During this year’s Historic Calgary Week (HCW), I had one crazy, busy day that revolved around all things Glenbow. I was fortunate to present a lecture summarizing research at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (GRPP). This was followed later in the day by a live, in-studio interview for CBC radio on the same topic. Sandwiched between these I attended a super presentation at the Glenbow Library and Archives.

The theme for this year’s HCW was Partnerships. It was an ideal opportunity to highlight the partners who helped with the archaeological research at GRPP. My presentation, entitled Unearthing the Story of a Ghost Town at Glenbow Quarry, was given at noon on Monday, July 30, at Central United Church, in downtown Calgary. Essentially, I wanted to show how the project combined innovative technology with old-fashioned community spirit to reveal a new understanding of a unique and significant site.

I’ve already written several articles about the use of technology to assist the archaeological studies at Glenbow (see October 2017, July 2017, and November 2015). During the presentation, I explained how laser scans, magnetometer surveys, and photogrammetry were used to supplement the archaeological excavations at GRPP. Many archives, libraries, and community groups also helped locate information and contributed to the project. I especially wanted to acknowledge the help I received from descendants of the families who lived and worked at Glenbow Quarry more than a hundred years ago; they contributed so many stories and photographs that really made the historical and archaeological data come to life. Thanks to all these contributors, we now have a much better understanding of the workings of the historically significant community of Glenbow.

Having weathered the stress of presenting my talk in the awe-inspiring historic church, I grabbed lunch, negotiated construction zones, and headed to the Glenbow Library and Archives for a presentation entitled “My Darling Mary” – The Macleod Letters. This was a unique opportunity to peak into history through the eyes of Colonel James F. Macleod. He wrote 250 love letters to his wife Mary, which the family treasured and, a century after his death, donated to the Archives. His great-grandson, Toby Lawrence, and retired archivist, Susan Kooyman, shared the story of these letters and excerpts of the collection.

Macleod was present at many pivotal events in western Canadian history, so his letters are an important source of historic information. After becoming a lawyer, James Macleod joined the NWMP at its formation in 1873 and led a group of police to southern Alberta, establishing Fort Macleod. He also selected the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers as another fort site and eventually christened it Fort Calgary. As Commissioner of the NWMP, he negotiated Treaty 7 with First Nations in 1877. After leaving the force, Macleod became a magistrate and, eventually, a Supreme Court Judge in the North-West Territories. 

Besides all this wonderful historical detail, the private letters to his wife are, surprisingly, utterly romantic! We tend to think of historic figures as boring people, relentlessly pursuing their careers, and of Victorian gentlemen as emotionally repressed. These letters add a human dimension to a study of the past. As readers, we feel the loneliness of this devoted married man, separated from his wife and children by his commitment to his honourable profession. It was a real treat to learn about this collection and I was thrilled when Toby Lawrence presented a newly discovered letter to the Archives. Who knows what will be revealed in this latest priceless missive? 

Sadly, I had to leave during the question-answer period of this presentation in order to make it to my next appointment on time. Still wrapped in the haze of romantic appreciation, I proceeded to CBC’s spiff new studio. This comforting fog quickly evaporated as I was introduced to the workings of a live broadcast. The staff that dealt with me were all incredibly friendly and unpretentious, but I was still nervous. Once in the studio itself, I became distracted by the news and traffic reporting being done by the on-air personalities seated beside me. None of them looked anything like I had imagined they would from hearing their voices on my car radio. As I analyzed the technical maneuverings, I was overcome by visions of WKRP, my only other exposure to a studio broadcast, albeit fictional. I struggled not to laugh at the unbelievable situation I found myself in. Then the newscast ended, the host was giving her introduction to my segment, and the microphone directly in front of me was illuminated by a small red light. AAAACK!!! This was just like what had happened in The King’s Speech! What if I, too, would be unable to speak into the red eye of a live mike?!

I heard the host ask a general question, my brain told me I needed to say something — anything — and then a wave of adrenalin rushed in to combat my rising panic. Glancing wildly about, I happened to look down at the notes in front of me, registered a date I had written there, and then my mouth took over and I went into autopilot. The interview seemed a fine experiment in the Theory of Relativity: it appeared that on my side of the table time was moving in slow-motion, while on the host’s side time was moving much more quickly, and yet, we were both floating in this bubble bounded by a wall of windows, our only other attendant a giant clock. Before I knew it, an eternity had passed and the interview was over.

Eventually, after getting lost several times, I made it out of the building, found my car, and, at last, made it to the safety of my couch, where I dissolved into a puddle of relief. With my brain still buzzing, I was forced to admit that I was completely unable to attend the intriguing walking tour I had planned to see that evening.

It was quite a Glenbow Day.

The CBC’s web post about my presentation, including historic photos, can be found online. You can listen to the interview here.

This article was originally printed in the Bergen News and is being reprinted with permission.