefighters Children’s Christmas party.  She told us how my grandmother did the exact same thing with my dad and my aunt. We were the second generation of fire kids! So cool.

One of my favourite things were the little pots of ice cream – complete with tiny wooden spoons!  I loved the helium balloons and being there with all my friends. Plus, my dad played the trombone in the Fire Department Band and joined us after the concert.

Being a firefighter’s kid rocked!

But like any good Christmas Party, the best part was Santa! No matter how many Shopping Centre Santas we encountered, my sister and I  knew the Santa at firefighters’ Christmas party was the REAL Santa.

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Me and my family at the Calgary Firefighters Christmas Party, 2015 (photo courtesy of Patton Photography and IAFF 255)

Working at the museum has brought me  full circle to this amazing Christmas memory. Best job ever.

This Christmas, the Calgary Firefighters Association extended an invitation to all CFD support staff  to take part in their annual Christmas party! I got my girls dressed up in their new dresses and did their hair up pretty for them and carried on the tradition for the third generation.

While saying our thank yous and good byes to Mr. Claus, he noticed that Anna’s bow on her dress had come undone. Being the good guy that he is, he offered to tie it up. Awesome.  

As he set to work, Anna stood on her tippy toes and whispered to me “Santa is tying my bow!” .

A perfectly placed bow and a million high fives later, I had the happiest kid in the world. No matter how many Shopping Centre Santas Anna and her sister will encounter this year, the Santa at the Firefighters’ Christmas party is and always will be the REAL Santa.

Wishing you the best of the holidays.

  • Cathy



Lee’s Recipe from ‘Conversations in the Kitchen: Mapping the History of YYC’

Lee Churchill was the first speaker in our ongoing lecture series ‘Conversations in the Kitchen.’ If you missed it, check out The Map Project Blog to catch up on the restoration and conservation work she did on an early 20th century map used by Calgary’s firefighters.

Lee’s talk was followed by food and lively conversation in our Fire Hall kitchen, where she cooked up some Newfoundland toutons. She has been kind enough to share the recipe with us! To make your own delicious bits of fried bread dough, you’ll need:

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sugar
2.5 tsp (1 packet) of traditional yeast
1 cup warm water

  • Proof the yeast by dissolving sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water and sprinkling yeast on top. Wait 10 min until frothy.
  • In a large bowl put flour, salt and oil. Stir in yeast mix and continue stirring until a ball forms, then knead until elastic. Adding flour if needed.
  • Let rise 30 min, until doubled, then punch down and re-knead.
  • Turn on frying pan and add butter. Tear off golf ball sized pieces of dough, pull into circles and fry until lightly golden.

Serve with butter, molasses, and cloudberry or ligonberry jam.

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.