Calgary couple unearths vintage bike licence in their 110-year-old home's garden

·3 min read
A Calgary couple plans to hang this 1935 bike licence in their home after unearthing it from their garden. (Claire Beckstead  - image credit)
A Calgary couple plans to hang this 1935 bike licence in their home after unearthing it from their garden. (Claire Beckstead - image credit)

Gardening can require a lot of patience — sometimes taking weeks or even months to see the fruits of your labour — but one couple in Sunalta received an instant reward over the weekend, unearthing a small piece of Calgary's history.

Claire Beckstead's husband had dug a foot or two down in the side garden of their 110-year-old home, trying to clear up some creeping bellflower.

To his surprise, he came across a rusty piece of metal, which upon further inspection turned out to be a City of Calgary bicycle licence from 1935.

"It's perfectly legible … we could tell right away what it was," said Beckstead in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"We're really glad the city doesn't have licences anymore. So we don't want to put it on our bike, but we are happy to have it as a kind of piece of history."

The city required them from 1916 to the late 1970s, according to city archivist Carol Stokes.

They have a number of vintage licences in their own collection, along with dray licences, which were required for horse-drawn buggies.

"We're pleased to have one of the first bicycle licences that the city ever issued," she said.

That one, issued in 1916, was dug up by a woman in her garden in 1958.

Licence to ride

The city began thinking about licensing bicycles in 1913, Stokes said.

Calgary's population had ballooned from about 4,000 in 1900 to about 44,000 in 1911, and along with more people came more automobile congestion.

"That probably would have been one of the reasons people would have started looking at bicycles to get around," Stokes said.

"Also, not everyone, obviously, could afford an automobile, and with concerns being presented to council about public safety, they felt they had to do something. So I'm imagining that by licensing bicycles, they thought it would be a way to keep control of who was riding them."

Claire Beckstead
Claire Beckstead

Council passed a bylaw requiring them on Dec. 12, 1915, with the rule coming into effect the next year.

"Bicycle licences — ironically, as we're all so concerned today about rising prices — remained at 50 cents per year until 1941."

Stokes said she isn't entirely sure what led to the requirement being dropped in the late 1970s, but she suspects it had something to do with cyclists' return on investment.

Even with one attached to your bike, if it was stolen, it wouldn't really help in finding it, she said.

"People probably felt they weren't getting anything for their money."

Bicycle licences are not required in Calgary today, but the Calgary Police Service does work with Bike Index — a free, online bike registration service, to help return stolen bikes to their owners.

Stokes said she doesn't think the vintage licence has much monetary value today, but its historical value isn't lost on Beckstead.

"We're going to probably, I don't know, mount it to something and put it on the wall or display it," she said.

"I think it's just a neat piece of history."

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