Turning Back the Pages: Donald suggests Calgary be fenced in

By Colleen Palumbo

I have written several times in the past about John Houston, the editor of the Donald Truth, a small newspaper that existed in 1888 and 1889 and have told you that if news wasn’t available that Houston would just make it up.

His harsh words were often directed at big companies like CP Rail and at politicians all over the world.

Houston had a wonderful sense of what made a good story. Humour was, in my opinion, his finest quality. I’m not really sure why he had it in for the mayor and the community of Calgary unless it had something to do with Henry Norman, a writer for the Winnipeg Call who said that “Donald, B.C. had the reputation of being the toughest place in the Dominion, with crooks, card sharks, and bummers of all kinds.”

He stated that “the principal streets of Donald consisted of an unbroken series of saloons,” and that “Donald is a place of not the slightest importance of perhaps 1,500 inhabitants.”

It was at this point that the Calgary Herald, with tongue in cheek, came to Donald’s defense. They did it, however, in a way that must have made Houston shake his head because the following is a tall tale in grand fashion, that appeared in the Truth, June 30, 1888 about the political situation in Calgary at the time.

The headline read: CALGARY TO BE FENCED IN.

“The people of Calgary, her merchants especially, are mere babes when they come in contact with sharp, practical people of the world. Her merchants have time and again been the easy prey of confidence men; and her good church-going citizens generally are being slowly, but surely, led astray by immoral ranchers from Red Deer and Sheep Creek. Lately, her merchants have suffered so much in purse and her good people so much in morals that a special meeting of the city council was called, so that effective measures might be taken to prevent the former losing the little they acquired during the flush times that ended with the suppression of the Northwest rebellion and to surround the latter with moral safeguards.

The meeting is said to have been attended by every member of the council except Mayor Skellton, who was skillfully absent; the chair being occupied by councillor Orrnot. Councillor Alan Rankin first addressed his acting worship saying; “While I believe I was elected to look out for the interests of the citizens of Calgary as a whole, I do not believe it to be my duty to neglect my own business so as to act as a mentor to the stupid clerks of my competitors, and prevent them giving $9.75 in change in return for a 25 cent purchase with a $1 bill. Again this whole thing may be only another job, put up by Dr. Lafferty and his friends to down me, and I must be careful.”

He sat down and the tall and imposing form of another drygoods councillor shot into the air. It thundered: “Down in Bruce, where I used to kind of run things, we nailed every man to the cross that entered Kincardine without pedigree and properly attested credentials as to moral character. If we do not put a stop to these outrages, Calgary can never hope to be the permanent seat of the Episcopal bishopric and the Roman Catholic diocese; and more of our merchants will be forced to settle for 40 cents on the dollar, thus entirely ruining our credit in Donald and other large trade centres. We must take effective measures for self preservation.” And the “brains of the council” took his seat amid the applause.

Councillor McKallem next gave his views. He is reported to have said: “Your acting worshipful honour, I am a practical man and suggest, that as lumber is very cheap and our carpenters and labouring men have absolutely nothing to do, that they be employed at $1 a day to build a 20-foot fence around sections 14 and 15.”

Here councillor Douglass interrupted by asking: “Why not include section 16?” McKallem: “My dear colleague, you are well aware, as are the other members of the council, of the reputation enjoyed by that part of our city.

It is much worse than that attributed to Donald by the Tribune. It would only tend to lower the morals of the whole city to have that section enclosed with the other two truly good section 5; and really, it is not necessary, the residents of section 16 are able to take care of themselves.”

Continued next week.

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