June 18th, 2024

Heritage in the Hat: Postcard perfect

By Medicine Hat News on August 11, 2018.

Local history buff and collector Fred Hauck recently showed off his latest acquisition to staff at the UPS outlet on Dunmore Road, a postcard of downtown Medicine Hat dated 1913, taken from Crescent Heights. Dominique Hirsch, co-owner of the UPS outlet and her staff came up with the idea of selling enlargements of the photo, with a share of the proceeds going to local charities. The photo was shot by a professional studio, Lyall Photo Co. of Winnipeg, so the high quality of the image allows for considerable detail.

The year 1913 was like a runaway train in Medicine Hat. People were arriving in droves to find work in the new factories of our city. In fact, so many people that there was no housing for them and the first thing that strikes you in the photo are the tents along the north bank of the river. Was this temporary housing, the ATCO trailers of their day?

Finlay Bridge had been open for five years and joined both sides of the river. To the left of the bridge on the south bank is a ramp down to the boat docks. The new sub-division on Riverside was starting to fill up although we can’t see that in the photo. Until the first cottage school was opened on Riverside in 1914 (replaced by the brick Riverside school in 1916), the children crossed the bridge to attend one of the schools on the south side. I suggest you check out Riverside School before it is torn down, although there is a move afoot to save it in some form.

On the right of the photo, we see Toronto Street School, the city’s oldest school building, which I remember as half a block of brick rubble when it was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the OK Economy grocery store. It sat at the foot of the trail to Fort MacLeod, also visible in the photo and the easiest grade to get out of the valley. My dad and his buddies could only get their decrepit Model T up that grade in reverse, their lowest gear. The city’s new high school, Alexandra (also demolished), is visible on the horizon with its peaked roof.

Religion is also highly visible in the photo. One can see the back side of St. John’s Presbyterian Church, without the 1950s addition and just beyond it, the original St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. Further up the avenue is Fifth Avenue Methodist Church, possibly still under construction, while on Sixth Avenue, beside the Cypress Club, is the predecessor Century Methodist Church.

Public and commercial buildings are visible in all their glory. On Main Street, just south of Finlay Bridge, we see old City Hall with its silver-topped tower and across the avenue, the Post Office. Both of these important civic buildings are gone but the Bank of Commerce and News building on the other two street corners still stand. This was Main Street and Sixth Avenue, the centre of downtown. The back of the Beveridge Block and the Hull Block (Gaslight Plaza) are visible and have been recently refurbished by caring owners.

Since the photo was snapped more than a century ago, many of our century-old buildings have been demolished but some are still with us. The UPS store is taking orders for enlarged mounted copies of this historic photo until Aug. 15, with part of each sale being donated to the Medicine Hat Food Bank, the Medicine Hat and District Health Foundation and the local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

It makes a great gift and supports local charities.

Malcolm Sissons is the chair of the Heritage Resources Committee.

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