Everyone’s life has a story: the person next to you on the bus, your grandmother, the person picking up bottles in the alley. I’m interested in finding out the stories of everyday people as they pertain to Sunalta’s history. However, I am always on the lookout for Sunalta “celebrities” of days gone by. So I was excited, (do I need to get out more?), to discover that Calgary’s first librarian, Alexander Calhoun, was once a Sunalta resident.
Alexander Calhoun 1879–1979 was born in Fenelon Falls, Ontario to Irish immigrants whom valued education. After graduating from Queen’s University in 1902 with a Master of Arts degree, he considered joining the Presbyterian ministry, though abandoned the idea in favour of teaching, eventually becoming interested in library studies. At this time the library profession was a pioneering field, and after apprenticing in Ontario, he applied for an opening at the newly created Memorial Park Library (previously known as the Carnegie Public Library).
In 1911, Alexander was appointed chief librarian and moved with his wife, Vivian Mabel Moynes 1873–1958 (a pharmaceutical assistant he met in high school) to Calgary. With a salary of $1800, he saw Calgary as: “a young man’s dream of a good place to live and work in. It was full of ambitious people including many young executives sent from the east to open branch offices.” With a collection of 5000 books, the library opened in 1912, becoming Alberta’s first. That same year Alexander and Vivian welcomed their only child, John. In 1913 the Calhouns moved to Sunalta; they lived at 1522 – 16th Ave SW. They remained here until 1917 when Alexander had a brief career in the military. With Alexander gone, Vivian took their son to Ontario, until Alexander was discharged in 1919 for medical reasons, and the family returned to Calgary where they bought a lot on 15th St NW, and Alexander resumed his position with the library.
These years were difficult and Alexander is credited with seeing the library through the financially troubled times of the post WWI depression and the depression of the 1930’s. He retired in 1945, and had the Alexander Calhoun library dedicated to him in 1953. Over his life, he was in involved in many local organizations — the Alpine Club of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, the John Howard Society, the Vacant Lots Garden Club, and several others. He was awarded an honourary LLD degree from the University of Alberta and an honourary doctorate from the University of Calgary. Alexander died in 1979, months short of his hundredth birthday. He was remembered as a private man, scholarly, with a slight build, who was always well dressed. He was also known as someone who enjoyed discussion and debate, and had several close friends. He was active well into his eighties, and was known to walk and read daily, and you can be sure he strolled the streets of Sunalta.
Do you have questions about Sunalta’s history that you’d like answered for the next issue? Contact Angie Davis