OFF THE RECORD

A hol­i­day to Canada en­abled Alan to re­con­nect with his grand­fa­ther in the most un­ex­pected of places…

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Alan Crosby con­nects with Canada

Ihave just re­turned from a hol­i­day in Western Canada, fly­ing to Cal­gary and back from Van­cou­ver. It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, not only for the mag­nif­i­cent scenery and wildlife but also for fam­ily his­tory.

My grand­par­ents were mar­ried in Cal­gary Cathe­dral in 1919, so of course we vis­ited. Back then it was one of the tallest build­ings in a town of 40,000 peo­ple. Now it’s just about the small­est, dwarfed by tow­er­ing sky­scrapers in a city of 1.75 mil­lion peo­ple. The cathe­dral, which is ar­chi­tec­turally un­am­bi­tious, is rarely open but we ar­rived shortly be­fore one of the three ser­vices per week, and a de­light­ful lady showed us round. Her ac­cent was ob­vi­ously not Cana­dian. We en­quired and learned that she came from Penwortham, ap­prox­i­mately a mile from where I’m typ­ing this at home in Pre­ston. Small world!

The cathe­dral has scarcely changed since my grand­par­ents knelt at the al­tar 96 years ago. It’s a dark, rather gloomy build­ing, very un­pre­pos­sess­ing on the out­side, but lov­ingly main­tained and with ev­ery sur­face pol­ished and gleam­ing. I’d won­dered if I would be able to see my grand­par­ents’ en­try in the mar­riage reg­is­ter, but (a pa­thetic con­fes­sion) I had not thought to check be­fore­hand and the priest told me that the reg­is­ters are now held in the ar­chives at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary. Un­for­tu­nately there was no time in our packed itin­er­ary to pay a visit.

But I mused on the strange cir­cum­stances of that wed­ding back when this was not much more than a fron­tier town. It took place only a day-and-a-half af­ter my grand­mother ar­rived at Cal­gary sta­tion, hav­ing trav­elled alone from Liverpool on a transat­lantic steamer to Que­bec and then on the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way across the end­less prairies, to meet a man she had only known for six weeks when he was a pa­tient in a con­va­les­cent hos­pi­tal in Oc­to­ber 1917. Not a sound ba­sis for a life­time to­gether, and so it turned out... they stayed to­gether for only five-and-a-half years and had two chil­dren, one of them be­ing my dad.

Af­ter vis­it­ing the cathe­dral, we went to the branch of Sport Chek in Stephen Av­enue, the main pedes­tri­anised street in down­town Cal­gary (Sport Chek be­ing “Canada’s largest re­tailer of sports equip­ment, sport­ing goods, sports ap­parel and footwear”). Not much of a fam­ily his­tory con­nec­tion, you might think, but you’d be wrong – the shop oc­cu­pies the Clarence Block, a two-storey sand­stone build­ing com­pleted in 1912 and, to­gether with a se­quence of other at­trac­tive sand­stone shops and of­fice build­ings along the street, now a na­tional his­toric mon­u­ment and part of Cal­gary’s main guided her­itage trail.

My grand­fa­ther, a clever and am­bi­tious young lawyer, had his of­fice on the up­per floor of the Clarence Block back in 1919-1922 – he was ar­ti­cled to the firm of Lougheed, Ben­nett & Co, the top le­gal part­ner­ship in the city.

His bosses were Sir James Lougheed, one of Al­berta’s lead­ing politi­cians and the rich­est man in the prov­ince, and Richard Ben­nett, who was Prime Min­is­ter of Canada from 1930 to 1935. All very promis­ing, though my grand­fa­ther man­aged to make a pig’s ear of both his ca­reer and his per­sonal life and never gained the ben­e­fit of hav­ing two im­mensely in­flu­en­tial pa­trons.

But back to Sport Chek. While the rest of the fam­ily un­der­took a brief course of retail ther­apy, look­ing at sports­wear of all de­scrip­tions, I stood at the win­dow on the first floor of the build­ing and looked out at Stephen Av­enue, and more sand­stone blocks op­po­site. It was quite an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence – al­most a cen­tury ago the grand­fa­ther I never knew must have stood at that same win­dow, look­ing out at that same view (al­beit with­out the ar­ray of wine bars, gourmet restau­rants, de­signer out­lets and pop-up stalls that now line the street).

Fam­ily his­tory takes us to many in­ter­est­ing places, but for me the main street of down­town Cal­gary on a beau­ti­ful sunny Au­gust morn­ing, the Ed­war­dian sand­stone build­ings over­looked by glit­ter­ing sky­scrapers, was among the best.

Al­most a cen­tury ago, the grand­fa­ther I never knew must have stood at this same win­dow, look­ing at the same view

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