Why We Exist
Imagine a city without public libraries, without parks or a performing arts centre. Who were the driving forces behind making Calgary one of the best places to live? What was their passion? How did this passion and determination change how we live today?
Many of the stories of the prominent people who were instrumental in building our city and province are well documented, but what about the lesser known people in our history like William Reader or Annie Davidson? How did they contribute to our culture?
Imagine a library without any books? Within the first few days of opening Calgary’s first public library in 1912, every single book had been borrowed. Clearly, Calgary was thirsty for knowledge but Annie Davidson already knew that. A 70 year old widow and mother of 10 she understood the value of books and the need for a library in what was a burgeoning city.
Annie Davidson moved to Calgary in 1906 to be closer to her children. She brought with her a passion for reading. It didn’t take her long to find others who loved to read as well and she soon established the Calgary Women’s Literary Club where like-minded ladies would get together to talk about the books they read. However Annie Davidson and the other ladies of the club recognized that most of the books in Calgary were in the private collections of the few people who could afford them. Even the schools have very few of them in their collection. They were determined to make books available to everyone.
But getting the first library built wasn’t easy. In order to get the library approved, they needed to get 10 percent of the people who were eligible to vote to sign a petition asking city council to build a library. Keep in mind that at this time, women were not allowed to vote, so the ladies had to get the men of the community to agree to build the library. Their first attempt was a unsuccessful as they didn’t get enough signatures. Undeterred, they went around knocking on doors a second time and succeeded in getting enough signatures.
By 1908, just 2 years after Ms. Davidson arrived, City Council approved the building of the library and on January 2, 1912, it opened its doors to the public. Within a few days, almost 10 percent of the people in Calgary had registered for library cards. Shortly after the library opened, the shelves were totally empty – all 5,200 books that were there on opening day had been borrowed.
Unfortunately, Annie Davidson never saw her dream come true. She died at the age of 78 in 1910, before the library opened. Her spirit lives on in the Memorial Park Library, the library that was built as a result of her passion and determination.
We strive to make our history relevant to today and the future. We research and tell the inspiring stories of Albertans, including the achievements of Lougheed, Cross, Burns and Edwards, but also the stories of important but less well known individuals such as Davidson and Reader. In literature and presentation, we show how a small number of individuals with a determined spirit and a strong faith in their mission can affect the course of history.
The Chinook Country Historical Society is a chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta which was established in 1907 as one of the first acts of the legislature of the newly created province. Embodying the passion of our first Premier, Alexander Cameron Rutherford the act states, “The object of the Society shall be to encourage the study of the history of Alberta and Canada, to rescue from oblivion the memories of the original inhabitants, the early missionaries, fur traders, explorers, and settlers of the north and west of Canada, to obtain and preserve narratives in print, manuscript or otherwise of their travels, adventures, labour and observations, to secure and preserve objects generally illustrative of the civil, religious, literary and natural history of the country.”