2018 - Lougheed House

The origins of Remembrance Day

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Armistice Day was inaugurated across the British Commonwealth by King George V in 1919, and formed the basis for today’s Remembrance Day observances. The date was selected to commemorate the ceasefire declared by representatives of Germany and the Entente, “at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, at the 11th month,” in 1918.

This WWI “trench art” was made by Clarence Lougheed, son of James and Isabella.

While today the June 28, 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles is more often recognized as the end of the Great War, it is important to bear in mind that for the average Canadian, the end of hostilities may have had greater personal value than any formal victory.

For Canadians, the day was first ratified in 1921, when the Canadian Parliament passed its Armistice Day bill, which solidified the date as a national holiday. For the majority of the 1920s, observances were performed by churches and other non-state organizations, and frequently incorporated into Thanksgiving services. In 1931, a group of veterans and other concerned Canadians successfully petitioned

Clarence Lougheed served oversees in WWI

Parliament to clearly separate the day from Thanksgiving, and to place greater emphasis on commemorating the sacrifice of those who served, as opposed to celebrating the Allied victory. That year, Armistice Day was revitalized under the new name, “Remembrance Day,” in keeping with similar name changes in other Commonwealth nations.

Though originally instituted to commemorate the First World War, Remembrance Day has since been expanded to recognize the service of those who participated in the Second World War, Korean War, and current veterans and servicepersons.


Where Did All the Corsets Go? Dress Reform in the Late 19th Century

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by Adam Sarjeant, Lougheed House Admissions Assistant

You may have noticed from our photos of the Lougheed family that they were a pretty fashionable bunch. Lady Lougheed retained a seamstress by the name of Sarah Crelda Dunn twice a year, in spring and fall, just to make sure the family was up to snuff with the latest fashions.

You may also have noticed how much the Lougheed’s dress changed over their time in the house. Photos from the 1890s show the lady of the house in full Victorian dress – bodices, bustles, corsets and all – but photos from the 1910s and 20s show Isabella and her eminently fashionable daughter Dorothy in loose, casual dresses, blouses and skirts. What happened?

Today, we explore the small group of cutting-edge English reformers who masterminded this change, and the Dress Reform movement they created.


From Le Figaro in 1891, showing reform undergarments (a liberty corset, union suit, bloomers, tights, and petticoats).

Establishing an exact timeline for the Dress Reform movement is difficult. As you might expect, reactions against restrictive European clothing have existed for as long as the trends themselves – since at least the 15th century. The beginning of the 19th century, for example, saw a brief revolutionary period in which European aristocratic society seemed to reject the corseted waistline. Napoleon’s first empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais, was an adherent of the more freeing Neoclassical “Empire” style, which became the norm in fashionable circles for several decades, at which time it was politically dangerous to display one’s wealth too openly. By the 1820s, however, the vogue for elaborate cinches, petticoats, corsets and stays had returned in full force as the stigma against ostentatious displays of wealth evaporated.[1] With this revival, the trend swung even more towards the extreme, precipitating a new, even more anti-naturalistic ideal body: “tightlacing” was the tradition of tying the corset as tightly as possible, in order to produce superhuman waist sizes. The new look also had the added effect of producing respiratory dysfunction, organ displacement, and chronic injury.

An organized movement against the increasingly absurd state of 19th century dress reached its climax in the 1870s and 1880s. The medical profession, of course, played a significant role in providing a sound scientific basis for the movement. Though medical practice at the time was hardly as developed as it would become in the early 20th century (germ theory, for example, was still very much under debate), the deleterious effects of the more extreme fashion practices of the time were made readily obvious simply by casually observing of the changed bodies of chronically tightlaced women. However, Europe’s medical community was insular, and rarely communicated with the public. Popularizing the movement, and providing it with a voice in the culture at large, fell to a growing community of Women’s Interests advocates (often thought of as a precursor to the 20th century feminist movement).

Skeleton illustration from Ada Ballin’s 1885 book, The Science of Dress in Theory and Practice


In 1881, an alliance of women’s advocates in London formed the Rational Dress Society, the first organization designed purely to advocate for change in women’s (and to a lesser degree men’s) apparel. The leadership of the society contained its fair share of celebrities and public figures – including Constance Wilde, wife of Oscar Wilde – and was spearheaded by Mrs. E.M. King (honorary secretary) and Florence Wallace Pomeroy, the Viscountess Harberton (president). King was a controversial political figure; between 1870-75, she had organised public protests for the repeal of an English act regulating prostitution, established the Women’s International Peace Society, addressed several scientific societies about the growing need to share domestic work equally between genders, and had been accused by her detractors of contributing to the downfall of English family life and moral order. King was in fact so inflammatory that she was ejected from the Society in 1883, and went on to form the Rational Dress Association, a more radical and active competitor to the Society.[2]

The Association advocated for five specific principles of dress:

  1. Freedom of Movement
  2. Absence of any pressure over any part of the body
  3. Not more weight than is necessary for warmth, and both weight and warmth evenly distributed

4 Grace and beauty combined with comfort and convenience

  1. Not departing too conspicuously from the ordinary dress of the time[3]

One can gather from point #5 that despite their concern for women’s health, the movement was not focussed on altering fashion in an artistic or cultural sense. The Dress Reform movement mainly concerned itself with re-imagining women’s undergarments, and, by modern standards, only by degrees. Despite their concern for women overburdening and overheating their bodies, the Society settled on an acceptable total weight of seven

Rational Dress Society patterns from The Science of Dress in Theory and Practice

pounds for a woman’s outfit – weighty by modern standards, but not enough to include heavy lacing. Their recommended outfit for women still included no less than five separate undergarments for the waist and torso alone.[4] The Association’s greatest public achievement was a major 1883 exhibition, an enormous but scattershot display of clothing alternatives, mostly women’s undergarments, aiming to educate the public on healthy alternatives to their current mode of dress. The exhibition featured everything from corsetless underwear systems, to quilted bodices, to athletic wear.[5] Despite reaching a large audience, coverage in the entirely male-dominated and largely conservative newspapers was hostile.[6] Shortly after the exhibition, E.M. King departed England for North America with her (possibly romantic) companion Elizabeth “Nellie” Glen.[7]

Equally important to the spread of the Dress Reform movement were a number of popular books on the subject, the most successful of which was The Science of Dress in Theory and Practice by Ada S. Ballin. As a lecturer for the National Health Society, Ballin possessed the unique skills necessary to bridge the gulf between the medical community and the movement for women’s rights. In particular Ballin insisted that Dress Reform’s failure to gain traction with modern women was due to the fact that most of the material on the subject “…has been written by men for women.”[8] Far from condescending to her female readers, Ballin created a book which was highly

John Singer Sargent’s 1897 painting, “Mr. and Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes” in reform clothing.

literate in the medical discourse, including discussions of infant mortality rates, The Lancet’s assessment of reform undergarments, basics of internal anatomy and the effects of organ displacement, and numerous detailed illustrations demonstrating everything from arch support in footwear to the perspiratory and sebaceous glands of the skin.[9] Though in many ways the book followed the principles set out by the Society, it diverged in its defence of the sensible use of corsets, and even recommended the use of stays for women of a “corpuscular” build, operating under the mistaken belief that this could prevent weight gain.[10]

Though nowhere near as revolutionary in their attitudes as the avant-garde of the 20s would be, the Dress Reform movement formed an essential alliance between science and the equitable treatment of women. Dress Reformers proved that a woman did not have to flaunt decorum or fly in the face of tradition in order to achieve improved living conditions, democratizing and incorporating into the “mainstream” a way of thinking which had previously been considered too radical for polite society.

[1] Katell Bourhis. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789–1815. (NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989).

[2] Ian Leader Elliott, “Mrs EM King – Campaigning for Women’s Rights Pt 1,” Women’s History Network, December 22, 2013, accessed September 21, 2018, https://womenshistorynetwork.org/mrs-em-king-campaining-for-womens-rights-pt-1/#more-3200.

[3] Christine Bayles Kortsch, Dress Culture in Late Victorian Women’s Fiction: Literacy, Textiles, and Activism (UK: Routledge, 2016).

[4] Patricia A. Cunningham, Reforming Women’s Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art (US: Kent State UP, 2003), p. 93-4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Elliot, ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Cunningham, 94.

[9] Ada S. Ballin, The Science of Dress in Theory and Practice, orig. published January 01, 1885, accessed September 21, 2018, https://archive.org/details/b2476422x.

[10] Cunningham, 96.

The First Ladies of Calgary at the Earl & Lady Grey Tea

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by Adam Sarjeant, Admissions Assistant, and Sean French, Development Manager

In 1909, Calgary received quite a visit – the 4th Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, and his wife, Countess Alice Holford Grey! As soon as the Earl’s train arrived around noon, he was whisked away to a reception in the luncheon rooms of the Canadian Club by a detachment of the 15th Light Horse Cavalry, with the likes of R.B. Bennett, Patrick Burns, and our own Senator Lougheed.

Meanwhile, Calgary’s real movers and shakers, what you might call the “first women” of Calgary, attended a tea hosted at our very own Lougheed House with the Countess Grey and her daughters. Today, we’re joining the party! We’d like to introduce you to just a few of the fantastic women who gathered at the house that day…

Isabella Lougheed (1861-1936)

You’ve likely “met” our host before – wife of Calgary’s first Senator, Daughter to Richard Hardisty, Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and a woman very much at the center of Calgary’s aristocratic life – although as of 1909, not yet a “Lady” herself (that would happen in 1916). But what you might not know is that she was tough enough, and politically connected enough, to keep pace with her husband, and then some!

For “Belle,” life was no cakewalk. She spent most of her youth, when not attending Wesleyan Ladies’ College, in Fort Simpson, headquarters of the Mackenzie River Valley section of the HBC. The Hardistys endured food shortages and harsh winters, often surviving on no more than flour and locally-captured whitefish. Her mother, Mary Allen Hardisty, taught her to drive a train of dogs and keep rabbit snares.

She certainly didn’t go soft after settling down in Calgary, either: in 1897, she became the vice-president of the National Council of Women, one of Canada’s earliest advocacy groups, where she fought for the improvement of the treatment of women. In 1909, she was named the first president of the board of the Calgary Victorian Order of Nurses, and became vice-regent of the Independent Order of Daughters of the Empire, a pro-imperialist women’s political organization. Despite being kicked out of her own home in 1898 during a meeting of Conservatives hosted by her husband (for being a woman, and therefore a non-voter), Belle was nearly as politically active as her husband throughout her lifetime.

Countess Alice Holford Grey (1858-1944)

In 1909, the Countess Grey (born Alice Holford) was just as much of a celebrity as her husband. The Countess was a voice for temperance and a vocal supporter of the Salvation Army, regularly making private appearances for members in the various cities she visited. Among Canadians, however, she was most famous for her opulent, old-fashioned taste and fashion. The daughter of British businessman and MP Robert Staynor, Countess Grey was born into wealth and married into peerage. She was particularly well known on Canada’s High Streets and to Ottawa and Montreal’s tailors and milliners, and personally “employ[ed] a small army of needlewomen on her lingerie and lace.”


Lady Sybil Grey (1882-1966)

The second daughter of the Earl & Countess was a real firebrand – and a soon-to-be war hero! As an MP, the Earl was a vocal advocate of a more liberal, humane British Empire, which he believed could serve the people of the colonies rather than redirecting wealth to Britain. This sense of “noblesse oblige” rubbed off on Sybil, and when war broke out in 1914, not only did she sign up for the British Red Cross and Order of St John of Jerusalem’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), she even turned her own ancestral home, Howick Hall in Northumberland, from one of the country’s most lavish mansions, into a hospital for the war wounded. But one military hospital wasn’t enough for Sybil – after less than a year running Howick, she travelled to Russia to convert Dmitri Palace, which belonged to Nicholas II’s first cousin Dmitri Pavlovitch. In spite of the deteriorating political situation in Russia in 1916 (the October Revolution being less than a year away), Sybil and her Field Hospital team inched closer and closer to the front. Even after an incident in which Sybil received wounds to her face from hand grenade flak, she couldn’t be kept from her work saving lives at the heart of the conflict.

Lady Evelyn Grey

Lady Evelyn Grey, the first daughter of the Earl & Countess was crowned Canada’s Women’s Figure Skating Champion in the Ice Waltz category in 1910, one year after her visit to Calgary.

 In those days the Championship was a one-day event, with figures authorized by the International Skating Union in the morning and “free” figures, with half the point value, in the evening. A live orchestra accompanied the free-figures competitors as they skated, according to the rules, “any figures or combinations thereof desired.”

Lady Evelyn (pictured second from left) went on to write a syllabus of lectures for the education of young girls in Ottawa with the help none other than future Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was a close friend of her father.[1]

Hon. Alice Jane Jukes Jamieson (1860-1949)

One of Lady Isabella’s personal friends, a fellow member of the Council of Women, was also one of Canada’s most important feminist figures. Raised in Chicago, Alice Jamieson didn’t arrive in Canada until she was 22 years, but would often say of her adopted country, “I chose to be Canadian.” After the death of her husband, Reuben R. Jamieson, the Superintendent of C.P.R.’s Western Division, she was instrumental in the Calgary Council of Women’s shift towards promoting Women’s Suffrage, and providing legal aid for women in need.

In 1916, Alice Jamieson was appointed Judge of Calgary’s Juvenile court, and later Magistrate of Calgary’s Women’s Court, making her the first female judge in the British Empire. For a woman in the early twentieth century, a career in law was a perpetual struggle for legitimacy and equality among her male peers. This battle reached its peak with her victory in 1917’s Cyr case, a pivotal legal battle in the enfranchisement of women. In the case, an attempt was made to appeal one of her rulings on the grounds that Hon. Jamieson should be declared “incompetent and incapable” due to her gender. Not only did the Supreme Court rule in her favour, but the case also threw shade on the constitutional assumption that women did not qualify as persons, paving the way for future legal victories for the women of Canada. In 2003, Calgary’s first all-girl’s school was named Alice Jamieson Girls’ Academy in her honour.

Mrs. Jean Ann Pinkham (née Drever) (1849-1940)

Cyprian William Pinkham was born November 11, 1844 at St. John’s, Newfoundland and died at Calgary July 18, 1928. He was married in 1868 to Jean Ann Drever who was born on May 6, 1850 and died February 1, 1940 at Calgary. They had a family of seven children. William was named the first Anglican Bishop of Calgary in 1888. The diocese covered an area of over 300,000 square miles. Mrs. Pinkham was disturbed because there was no hospital in Calgary in 1888 and many women were dying in childbirth, as well as laborers injured on the job and left unattended. She and other ladies of Calgary organized teas, dances, concerts, dinners and raised enough money to have the first hospital opened in a house on 7 Avenue S.W. Mrs. Pinkham was the President of the new hospital board. The hospital was eventually expanded with a new stone building on 12 Avenue East, which was later converted into an isolation hospital.

Eileen Louisa Francis Anna Burns (nee Ellis) (1873-1923)

Eileen was from a ranching family and grew up near Penticton BC. She and Patrick Burns were married in London in 1901 when she was 27 and he was 47. They had one son Patrick Thomas Michael who died at age 30. Their mansion, finished in 1903, stood near the Central Memorial Library was said to be the finest, and largest, in Calgary. It was demolished to make way for the Colonel Belcher Hospital (later renamed the Sheldon Chumir Medical Centre). Remnants of a sandstone fence from the mansion are visible today at the Southwest corner of the Medical Centre.

Mrs. Mary Jane Cushing (née Waters) (1852-1924)

William Cushing was born in 1852 in Wellington Co. Ontario and died at Calgary in 1934. In 1877 he was married to Elizabeth Rinn, who was also born in Wellington Co., but died in 1880. In 1883 He married Mary Jane Waters. There were two children. William took up building as an occupation and his first contract was building two churches in Calgary in 1883. He contributed much to public life, as an Alderman in 1910-1911, and in the Alberta Legislature in 1905 as Minister of Public Works. He was also a member of the hospital board. Mary Jane Waters was born 5 August 1849 in Ontario, and died 25 July 1924 in Calgary. She is buried in the Pioneer Section of Union Cemetery, as are all of her children.

Mrs. Mary Bernard (née Morton) (1840-1911)

Mr. Bernard was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1840 and died in Calgary in 1911. He married Mary Morton, who was born in Ireland in 1840 and died in Calgary, Alberta in 1929.

They had seven children, all born in Ireland. A descendent of a noted Irish family, William Bernard had been a brilliant lawyer in London, England. On arrival in Calgary in 1888 he set up a law office and also purchased the Daily Tribune from Thomas Braden, one of the founders of the Calgary Herald. He was later joined by his son Michael Charles, at which time the firm was renamed Bernard & Bernard.

Mrs. Margaret Pearce (née Meyer) (1853-1943)

William Pearce was born in Ontario, in 1848 and died in Calgary in 1930. He was married to Margaret Meyer in 1881, who was born in 1853 and died at Calgary in 1943. They had a family of seven children and came to Calgary in 1887. William was a Civil Engineer and held several positions in the Dominion Government. Before and after the Riel Rebellion he was in charge of the Metis Land Claims and was the official representative of the Department of the Interior. The Pearce family settled permanently in Calgary in 1887. Mr. and Mrs. Pearce were instrumental in the establishment of the General Hospital. In 1904 he left the Dominion Government and worked in administration of Irrigation and C.P.R. Lands. In 1916, he became a statistician for the C.P.R. Their children were; Frances, Adolphina, Seabury, William E. and John (Twins), William M. and Harry. William Pearce’s name was inscribed on Memory’s Roll of the SAPD with dates 1873-1883.

And finally… the Tea?

You might be wondering: what’s connection between the Greys and Earl Grey tea? The tea blend might not be named after the 4th Earl Albert Grey who visited Calgary in 1909, but it is named for his predecessor, the 2nd Earl Charles Grey, who as British Prime Minister oversaw the Reform Act of 1832, as well as the abolition of slavery in the commonwealth.

How Charles Grey became associated with the tea is unclear. There are stories of good deeds in China that resulted in the recipe for the tea coming to his ownership. Another version tells how the blend was created by accident when a gift of tea and bergamot oranges were shipped together from diplomats in China and the fruit flavour was absorbed by the tea during shipping. Yet another version of the story involves a Chinese Mandarin friend of the Earl blending this tea to offset the taste of minerals in the water at his home (Howick Hall, Northumberland, England). None of these stories are confirmed, but all speak to Grey’s association with trade and international affairs, and offer a general idea of why he may have come to be associated with this particular blend.

Jackson’s of Piccadilly say that they introduced the blend in 1836 “to meet the wishes of a former Earl Grey.” Researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) issued an appeal in 2012 to find the earliest evidence of Earl Grey referring to tea. The first reference to bergamot-flavoured tea was found in 1824. In contrast to later associations, it seems that at that time it was used unfavourably to enhance the taste of low-quality tea. This led the OED to conclude that it was “rather unlikely” that the Earl championed or recommended the tea.

Lady Grey tea, on the other hand, was invented in the 1990s by Twinings, who were hoping to create a less bitter tea to market to Norwegian and British tastes. The name was intended to convey the tea’s milder taste, and doesn’t refer to any Lady Grey in particular.

Magic Aesthetic: meet YYC glass artist Michelle Atkinson

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Q & A with artist Michelle Atkinson of Jewelnotes Glassworks.

Michelle is a Calgary based artist whose beautiful, timeless and sustainable glass work we are proud to now sell at The Shop at Lougheed House.

Michelle Atkinson

Michelle was born and raised in Calgary, and has studied graphic design and glass making both locally and internationally. She has a love for all things nature and magic. Her work combines fused glass, crystals and copper to create one-of-a-kind statement jewelry and home décor pieces. The work has a rustic, worn and ancient feel mixed with a magical sparkle provided by the deep hues in the dichroic glass. The addition of crystals helps to propel the work to a more ethereal realm and connects us all back to the earth.

Saddlebowl by Michelle Atkinson

What inspires your work?

The majority of my work is inspired by the landscape of western Canada mixed with a Magic aesthetic. I remember summer vacations as a kid, traveling across the prairies, through the mountains and out to the ocean, completely transfixed with the nature around me. I collected rocks, shells and lots of little treasures along the way, dreaming of mermaids and fairies in the ocean and forests. I’m an Albertan born and raised, so I have a great love for the vast calming effect of the prairies. I aim to keep that little pice of childhood magic inside me alive all while highlighting our stunning landscape in my work. My jewelry uses a lot of Dichroic glass witch sparkles and shines just like a fairy wings and my line is moving toward copper electroformed pieces. Electroforming allows me to incorporate actual leaves and other organic elements and give the work a distinctly rustic and earthy feeling. I still have a few silver pieces, but eventually everything will be copper. My sculptural work focuses on impressing natural elements into the glass (grasses, leaves etc.).

How did you become an artist?

I’d say I’ve been an artist my entire life. I’ve tried it all, but glass has always called to me – I used to dig up bits of old pottery and glass in the garden as a kid.

I’ve been a graphic designer my entire adult career, or my ‘big girl’ job as I call it. I still work as a designer full time and do the glass art the rest of the time. I joke I have two full time jobs. In the day job I’m creative for other people and the glass job I’m creative for me.

As far as getting into glass, I always wanted to take glassblowing, but just never got to it. I ended up doing the graphic design thing and never went back to school for that glass part. I toyed with continuing education but never pressed the button until I found a short weekend class for fused glass. We just did really simple, layered glass pendants; the next day I bought my first kiln! I’ve been experimenting and learning ever since. I’ve travelled to Vegas for classes and done a lot of trail an error learning from books and the internet as well as a few online courses.My graphic design training has given me a lot go the fundamentals like colour terry and composition, so I really love getting to experiment with what the medium can do. My work always has many layers, both in meaning as well as process.

What do you want people to know about your work?

Humm… this is a tough one. Maybe that there is more to it than you think and the simple pieces are the most difficult. I’m always trying to simplify my pieces and process, they usually end up having more to say. And if you ever see me at a show (fine craft or fine art), please ask me questions about the work! I love to share the nuances of each piece. Every piece has a story and glass is more complex than people assume – the process itself is a story.

Visit Michelle’s website a www.jewelnotes.ca

Or on Instagram @jewelnotes.

An art-making workshop for new artists.

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Excavate Your Aesthetic: an art-making workshop with Rebecca Smyth on September 27th.

Inspired by the many artworks in our new Formed by Sand exhibit, you’ll create your own individual work of art with the guidance from Calgary educator, facilitator and contemporary art-maker Rebecca Smyth.

Rebecca Smyth

Rebecca Smyth

Imagine, with Rebecca’s professional guidance, making your own art – from observation and sketching to working and reworking materials – and gaining an appreciation for your unique aesthetic and how it guides you to see and understand the world around you.

We will provide all the art materials and, to get you warmed up, a complimentary drink from our Restaurant bar. Bring your friends and take home a work of art as unique as you. No experience is necessary, just a willingness to play and explore.

Time: Thursday September 27

6:30 doors

7:00 – 9:30 workshop

Price: $60 ($50 for Lougheed House members and seniors)

Below, workshop instructor Rebecca Smyth tells you what to expect on September 27.
T0 register for the workshop, click here.
Workshop Itinerary


The works in the exhibition all reference a sense of place and the history of materials, which are concepts we’ll also be drawing on as we work on our two artworks. The tour will give a deeper look at the exhibition concepts, give participants a chance to consider works that they find interesting or inspiring, and start thinking about how techniques and materials communicate certain ideas or emotions.


Drawing is the foundation of all art making. More than just a literal translation of an image onto paper, drawing is about expressive mark-making, using lines, shapes and gestures and a wide variety of tools.
We’ll begin with a warm-up where participants will do several line and texture studies without focussing on a finished product. This will be on-site throughout the house, to get a sense of place and use the architecture and the details of the house as inspiration. We’ll then return to the shared work area to combine these studies into a finished piece. Participants will select several of the smaller studies to layer into one finished abstract drawing that reflects their impressions of the house.
~Wine/cocktail/beer break~


Building on the concepts from the drawing exercises, participants will use mark making and surface building to modify a found object (provided by the workshop). Conceptually, we will consider literal and emotional histories and layers of objects, and how that translates into visual language.


We’ll be referencing techniques and concepts that can be found across the House’s current Formed by Sand exhibition, in order to build artistic literacy (looking at and understanding artworks), to test out techniques and mediums, and to build participants’ own visual vocabularies — what techniques/mediums/compositions they like and dislike when they make their own work.
Register here.

In 1887, Child & Wilson became Calgary’s First Architectural Firm

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Designing and constructing in sandstone is no easy feat – it requires expertise not just on the part of the craftspeople (read last our previous post for more on Calgary’s stoneworkers), but on the part of the architect as well. At the time of the 1886 fire, Calgary was equipped with plenty of stoneworkers, but not a single architect. Prior sandstone constructions had been designed either by commissioning architects from abroad, or in the case of smaller projects, by the firm in charge of the construction. The result was a city built in an eclectic combination of Victorian and Colonial styles, designed according to tastes of architects who, for the most part, had never even seen the city. It wasn’t until 1887, a year after the fire, that an opportunistic pair of designers, James Llewellyn Wilson and James Turner Child, established Calgary’s first (extremely lucrative) architectural firm.

Wilson and Child were an unlikely pair. Like most skilled workers at the time, both hailed from, and were educated in, England, but this was where their similarities ended. James Llewellyn Wilson was an architect to the bone: he had practised for several years in London before travelling to Canada for reasons that are unclear, leaving behind a promising career in one of the architectural capitols of the world.[1] James Turner Child, on the other hand, had never strictly been educated or practiced as an architect. He was an engineer by trade, and his specialty was about as far from traditional architecture as it could be: Child had made his name in land reclamation and drainage construction, working for the federal government in Manitoba. However the 1885 rebellion forced him to dissolve this firm and flee west, where he settled in Calgary.[2]

The South Ward (later Haultain) School in 1908.

How the two met is unclear, but it was fortuitous for both that they did. The combination of new construction bylaws instituted after the 1886 fire, and an enormous influx of short-lived foreign capital created an overwhelming demand for skilled designers who could conceive and oversee the execution of complex and difficult sandstone structures. By forming a partnership, Child & Wilson were able to virtually monopolize Calgary’s construction-design industry during the firm’s brief existence. Wilson fulfilled the vast majority of the architectural work. In the space of two years, Wilson’s designs practically overran downtown Calgary, including four massive multi-story structures on Stephen Ave. His weakness for Romanesque Revival architecture (complete with matching cylindrical “towers” on the Alexander Block and Imperial Bank buildings) became Calgary’s first distinctive architectural “look,” establishing a visual precedent which defined construction in the city centre well into the 20th century. Wilson imported various elements of Richardsonian architecture currently en vogue on America’s metropolitan East Coast, including the distinctive rough-hewn, concave sandstone blocks visible on most pre-1920s buildings in Calgary’s core. Meanwhile, Child took care of Calgary’s infrastructural concerns, overseeing the design and construction of Calgary’s first sewer system in 1893.[3]

Given that the firm had always been a “marriage of convenience,” it is unsurprising that Child dissolved the partnership in 1899, when he was offered a more advantageous position as Assistant Chief Engineer for the Northwest Government at Regina. Wilson, on the other hand, remained in Calgary and continued to help define its growth for several decades. Wilson participated in several partnerships, including one with Calgary’s other foremost sandstone architect, William Stanley Bates (whose home originally stood opposite Lougheed House).[4]

The Normal School, circa 1910, still stands today as McDougall Centre.

Few of the designs created by Child & Wilson’s firm remain standing. The Costigan Residence (now Mill St. Brewery) was moved in 1928, but still survives in its new location; Haultain School (originally South Ward School) is now preserved as part of Haultain Park; and Rundle Ruins, the remains of Calgary’s second general hospital, contains a cornerstone bearing the firm’s name.


[1] Robert G. Hill, “Wilson, James Llewellyn,” The Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, accessed July 27, 2018, http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/402.

[2] Robert G. Hill, “Child, James Turner,” The Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, accessed July 29, 2018, http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/915.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, “Wilson.”

Calgary’s nascent labour movement: carving out a union in the era of sandstone construction.

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by Adam Sarjeant, Admissions Assistant

This Summer, Lougheed House presents Formed by Sand, an exhibition of artifacts and contemporary art exploring Calgary’s relationship to sandstone, oil, and its geological history. Calgary has been referred to as “The Sandstone City” for its many locally quarried sandstone buildings; but sandstone construction was, and still is, impossible without the skilled craftspeople who create it. That’s why this month, the Lougheed House Blog explores the relationship between sandstone and Calgary’s early labour movements.

  1. 1900-1: The CTLC and the Birth of the Calgary Labour Movement

Despite a significant – and growing – population of skilled tradespeople, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that Alberta’s labourers began to self-organize. The Sandstone industry in particular had been booming for well over a decade. This was in part the case due to drastic changes necessitated by the fire of 1886, after which fire-resistant materials such as sandstone were not simply in vogue, but in some cases legally required.[1] Stonemasons, stonecutters, carpenters, railworkers and other skilled craftspeople formed the brunt of Calgary’s economy. Why, then, did it take so long for Calgarians to unionize? Mobility may have been a factor. It was not uncommon for labourers to follow new prospects, such as cheap land or new railway development, rather than situating themselves in a location long enough to organize. Another may simply have been the political strength of business interests in Alberta. Calgary’s first union, Local 9787 of the Knights of Labour, was successfully “busted” in 1890 by a coalition of mining companies.[2] Regardless of the reasons for this delay, Calgary’s labour situation exploded overnight in the first years of the 20th century.

Circa 1913, Calgary stoneworker Hugh Macdonald at work. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives.

In 1900-1, the Calgary Trades and Labour Council (CTLC) was established by a coalition of unions associated with the newly constructed railway, allegedly for the purpose of organizing Labour Day celebrations – though this may have simply been a ploy to make the organization appear less threatening. The CTLC quickly began organizing local chapters of various trade unions, finding fertile ground in Calgary’s exploding construction industries. In 1900, total trade membership was reported at 300 persons; by 1905, it was 1500, or 12.5% of Calgary’s entire population. With the growth in unionization came a flurry of labour action: in 1903, unions struck six times, and between 1900 and 1914, the peak of Calgary’s Labour movement, 46 separate strike actions took place.[3]

  1. Skilled Labour and the “Sandstone City”

At its heart, construction – and sandstone construction in particular – is a labour-intensive industry. Taking a piece of stone from quarry to construction requires numerous tradespersons, all of them skilled specialists. For Calgary’s labour historians, the most important of these many trades were the stonecutters (skilled tradespeople cut stone into bricks) and stonemasons (or “bricklayers;” labourers who arranged and secured the cut bricks).

During the very same time (1900-15) when the unions were exploding, the market for skilled sandstone tradespeople was on a gradual decline. Mechanization of the stonecutting/masonry process was an early casualty of 20th industrial capitalism, and these two twin trades were quickly being replaced through the use of crude machinery. By 1915, the number of stoneworkers in the US had declined by half. The result in Calgary was a keen awareness among skilled stoneworkers of their shared vulnerability, but also of a desperate need to secure a competitive advantage. Two unions represented the two aforementioned professions: the JSU (Journeyman Stonecutters Union) for the stonecutters, and the BSMIU (Bricklayers and Stone Mason’s International Union) for the masons.

For both unions, their competitiveness, seemingly a natural adaptation to an inclement market, was their downfall. The line between mason and stonecutter was often muddy, and from the beginning the two unions contributed to this issue in the hopes of providing a competitive advantage to their own membership. The results were almost precisely opposite to their avowed purpose as unions: rather than securing labourers against the undercutting power of the market and their employers, the BSMIU and JSU created a hyper-competitive market of their own, each side engaging in desperate price-cutting to secure work for their own members. Eventually, it was the BSMIU which secured the decisive advantage in this conflict, by expanding its mandate to include “all cutting, and grinding of all kinds of brick, and all cutting, setting of… artificial stone.” The definition of “artificial stone” was key; in many cases, Calgary’s sandstone would have to be for fortified, and thus, the BSMIU claimed, its cutting fell under their jurisdiction. This left the JSU with no grounds on which it was not forced to compete. In 1912, both unions struck – essentially, against the poor conditions created by their own refusal to cooperate. The lengthy strike drained the now significantly smaller JSU’s resources to the breaking point. In 1914, the BSMIU formally absorbed the JSU, which would surely have been small reward for a deteriorating stonecutting industry.[4]

  1. Misconceptions about Early Labour History

The JSU and BSMIU’s interrelated history is a study in the forces which govern the often tenuous politics of labour. Specifically, they undermine two pernicious misconceptions about the history of labour politics: the first, that unions are entirely market-dependant, which is to say that union action is only possible in a booming market, and is essentially parasitic; and the second, that unionization is a fundamentally socialist or communist enterprise, representing an attempt to “seize the means of production” from a bourgeois business class. The first misconception runs contrary to Alberta’s labour history as a whole, as well as the stonecutters’ unions – it was precisely during a massive fall in the demand for labour (from 1900-15) caused by growing mechanization that Alberta’s labour movement first blossomed.

As for the other point, the history of the JSU and BSMIU demonstrates that the unions themselves were market participants, both in good times and bad – a lesson the stonecutters knew all too well. Labour negotiation is reliant on the preservation of demand, and in this way unions might be seen as the “opposite side of the coin” of capitalist enterprise. On the rare occasions that the Socialist Party of Calgary (SPC) and Worker’s Party of Calgary (WPC) did indeed engage with Calgary’s labour movement, their perspectives rarely aligned. This was in spite of the fact that from 1900-15, many Calgarians regarded the SPC as an ascendant power in Calgary’s politics; the typically Conservative paper The Eye Opener in 1908 ran a column which said of the party: “…it may be stated as a matter of fact that there is more true honesty of purpose within their ranks than there is in either of the two big parties. If not carried away by the extravagant exuberances of some of their leaders they may be the Big Party themselves one day.”[5] In spite of this, the CTLC often explicitly distanced itself from the party, denying it many forms of support it offered as a matter if course to other parties.[6]

[1] Facility Management, “The Great Fire of 1886 and Its Effect on Future Building,” The City of Calgary, December 20, 2016, accessed July 07, 2018, http://www.calgary.ca/CS/CPB/Pages/Projects-and-initiatives/Historic-City-Hall/TheGreatFireOf1886.aspx.

[2] David Bright, The Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929, pp. 76-9 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014).

[3] Ibid, pp. 80-1, 90-1.

[4] Ibid, pp. 87-9

[5] B. C. Edawrds, “It Is Time For A Change!” The Eye Opener (Calgary), October 3, 1908, 6th ed., sec. 33, accessed July 12, 2018, http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/TEO/1908/10/03/1/Ar00103.html

[6] Bright, ibid, p. 105.

Jennifer Mickle keeps our organization organized

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Meet Jennifer Mickle, our new Lougheed House

Administration Coordinator


What sparked your original interest in history/heritage?

My love of history, heritage and culture was nurtured by my parents and I have passed it along to my three sons. During travels, we seek out historical sites, museums and galleries and my engagement truly began when I visited the Fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island, as a young teenager. As all the interpreters are in period character, we were asked at the gate why we wanted entry. My godmother answered, ” I am a mail-order bride whose clothing washed over board in a storm. A kind sailor gave me some of his clothing.” She was instantly granted entry and I followed her saying, “I’m with her.”

You leapt from working in a Manitoba fire and EMS office – a place literally driven by crisis – to a National and Provincial Historic Site in Calgary. One place is about being urgently responsive, one is about preserving and interpreting history for the wide community. Are you finding a big difference, administratively?

In addition to the fire/EMS department, I have also worked in human resources, at a vet clinic, insurance/investment company, two colleges, a retail store and with several society boards. I can honestly say that many of the same administrative problems exist everywhere. Effective communication and data management are always issues. Although emergency services are fast paced, administration follows the same pace everywhere; hectic with multiple needs and deadlines colliding. My old department had an on-site museum displaying over 100 years of history specific to Brandon Manitoba, as well as a division that performed inspections and provided fire prevention educational programming. Of all my previous work locations, the fire/EMS department compliments my position here at Lougheed House the best.

You’re studying for a certification in genealogy. What do you like about that subject?

Genealogy is the study of a family’s history. Although it is based in birth-marriage-death dates, it is also about the where, why, and how a family has lived.  For me, the study of genealogy is the culmination of the many stories of my family. Stories are what Lougheed House is known for and I could not have found a better fit than helping the House share its family’s many stories.

What is the key to keeping an office organized?

Collaboration!  To make this happen, I look at how the organization communicates, dynamics between departments and breaking down any walls between them, fostering changes that move us closer to the strategic vision, helping people adapt to change, and utilizing individual skillsets to good effect.


Marquis wheat and Canada’s “heroic” 19th century ag scientist William Saunders

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by Adam Sarjeant, Lougheed House Admissions Assistant

It’s summer, and so Lougheed House celebrates all things green and leafy in our Gardens and in our just-closed “Wild in the West” exhibition of botanical illustrations by the Botanical Artists’ Guild of Southern Alberta. From May 9 to June 10, we joined with museums and galleries in 25 countries on six continents to celebrate Botanical Art Worldwide, an international event promoting botanical illustrators creating works based on indigenous plant species.

These days, with all our emphasis on our transitioning modern economy, it can be easy to forget that Alberta was once entirely plant dependent. And not just plant dependent; for most of our history as a province, Alberta was reliant on a single strain of wheat to fuel our entire agricultural economy! This month, we’re giving a great big “Thank you” to Marquis Wheat, and the magnificent Saunders family who created it!

  1. William Saunders (1836-1914)

William Saunders (druggist, entomologist, biologist, agriculturalist, geneticist, etc., etc.) was a living, breathing study in the grand scientific shift taking place at the turn of the 20th century. Saunders’s education was a product of 19th century “heroic” science: sporadic efforts being made primarily by independent (sometimes even travelling) scientists, publishing their work in journals with little or no oversight or quality control. Some of these scientists were hobbyists; others, like Saunders, were a product of the new scientific economy, making their modest income through recent innovations in medicine, engineering, chemistry, or other fields of applied science.

Saunders began his career as a Druggist (what we today would call a Pharmacist), though he most likely would have referred to himself as a specialist in “Materia Medica,” or the study of the medical properties of plants. By the standards of the early 20th century, when scientists were beginning to organize into institutions, develop systems of peer review, and organize their work into scientific canons, “Materia Medica” was increasingly seen as a pseudo-science, based more often on obscure, centuries-old texts and folklore than in verifiable experimental data. However, this increasingly outdated scientific system had furnished Saunders with a unique skill-set which bridged medicine and agriculture. As a result of his belief that medicine and the rearing of plants were inextricable studies, Saunders was also an early adopter of experimental techniques for the improvement of crops. At first, this lead him to explore entomology, as a means of understanding the relationship between pest insects and plant disease. But his interest soon began to shift to fruit plant hybridization, and in 1869 he purchased a farm east of London, Ontario, with which to establish one of the first experimental farms for plant breeding in Canada.[1]

Saunders may have begun his career as a relic of the old ways of doing things, but this new interest in experimental farming would gradually re-shape his work into an example of what the new, empirical scientific process could do – but not without a dash of old-fashioned know-how.

  1. The Dominion Experimental Farms System, and the Creation of Marquis Wheat

Despite being a successful agricultural nation, Canada had faced a significant problem with its wheat production for centuries: chiefly, that the varieties of wheat grown in Europe and imported to North America were not acclimatized to our unique Canadian climate. Common Canadian varietals at the time often did not ripen early enough to avoid early frosts which could devastate grain harvests. The Liberal-Conservative government (under Sir John A. MacDonald) recognized the successes of continental efforts in Experimental Agriculture, and in 1886 William Saunders was named Director of the Dominion Experimental Farms System, owing in no small part to his acquaintance with Commissioner of Agriculture John Carling.[2]

Wheat field photo courtesy Pixabay

Saunders’ first act as Director was a gruelling tour of Western Canada’s farms by coach, during which he examined and collected wheat varietals, consulted with farmers, and examined climatological factors in growth. It was during this time that he became familiar with Halychanka wheat, also known as Galician or Red Fife. Of the grain varietals currently in use in Western Canada, only Halychanka (originally from Eastern Germany and Ukraine) and Ladoga (from Russia) displayed an early enough ripening season to match the Canadian climate. To broaden the scope of his experiments, Saunders also imported numerous varieties from across Europe. Tragically, in the experimental plantings which followed, not a single varietal showed the necessary qualities for Canadian cultivation – except for Halychanka. If a Canadian-friendly grain was ever to be bred, it would have to be derived from this unusual Eastern European strain.[3]

Despite having no formal academic background, it was up to William Saunders and two of his sons, A.P. and Charles Saunders, to import modern plant husbanding techniques based on early genetic theory, in order to establish a system for evaluating grain which very closely resembled modern empirical methodology. However, when supply issues during the winter of 1903-4 temporarily deprived Saunders of a properly stocked laboratory, he reverted to his pre-modern roots, and created a way of gauging quality which, though not particularly reproducible, was surprisingly effective. Saunders would place several grains of wheat in his mouth and chew them to create a “dough ball.” From this he could loosely evaluate the grain’s gluten elasticity, giving him a rough estimate of its milling and baking qualities. Later, when the lab was properly established, it turned out that Saunders’ estimates based on chewing were virtually identical to the lab evaluations.[4]

Over numerous generations, and possibly through the addition of Ladoga and Hard Red Calcutta (and Indian hybrid), The Experimental Farms System not only achieved an earlier-ripening strain, but managed (with no small amount of luck) to fortify it with an unusually high average yield, and with stalks which rarely laid flat (a useful trait for harvesting). In 1912, the new variety, dubbed “Markham” (changed to Marquis by 1906) was shipped to a small number of farms across Canada and the Northern United States.[5] [6] The resultant increase in yield from these seeds was immediately obvious, and farmers quickly diverted production to the new strain.

By 1918, Marquis wheat occupied over 80 per cent of the total wheat acreage of Canada and the Northern United States. The increase in total production resulting from the new strain fundamentally changed Canada’s economy: formerly a high-quality but low-yield producer, in a handful of years Canada became the highest per capita wheat producer in the world. This new economic status quo reverberated throughout the political world. The surplus wheat significantly influenced supply during the First World War, providing a distinct advantage to Canada’s allies. Canadian farmers and farmer’s unions became massively influential, shifting the balance of democratic power – particularly in Alberta, where in 1921 the United Farmer’s Association achieved a surprise majority in the provincial legislature, setting the stage for the economically pro-socialist but culturally conservative political landscape which would last until the 1967 Conservative coup.[7]

[1] Ian M. Stewart, “SAUNDERS, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 3, 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/saunders_william_14E.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stephan Symko, “From a Single Seed – Tracing the Marquis Wheat Success Story in Canada to Its Roots in Ukraine (1 of 11),” Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), December 11, 2015, accessed June 08, 2018, http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/news/scientific-achievements-in-agriculture/from-a-single-seed-tracing-the-marquis-wheat-success-story-in-canada-to-its-roots-in-ukraine-1of11/?id=1181224838769.

[4] Ibid.

[5] George Fedak, “Marquis Wheat,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, April 23, 2013, , accessed June 08, 2018, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/marquis-wheat/.

[6] Symko, ibid.

[7] Fedak, ibid.

Art Deco in Calgary, Building by Building

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by Adam Sarjeant, Lougheed House Admissions Assistant

Calgary contains more Art Deco than you might think: from the solid brick monumentality of Glenmore Water Treatment Plant, to the futurist weirdness of the AGT Phone Exchange, and even homey little Moderne House (a private residence in Mt. Pleasant so unassuming you might drive right past it). Deco was a style which was expressed in a popular sensibility, which leaked into every corner of our visual lives, and its history is told as much in the objects around us as in any art history textbook. This month, we’ll be exploring the growth and decline of Art Deco through three Calgary buildings representing three distinct periods of the style.

  1. The Bank of Nova Scotia (1929): Early Art Deco and Nationalism

It’s no coincidence that Art Deco began its rapid rise to popularity in the inter-war years; the ideological landscape of its time, and particularly that of its middle-upper class patrons, is inseparable from the movement. Critic Rossana Bossaglia[1] once described Deco as “…more of a taste than a style…”, emphasizing that Art Deco was not simply the brainchild of a movement of artists and craftspeople, but a response to the desires of their patrons, whose tastes were visibly dictated by their political milieu. For the futurist, Deco delivered an obsessive fetishism for the machined object, manifest in regular geometric forms, straight edges, regularity, precision. For the proto-fascist, constant reminders of a “classical” lineage, Greek and Roman motifs, Egyptian patterns, pompousness. For the capitalist, mass-produced disposability, fake opulence, and kitsch.

Like its European counterparts, Canadian Art Deco adapted to the political and social environment. When the Bank of Nova Scotia migrated from its original headquarters to Stephen Avenue in 1929, the new building was not only a way to expand its work space, but an opportunity to purchase a visible monument to its legitimacy as a competitor to Calgary’s many established banking firms.[2] John McIntosh Lyle, a prolific and popular architect who had studied abroad in France and New York, was selected for the job. Lyle was an outspoken proponent of the “City Beautiful” movement, and espoused the belief, like many of his contemporaries, that a return to old-fashioned European monumentality could restore order and moral “virtue” to North America.[3] In the economic chaos of the interwar period, it isn’t hard to imagine the value Calgary’s banks might place on the appearance of order, stability, and familiarity.

Lyle’s previous projects had also exposed a talent for appealing to an emerging sense of Canadian Nationalism. Canadians had proved highly receptive to the (often xenophobic) rhetoric of the pro-war Borden government; buoyed by a sense of collective achievement after the First World War, the newly minted nation flocked to anything which reaffirmed their national prestige. Lyle’s buildings capitalized on this sentiment by combining stylized Greco-Roman motifs with relief carvings of Canadian industry and landscapes, as well as local floral and faunal motifs. The building which resulted is a total-artwork dedicated to Canadian self-image, drawing a less than subtle parallel between European settlement and the vanguard of Classical Empire. The Bank’s bellicose themes mirrored those developing in Europe among nations which would soon be on the war-path; similar Greco-Roman motifs prevailed in Italy and Germany, establishing the visual rhetoric of the Fascist world.

Clifton ceramic handpainted vase, courtesy of Steve Archer

  1. Tivoli Theatre (1936): From Modern to “Moderne”

“Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.”

The 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition is often considered the climax of the Art Deco movement in North America. The tone of the above motto suggests a dramatic difference between the spirit of Deco in Europe and in America: more commercial, more capitalistic, more democratic. Whereas the design community of Europe had sprung from the guilds and workshops, making bespoke pieces for wealthy clientele, much of America had never known a time without the factory. Design was a limb of the great American culture machine, reproducible and accessible to the masses – for maximum profit.

When the Odeon Movie theatre chain came to Calgary in 1936, they were aware of the role aesthetics played in capturing the public imagination. Architecture was essential to the mystique of film, and theatres were expected to be palaces to the new. The form of the theatre had to be matched with the new Art Deco look presented on its screens. In many ways, Deco had arrived on Canada’s screens before it arrived in the Canadian home; popular American films featuring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire drew heavily on an growing pool of European emigré talent. Many of the great European film nations were becoming increasingly hostile to the avant-garde, meaning an exodus of German, Russian and Italian filmmakers, many of whom chose to settle in Los Angeles to take advantage of the lucrative studio system. American films had been overtaken by the new European style, at the same time that exploitative business practices, such as block- and blind-booking, were causing the American film industry to overtake all others.

Electrolux Model XXX (30) Vacuum Cleaner. Chrome-plated steel, vinyl, rubber. Designed by Lurelle Guild in 1937. Courtesy of Bill Ross

To allow these aggressively modern films to be shown in an environment which contradicted the fantasy of Deco glitz, such as the increasingly antique-looking Sherman Grand (constructed in 1912 by the Lougheeds), would have undermined the escapist fantasy the film chains prided themselves on. For Odeon’s Calgary debut, a new, if small, building would have to be constructed. The project was awarded to GBR (Green, Blankstein and Russel), a recently founded firm operating out of Winnipeg which was one of the few Canadian architecture firms operating in a modern style.[4] Later, the firm would help popularize the International Style in Canada with its Norquay Building and Winnipeg Post Office designs. But at this time, in 1936, when they designed the Tivoli theatre, GBR were arbiters of the American interpretation of Art Deco, a pop-art reinvention of the style known referred to as “Streamline Moderne,” or simply, “Moderne.”

The difference between the American Moderne form of Deco and its European counterparts is striking. In the early 20s, Art Deco simply hadn’t “taken” with the American consumer when it first crossed the Atlantic. Americans’ growing distrust of largely European immigrant population certainly played a part – many early proponents of Deco hailed from Europe, and the first official community of Deco artists, AUDAC (American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen) frequently held meetings in German.[5] Likewise, there seemed to be issues of a purely aesthetic kind: a 1929 issue of Good Furniture Magazine described audiences at a touring exhibition of Deco design as “baffled.”[6]

Clifton Vase. Ceramic, hand-painted, 1930. Courtesy of Steve Archer

It was a New York advertising firm by the name of Calkins & Holden which broke through the indifference. Calkins, a self-style marketing guru, believed that if consumers could be convinced their clothing had to be replaced whenever style dictated a change, the same could be made true for all products. The new American aesthetic would not be about a particular look, but a constant quest for novelty, which the firm conflated with American values of boldness, ingenuity and reinvention. Art Deco was new – Art Deco was available – Art Deco was seized by industrial America, not for its inherent meaning, but because it was what was cutting-edge at the time. Formerly ghettoized European designs were adopted and altered to American tastes, and draped over anything which could plausibly be called “new,” be it a train, a car, a telephone – or a movie theatre.

Not surprisingly, the Tivoli theatre was both a beneficiary and a victim of Calkins & Holden’s new system. Though it began as a roaring success, by the 40s it had already begun to look outdated. Never the less, it struggled on for 54 years, playing everything from Buck Rogers serials and musicals in the early 50s, to spaghetti westerns and pornography in the 70s.

  1. St. Mary’s Cathedral (1957): Deco in Retrospect

The reasons for the gradual decline in popularity of Art Deco are just as hotly debated as the forces that created it. What’s generally agreed is that it was generally “on its way out” by World War II. Among the totalitarian regimes of Europe, which in the 1910s and 20s had played host to some of Europe’s most vibrant design communities, growing paranoia had led to the expulsion, suppression or in extreme cases imprisonment of voices of the avant-garde, which were now regarded as subversive elements. In the “Democratic” Capitalist West, on the other hand, the rhetoric of progress through radical industrialization which had styled so much of the Art Deco’s self-image had led to market crashes, labour exploitation, corruption scandals, and host of other sources of political unrest and skepticism.

Man with Spear, bronze. Made by Bruno Yartel Date unknown. Courtesy of Israel Lachovsky

The New York World’s fair of 1939 was a paradigmatic example of the decline of Deco, a desperate attempt to recapture the highly lucrative consumer optimism of 1933. Despite advertising itself as a taste of the Utopian American future, it was from the beginning a shadowy and cynical affair. Corporate interests were allowed to sell wares directly on the grounds, and had enormous control over the goings-on; three months before the exhibition opened, 21 members of the Advisory Committee on Consumer Interests resigned in protest.[7] The most iconic event staged at the exhibition was also the most crass: a time capsule, sponsored by an electrical company, intended to remain sealed in Flushing Meadows until 6939. This so-called “account of universal achievements” contained, among other things, a kewpie doll, a Gillette razor, and a package of Camel cigarettes. The political conditions which had briefly allowed the commercial, governmental and artistic interests of Europe to come together in 1926 to create a harmonious new style, no longer existed, or had never existed, in America, where Art Deco had come to roost.

Fortunately, no style ever goes extinct without sending repercussions through future generations; Calgary’s St. Mary’s Cathedral is a perfect example of how, as late as 1957, Canadian architects continued to draw on Art Deco. Though its architect, Maxwell Bates, spent the majority of his career better known as a poet and expressionist painter, he had been raised in Canada’s architectural community, and returned to it in his later years. He had apprenticed at the firm created by his father, William Stanley Bates (see our March post) in the 20s, before quite suddenly giving up architecture for nearly twenty years. After a long sojourn Europe, he returned to Calgary to found his own firm in 1946.[8] When the firm received a commission to rebuild St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1957, bates created more than 400 preparatory sketches, eventually settling on a style which blended the contemporary Modernism with a now decidedly “old fashioned” Art Deco influence.[9] Bates recognized the kinship between the Cathedral’s religious and cultural function, its need to remind parishioners both of the history of the Church and to convey a sense of religious majesty, and the aims of Deco: to simultaneously recall and idealize the past, to modernize it and allow it to serve as an icon of a glorious future.

[1] Rossana Bossaglia, L’Arte Déco (Bari, 1984).

[2] Tom Morawetz. Art Deco Architecture Across Canada. (Toronto: Friesens, 2017), 17.

[3] Geoffrey Hunt, “John MacIntosh Lyle,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, September 8, 2009, accessed March 25, 2018, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/john-macintosh-lyle/.

[4] William P. Thompson, “Green, Blankstein, Russell,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, July 2, 2006, accessed April 06, 2018, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/green-blankstein-russell/.

[5] Mel Byars, “Introduction: What Makes American Design American?” in Richard Lawrence Leonard and C. Adolf Glassgold, Modern American Design (New York, 1930; reprinted New York 1992), pp. v-xix-.

[6] Nellie C. Sanford, “Modern Furniture Designed in America: It Must Meet American Living Conditions,” Good Furniture Magazine (April 1929).

[7] Charlotte Benton and Tim Benton, “Decline and Revival,” in Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood, Art Deco 1910-1939 (London: V & A, 2005).

[8] Joyce Zemans, “Maxwell Bates,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, May 21, 2008, , accessed April 07, 2018, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/maxwell-bates/.

[9] Morawetz, 97.

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