Union Cemetery – Calgary: Part Two

With 50,000 people buried in Union Cemetery (not all in marked graves) there are literally thousands of stories to be told. Continuing on from my previous post on Monday, I’m going to look at a couple of memorials which are related to two famous nautical disasters.

STEENROBERT ALEXANDER STEEN.  Forty-seven years of age, a private in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Steen was one of the 234 personnel murdered by the Germans on the Hospital Ship Llandovery Castle in World War One. The ship was returning to England from Halifax NS, carrying 164 men, 14 nurses, and 80 officers and men of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

Under the Hague Convention, hospital ships are prohibited from carrying arms, must be clearly marked with the Red Cross, and sail with all lights burning. The enemy are allowed to stop and search the ships, but must not fire on them. However, on June 27th, 1918, a German submarine fired on the Llandovery Castle.

It sank within 10 minutes. Three lifeboats got away. The German captain – Patzig – interrogated those on the boats to find ‘proof’ of misuse of the ship (ie that it was carrying arms). Unable to find any, he then ordered his crew to prepare to dive. With only himself and a few other sailors on board, they attempted to hide their war crime by ramming and machine gunning the boats and survivors in the water. Twenty-four men in one of the lifeboats survived and were rescued 36 hours later. All 14 nurses were murdered. The sinking became a rallying cry for the Canadian forces in the last few months of the war. Captain Patzig was never found or prosecuted for war crimes.

Please click HERE to find a link to a brief report of the tragedy on the front page of The Calgary Daily Herald on July 2nd, 1918.

dickALBERT and VERA DICK were two of the 795 survivors of the sinking of the Titanic on April 10th, 1912 which killed more than 1,500 men, women and children.  Albert, who made his early fortune in Calgary’s land boom,  married his seventeen year-old wife Vera in the fall of 1911. They travelled to Italy, Palestine,  Egypt and France on an extended honeymoon, picking up the Titanic in Cherbourg. Their first-class tickets cost 57 GBP each. They both escaped in lifeboat #3.

In an era when the custom was, ‘Women and children first,’ Albert’s survival caused controversy. He claimed that, while trying to calm his hysterical wife who was clinging to him, he was pushed into the lifeboat. Some speculated that he dressed himself as a woman (not true) to escape. However, it must be remembered that men were needed to row the lifeboats far enough away from the ship to prevent them being drawn down into the vortex  as the ship went down. Whatever the reason, Albert’s survival meant that he carried a stigma for the rest of his life. In some places he was even considered not ‘socially respectable’ for having survived.






Union Cemetery – Calgary. Part 1

ENTRANCEIf you ever find yourself at a loss for something to do on a Sunday afternoon (May-October) and fancy learning more about Calgary’s history, pull on a pair of walking shoes, grab a bottle of water and a can of bug spray, and head down to Union Cemetery, established in 1891 (just off Macleod Trail and Spiller Road SE) to enjoy a volunteer-led tour of the cemetery.

Here you’ll learn about the great, the good, the characters, philanthropists, mounties, soldiers, ex-slave, politicians, ex-husband of a mistress of The Prince of Wales, survivors of the Titanic disaster – and many more – who have added to the richness of this beautiful city.

CAPPYFirst up is JAMES ‘CAPPY’ SMITH, a Scot who arrived in Calgary on October 19th, 1883 to a city of ‘nothing but a village of tents’. He worked in a sawmill before signing up with Calgary’s young fire department. He was appointed chief in 1898 and remained in that position until 1933. He was a blunt spoken man who led by example and should the crowds get too close to a fire and refuse to listen to his orders to get back, he would simply turn that fire hose on them! He led the Stampede Parade for many years, owned 3 bears, an alligator, a monkey and a parrot!

DENNYNext is SIR CECIL EDWARD DENNY. Born in England, Denny emigrated to the US when he was nineteen, before moving north to Canada. He joined the North West Mounted Police for the famous March West in 1874, traveling north from Fort Macleod in the fall of 1875 to build Fort Calgary. He was one of the signatories at Treaty Number 7 but forced to resign from the NWMP when he had an affair with a colleague’s wife. Denny then became an Indian Agent and archivist and can truly be called one of Calgary’s founding fathers.

Now comes my personal favourite. WILLIAM DUDLEY WARD. If you’re a Downton Abbey fan and watched the 2013 Christmas Special, or if you know anything of the goings-on of the Prince of Wales at the beginning of the 20th century, you should recognize the name, because his wife Freda Dudley-Ward was the long-time mistress of Edward Prince of Wales before Wallis Simpson came into the picture.


WARD3 I have to admit, finding his grave raised more questions than answers. Why did a man, born into great wealth and privilege, educated at Eton and Cambridge, a possible spy and British MP who divorced his wife in 1931, end up in Calgary where he died at aged 69 following an operation? Hmmmm.  I’m going to be down at the library this week checking that out!

BETNLEYBut perhaps one of the most moving memorials in the cemetery is that of the Bentley family. An ordinary young couple, it is a sobering reminder that life is fragile and to be treasured. On May 7, 1918, Orlie Bentley gave birth to a daughter, Helena. Four days later, the infant died of exhaustion due to an inability to ‘latch on’ and feed. Within three weeks, Orlie herself was dead from ‘childbed fever’, all-too-common amongst women before the mid-20th century. Tragically, only six months later, James died from the Spanish flu which struck Calgary in October 1918.  He was only twenty-eight.

I’ll continue with more stories from Union Cemetery in my Wednesday post.


Walking the Labyrinth – Calgary

A labyrinth? Here in Calgary?

Who knew!

I had always assumed (incorrectly, as it turns out) that labyrinth was just another word for a maze – a maze offers you choices, while a labyrinth has only one track leading in and out – and was intrigued to discover there are several to be found here in Calgary.

Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, featuring in ancient tales and legends as well as being a spiritual tool used in many religions.

When it comes to stories, perhaps the most famous labyrinth was that in Crete where Theseus killed the Minotaur. Briefly, every nine years, King Minos of Crete demanded that the city of Athens send seven young boys and seven young maidens to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur – a half man, half bull creature – in recompense for a previous war. The third time this happened, Theseus volunteered to take the place of one of the youths and vowed to kill the Minotaur. (If something about this tale sounds familiar, I found an interview with Suzanne Collins, the author of the highly successful Hunger Games trilogy, where she acknowledges the Minotaur myth as one of the inspirations for her book.)

Perhaps the most famous religious labyrinth is to be found in Chartres Cathedral in France. Apparently, about one thousand years ago, when it became to unsafe for Christians to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, pilgrims began visiting the big cathedrals in Europe; Chartres, Canterbury and Santiago de Compostello. Somewhere between 1200-1240 a labyrinth was laid in the floor of Chartres which became known as The Road to Jerusalem. Not a maze, but a single track, it provided an opportunity for the faithful to replicate a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by following the path on their knees while praying.

But what has this to do with Calgary?


Knox United Church, Calgary

The labyrinth in Knox United Church, in the heart of Calgary’s downtown, is open to all – Christian or not – from Monday-Friday, 9am-7pm, and is based on the Chartres labyrinth.

When I visited the labyrinth yesterday, I walked it twice. The first time was from sheer curiosity: Was there really only one way in and out?  Did I cover every section of the intricate design?



The Labyrinth, Knox United Church, Calgary

The second time I decided to take it a little more seriously. According to the pamphlet provided by the church, the labyrinth is a unique spiritual tool that can be used to:
deepen self-knowledge
relieve stress and clear the mind
empower creativity
calm people in life transitions
awaken the spirit within
bring forth spiritual healing
open a path to action

I’m not religious, but I turned on the CD that is provided and tried to quiet my mind. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, but I found that by just taking my time and concentrating, at the end of 20 minutes I returned once more to the entrance of the labyrinth feeling calm and relaxed.


The centre of the labyrinth, Knox United Church, Calgary.

The labyrinth in Knox United Church is not the only one in Calgary; there are several more, including an outdoor one in Sarcee Park. If you’re interested in finding one near you, please check out this worldwide labyrinth locator.


Calgary Pathways – Elbow River Pathway

Staying with the urban parks theme from last week’s posting…with over 900 km of bike/walking paths in Calgary, it’s very easy to get out and enjoy the fresh air and some lovely scenery. Today my daughter and I took an hour to explore just a fraction of the Elbow River Pathway, which is only a mile or so from the city centre. Although it was a warm day, 23C, there was a lot of cloud cover which is unusual in Calgary which is famous for its big blue skies.

Map   view 1

We started from the south end of River Park and headed towards the Glenmore Reservoir. If you’re not familiar with Calgary, you might not know that the city experienced a devastating flood in June 2013. Although this year the river is at a very low-level, if you look towards the left hand side of the photo above, you can get an idea of how much erosion the flooding caused.

woods   take a seat

We made our way past woodland to our right and the river valley to our left, stopping for a while for a bite of lunch.

Corrsing the dam dam 2

Then it was out across the Glenmore Dam. The first photo is taken from the dam itself. In the second you can see the dam in the distance as we crossed over Glenmore Trail, one of Calgary’s main thoroughfares. Fortunately the roar of the traffic didn’t last long as within minutes we were back in the peace and quiet of the pathway.

rowan path  from rocky

We ended our walk just outside the Rockyview Hospital which has the most wonderful views across the reservoir. (On a clear day you can see the peaks of the Rockies in the distance.) Had we walked a little farther, we could have reached Heritage Park which I’ve talked about in a previous post, but we were short of time, so we headed back towards River Park again.

In total, our walk took us just over an hour  – including stopping for lunch –  and there were times it was hard to believe we were so close to downtown.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Calgary’s pathways, please click on this link. Calgary is a gorgeous city and we’re so fortunate to have so much open green space within the city boundaries. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, consider taking an hour to pull on a pair of walking shoes and explore some of our amazing trails.




When Words Collide

I spent a great few days last weekend at the When Words Collide conference here in Calgary. Now in its fourth year, it just keeps getting better and better.

Special guests this years included writers, Jack Whyte (check out his website just to listen to his amazing voice!) Brandon Sanderson, Robert J. Sawyer, Jacqueline Guest, Mark Leslie and Shirlee Smith Matheson and editor Adrienne Kerr.

I belong to a wonderful writing group The Alberta Romance Writers’ Association, whose members generously share their knowledge and expertise on both the craft and business of writing, but sometimes you need to get out there and hear from other experts in their field. So much has changed in the publishing world that it’s hard – and sometimes a little intimidating – to keep up, but the focus remains on bringing the best book to the reader whether it is traditionally published or self-published.

The dates and location have already been set up for next year’s WWC – August 14-16th at the Delta Calgary South – and registration is open. At the bargain basement price of $40 it’s a wonderful deal.

See you there!

Prince’s Island Park – Calgary

There are two kinds of emigrants/immigrants; those who are pulled to their new country and those who are pushed from their old. I definitely belonged in the latter category. I was perfectly happy living in Scotland, but then my husband got offered a great job opportunity in Canada so we packed up and moved across the Pond.

It took me a long time to settle here. Getting used to the long – long – winters was a challenge. But over the years Canada, and this city of Calgary where we’ve made our home, have burrowed deep into my heart and now I truly love them both. We are fortunate to live here. When we arrived in Calgary, the population of the city sat at just under half a million. Now it is well over one million, and we’ve seen tremendous changes over those years.

For the next few Wednesdays, I’d like to show you some of my favourite places in this city. Some are well-known while others, like the Reader’s Garden Cafe I spotlighted last week, are unfamiliar to most Calgarians. backendFirst up is Prince’s Island Park. Named after Peter Prince who owned a lumber company nearby, the park is located immediately north of the downtown core on an island donated by the Prince family (according to Wikipedia) to the city in 1947. His original office building remains close by. Now known as the 1886 Cafe, it is a popular restaurant serving breakfast and lunch. Peter Prince’s home can been visited in Heritage Park.

Completely surrounded by the Bow River, Prince’s Island Park boasts all the facilities – and more – you could wish for in an urban park. Each year, it hosts the Calgary Folk Festival, Shakespeare in the Park and the Canada Day Celebrations every July 1st. Or enjoy a meal at the trendy River Cafe with its great food and wonderful location. You’ll find plenty of well laid out trails lined with beautiful hanging baskets for bikers, walkers and runners, but there are also off the beaten tracks where you can get up close to the fast-flowing river.

river2 If you love flowers, there are plenty of displays to enjoy. If you fancy a picnic you can bring your own blanket and spread it out on the grass or use one of the many picnic benches dotted around the park. downtownWhen our kids were young, we used to like to come down on a Sunday morning for a picnic breakfast. After we’d eaten, they’d play for ages at the extensive children’s play park.

Although there are spots in the park where the city can feel a million miles away, there are others where you can see the beautiful glass buildings rising above you, sparkling in the sunlight. It’s a lovely place to visit, whether for a quiet stroll or an ad hoc soccer match or game of frisbee. And if you fancy a coffee, nip in to Eau Claire market on the south side of the park, or stroll across the Peace Bridge and walk along Memorial Drive to Kensington.


One of the hanging baskets you can find on the lamp posts around the park.



River cafe

The River Cafe


The Peace Bridge linking Prince’s Island Park to Kensington on the north side.


When Words Collide – The Heroine’s Journey

My second workshop of the When Words Collide Conference this Sunday morning is a discussion on The Heroine’s Journey. Is the Hero’s Journey the same as the Heroine’s?  Do you need to be male to be a hero and female to be a heroine?

My own new personal heroine on this topic is Kim Hudson with her book The Virgin’s Promise.  Please check her out.

If you would like more information on the difference between the male and feminine journeys – and a link to a YouTube interview with Kim Hudson – please click on this LINK.

Happy writing.

Calgary Stampede

cowboy hatThe annual Calgary Stampede – The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth – kicked off last Friday morning with a three-hour parade through downtown. This year’s parade marshall was Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, but in the past it’s been led by actors such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Christopher Reeve and Jack Palance, politicians, sports stars and other dignitaries such as Chris Hadfield, Prince Charles, Ken Taylor, Rick Hansen and Walt Disney.

The first stampede – although not called that – was organised in 1912 by Guy Weadick, an American cowboy and veteran of travelling Wild West Shows. Back then, Calgary was a relatively young city; the North West Mounted Police had arrived in 1875 and founded a fort by the Bow and Elbow rivers. In 1884, Calgary, with a population of only 500 people, was incorporated as town.


Photo: girltrieslife.com

In 1912, with financial backing provided by four very successful cattlemen – Pat Burns, George Lane, AE Cross and AJ MacLean – Guy Weadick produced what was called the Frontier Days and Cowboy Championship. It was supposed to be a one-off and while there was a suggestion it should be repeated in 1913, money wasn’t forthcoming. After World War One, the idea was resurrected and in 1919 The Victory Stampede was held.  Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength.


Photo: girltrieslife.com

Beginning on the 1st Friday in July and continuing for ten days until the following Sunday, it’s a time when the city comes alive with the spirit of the Old West.  Down at the Stampede grounds you’ll find an afternoon rodeo, evening chuck wagon races and show, a midway, agricultural and craft exhibition, market, native village and nighttime firework display.

Western ShirtsDuring the ten days of Stampede, the city itself is festooned with banners,  rodeo scenes are painted onto the windows of shops and office buildings, and you can find plenty of pancake breakfasts and stampede parties to suit everyone’s taste. Banks are transformed into Wild West corrals, and young and old deck themselves out in jeans, cowboy shirt, hat and boots.

Come visit us!

How Yaktrax Changed My Life

mountainI’m not sure anything can prepare a new immigrant for their first Canadian winter.


Mid-October, our first year here, some friends came round for Sunday brunch. As they were leaving, one of them sniffed the air and said, “I can smell snow.”

I laughed.

Two weeks later my wee boy had to wear a snow suit to go out trick or treating.

iceBut the snow couldn’t last forever, could it? So we bought our son a tricycle for Christmas. The first time he got to ride it outside? Easter Sunday, at a park downtown where all the paths had been cleared.

Come our second winter, I thought I was prepared.


On my way to a job interview, I slipped, fell, and broke my wrist. Bye-bye job. Hello phobia of snowy sidewalks.

I’d still go out walking in winter, but the fear that my bones wouldn’t make it through till spring intact lurked constantly in the back of my head. And at least once every winter, I’d do a serious nose plant. It got to the point where I couldn’t see the beauty of Calgary’s clear blue skies, bright sunshine and magnificent vista of the Rockies and would gladly have swapped it for rain, damp and drizzle.

yaktraxThen, after almost thirty years here, I discovered Yaktrax. It’s no exaggeration to say they have changed my life. Yaktrax (and similar brands) cost about $30 from Mountain Equipment Co-op, slip over your shoes, and grip the ground like nothing on earth.

Now, as long it’s not colder than -10C (with no wind) you’ll find me out walking the dog, taking in that glorious blue sky, sunshine and scenery.

Winter? I love it!

Welcome to Canada!

Wartime Rations – Day Twenty-Seven

SausagemenatIt’s been a bit of a weird few days, so the menu I’d hoped to follow this week hasn’t quite worked out as planned. But I stuck to my rations and made sausage meatballs with mashed potatoes for dinner. I made them with breadcrumbs, onions and carrots, in the slow cooker, but next time I will add a few more spices and maybe some minced onion to the meat.

This is the second to last day of my month of wartime rations. I’m going to leave the last word to Anne tomorrow, but here are a few of my thoughts on the experience.

I’m very aware I’ve just been ‘playing’ at this. I haven’t had to worry about not being able to buy groceries or having to start a fire before I can boil the kettle for a cup of tea.

Here in Calgary we’re experiencing a cold snap, but all I have to do is turn up the thermostat. I can’t imagine what it must have been like during wartime, particularly with fuel shortages, getting up on a cold morning and having to light a fire before doing anything else.

My grand-daughter, who is still in nappies, is coming round tomorrow. Changing them is a breeze because they’re disposable. Pity my poor mother who lived in an attic flat with no running water and had to haul cold water all the way up the stairs to wash her baby’s clothes.

Apart from the first couple of days, as my body adjusted from the extravagance of Christmas to wartime rations, I haven’t felt hungry on this eating plan at all.  (And I’ve lost 7 lbs to boot.)  The food has been good and nutritious and I’ve rediscovered a few veggies I’d turned my back on after leaving home as a teenager.

And some of the things my Mum – and other women of her generation – used to do now make sense. She didn’t waste a thing. If bread went stale, it was toasted. And it wasn’t just bread. String tied around parcels was unpicked, rolled up and saved for a later time. The same with jam jars which she used for her homemade jam and lemon curd in the summer.

One of my friends could never understand why her mother, even after she emigrated to Canada, kept a cupboard filled with dried and tinned foods – just in case. For the women who lived through the war and had to provide nutritious foods to keep their families fed and healthy on limited rations, it must have been a constant worry. No wonder they always made sure they wouldn’t be caught short again.

So the big lessons I’ve taken away from this experience? That we waste so much food nowadays. That we spend so much money on processed foods while ignoring the simple fresh foods that are so much better for us than anything that contains a chemical on its list ingredients. How cheap the weekly shopping bill becomes when you purchase fruit and vegetables in season.

That I’m very lucky to live where I live, when I live.

That the women of war were true, unsung heroines.