ALBERTA - This week the curator of the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre opened what he called “an innocuous little envelope” that he found at his desk, but inside he found a donation that he said “made his day.”
Zena Brooks, from Oliver, B.C., wrote a short note that accompanied six postcards and two photos all from around 1915, which she wrote belonged to her father, a Canmore miner who recently passed away.
Many of the images were by Daisy Carroll, Canmore’s postmistress at the time, who took many of the images that the museum now possesses of the town in that time. Photos from the area are pretty rare, Edward van Vliet said, noting that though many, as postcards, were reproductions, all of the images are new to the museum.
“I think they’re all very cool,” van Vliet said. And while there were views he’d never seen captured in the images, the miners’ shacks along what’s now prospect, for example, one stands out, he said.
“There’s the Oskaloosa Hotel, that’s kind of a landmark that has since disappeared.” The postcard, he explained, captures the street that was once home to the Rundle Mountain Trading Company and the Oskaloosa Hotel, where as the story goes the cook who first climbed Ha-Ling worked and whose name the peak now bears.
The hotel’s cook, Ha-Ling, was wagered a large sum when he said he could make it to the peak in one day in 1896.
“Usually when you get pictures of the Rundle Mountain Trading Company, it’s just them, nobody was taking pictures of the buildings side by side,” van Vliet said.
There is a photo of the mine director’s cabin from an angle that isn’t often seen and one of Canmore women holding air filters and boxes posing as one of the rescue teams that entered the mine. There’s an image of Main Street dusted by snow when it was an unpaved dirt road, a new view of the No. 2 mine, a view of Canmore from the gap, which shows more of the changes to Canmore with respect to its buildings — the Miners’ Union Hall stands out as a nice bright, clean building only a few years after it was built, van Vliet noted.
Empty spaces in town, now filled with buildings, the different vegetation, even the size of the river shown in the images fascinate van Vliet, he said.
Canmore as a town, started in 1883, so the photos represent a town 32 years into its existence.
“We’re still a pretty small town,” van Vliet said, who pointed out that at the time of the images Canmore was still within the boundaries of Banff National Park.
“That part of the history (of Canmore) is a big mystery because we don’t have a lot of written documentation, we don’t have a lot of visual documentation and there’s no one left here who can speak to it,” van Vliet said.
And there is a picture that van Vliet said presents a “bit of a mystery,” one he said he believes is a group shot of 15 staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway standing in front of a CPR building. But unfortunately for van Vliet in his work to find out exactly what the image is of, the CPR history often misses Canmore, hitting Calgary, Morley and then Banff.
“Canmore gets short shrift in a lot of the narratives and so it becomes difficult to sort of piece those things together sometimes,” he said.
The images, he said, capture a place and time that we don’t have access to and that we have so little proof of.
“I really wish more people would do that when they find these odds and ends, don’t throw it out,” he said. “Or, even if you want to keep it, let us make a copy — things like that.”
The museum has many photos from the 1970s and on, but from the “early years” in Canmore’s history most of the images are mine related.
“I love when people think of the museum and can add a little more to the stories we can tell,” van Vliet said.