H. Nelson Dickson's "The Sack of Calgary"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Say goodbye to the Venetian arcade. The cover illustration of H. Nelson Dickson's pamphlet illustrates the fictional destruction of the Hudson's Bay store depicted in his story. (Source: Glenbow Library)

Say goodbye to the Venetian arcade. The cover illustration of H. Nelson Dickson's pamphlet illustrates the fictional destruction of the Hudson's Bay store depicted in his story. (Source: Glenbow Library)

A year after the war begins in Europe in August 1914, Calgary is caught up in the conflict. Young men crowd recruiting centres. Relief efforts and war bond drives kick into gear, and Calgarians feel the pinch of food and commodity shortages. As the conflict enters its second summer, a military tent city springs up on land leased from the Sarcee Indians southwest of town. Immigrant settlers deemed "enemy aliens" board trains at Calgary Station on their way to the internment camp at Castle Mountain. And a fearful Calgary bookkeeper pens and publishes a 14-page pamphlet called The Sack of Calgary. H. Nelson Dickson sets his tale in the near future, hoping to propel civic leaders into taking action against a possible German attack. The story begins with an assault on the city at daybreak. By sunset, countless citizens are gunned down in the streets. Soldiers are massacred at Sarcee Camp, and the city surrenders. Meanwhile on Eighth Avenue, the Hudson’s Bay store smolders.

 

Exactly at 6:5 [sic] o’clock the sharp reverberating report of a gun was heard and a shell came screaming across the river from the northern heights and crashed in the Hudson’s Bay Co’s. Store on the sixth floor. The shell ceased its flight on coming into contact with a roll of carpet, burst with a terrific crash, blowing out the windows, and a tongue of fire shooting upwards like a flame from a furnace showed that the store was alight. This shell was followed by two others turning the building into a roaring fiery furnace. The fire spread until not only was the Hudson’s Bay Store building a mere blackened and twisted skeleton but Eight Avenue from the Alexander Block to Second Street West on its north side was a mass of smoking ruins. The fire was stopped only by the iron and concrete framework of the uncompleted Mackie building at the west corner of Second Street West. The lower part of this building, used as a market, being mostly wood, was burnt out but the fire spread no further.

Three shots were fired at the Hudson’s Bay Store, six were fired in all from that gun on the heights. The fourth struck the Lougheed Building shattering the corner near First Street West and starting a fire which burnt itself out. The fifth struck the tower of the Herald Building crashing through the brickwork but failed to explode, and the sixth struck the Robin Hood Mill, starting a fire that burned over twenty-four hours and left the mill a wreck.

 

H. Nelson Dickson, The Sack of Calgary (The Avenue Press, 1915)

Notes:

Hat tip to Harry Sanders and his article, “The Sack of Calgary” (Avenue, 2005)

For a fictional account of Ukrainian settlers interned at Castle Mountain, check out Calgary author, Pam Clark's novel Kalyna (Stonehouse Publishing, 2016).