Calgary Public Library owes its beginnings to a very determined woman.

Calgary was a city of almost 12,000 people in 1906; the population had more than doubled in five years, and the influx of farmers, ranchers, tradespeople, merchants, labourers, and entrepreneurs had big dreams and schemes on their mind.  Annie Davidson, at the time a 68-year-old widow, had books on her mind. And libraries.

Annie started the Calgary Women’s Literary Club in her home at 112 13 Avenue West, and encouraged her friends to share their love of reading with the community. (The Club is still going strong todayopens a new window!) Meetings were held in the Methodist Church, for an annual fee of 25 cents. She also rallied her literary troops to push for a public library for Calgary.

According to government legislation that came into effect in March 1907, in order to build a public library one-tenth of electors must sign a petition asking for one. Annie Davidson and her literary club members went door-to-door collecting signatures—that is men’s signatures, because women didn’t have the vote yet.

The first petition failed to garner enough signatures, but the second succeeded, with 563 men putting their names on paper in support of a library. Calgary’s first public library—now Memorial Park Library — opened its doors to the public January 2, 1912.

Davidson hadn’t had an easy life. She and her family endured the hardship of her merchant husband Richard’s bankruptcy in 1881. Richard died when she was 59. She moved to Calgary from Brandon, Manitoba to be close to her surviving children; she’d already lost six due to illness and tragic accidents. Reading was her escape and comfort.

Annie Davidson never saw Calgary’s grand public library open. She died in July 1910, having moved to Montreal one month earlier to live with one of her daughters. One of her friends, Rev. Archivald O. MacRae remembered her as “a lady of calm, quiet dignity, thoughtful opinions and firm reasons for them.”  Thank you, Annie, for your vision, and your legacy.

Want to learn more?

Read The Calgary Public Library: Inspiring Life Stories by Brian Brennan, Calgary: A Living Heritage, by Susie Sparks and In the Footsteps of Giants, published by Chinook Country Historical Society.

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