David (Dave) Ernest Black was born in 1880 in Westport, Ontario, where he attended school and subsequently studied watch making. He moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1903, on board the Harvester Excursion with little money and food that spoiled. He was down to his last $0.25 by the time he arrived. He eventually opened his own small watch repair business.
Railways ran on timepieces, so winning the CPR contract in 1904 as an official watch inspector gave Dave’s business a substantial boost. In that era all railway men going through Calgary had to have their timepieces checked every two weeks against the Dominion time signal transmitted into Dave’s store.
By 1918 David E. Black & Company had become the largest watch repair business in Canada. In 1920 David E. Black & Company was purchased by and became the Calgary Branch of Henry Birks and Sons and in 1923 David Black was elected Director of Henry Birks and Sons. Subsequently (1938), he became President of the new Henry Birks and Sons (Western) Ltd. A replica of David E. Black’s first 7’ by 14’ store stands in Heritage Park, funded by Henry Birks and Sons.
In 1908 David Black married Mae Lillian Sinclair. This union resulted in three daughters, Dorothy (Wells), Frances (Danby), and Betty (Burns); seven grandchildren; 13 great grandchildren; and 9 great, great grandchildren. The grandchildren in particular, always looked for the blue box from Birks to open as the first Christmas present. Birthdays were celebrated with money equal to the age of the child until they reached 21.
Dave and Mae were lifelong members of the congregation of Knox United Church in downtown Calgary. Some years later, David donated a stained glass window in memory of his wife, Mae. It is located on the left side of the balcony.
Dave played hockey, lacrosse and golf when he first moved to Calgary and in his later years was an avid supporter of many sports. This included his Black Cup in Soccer, Black Cup for Curling, Black Trophy for Alberta Intermediate Hockey, Black Shield awards for Intermediate Hockey and for Interscholastic Track and Field, plus numerous small trophies and mementos for sport participation and achievement. He personally was the timekeeper of the first Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Races, the Highland Games, various school track and field meets and was the timer for every Herald Road Race.
He was also a major supporter of agriculture in Alberta, with the Black Shield for Baby Beef Competition spanning 40 years. His love of gladioli was renewed each spring when he chose his best-looking bulbs, planted them in large beds in his garden, nurtured the most promising ones, and if worthy he entered them into the Calgary Horticultural Society annual flower shows (and won a number of prizes).
Along with David E. Black’s business success his dedication to community and the City of Calgary was unrivaled. He was a City of Calgary Alderman from 1919 to 1920. He was Director of the first Calgary Stampede (1912) and was eventually made an honorary life Director of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Nearly unknown even to his family, many times he gave a second chance to worthy individuals needing a hand-up after a minor run in with the law.
Some of his many other accomplishments were:
- Charter Member of the newly founded Calgary Rotary Club (1914) and President of the Rotary Club in 1930, which was Calgary’s first service club. In 1971 he was made an Honorary Lifetime member.
- President of the Board of Trade (1923)
- Charter Member Board of Trade
- Founding member, Knights of Phthias
- Member Ranchman’s Club until 1970
- Member Calgary Golf and Country Club until 1970
- Life Member Royal Arch Mason
- Member of the Chamber of Commerce
- Life Member of the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks
- Life Member, Al Azar Temple 1972
David Ernest Black was a successful businessman who took that extra step through his personal dedication and philanthropy, to make the City of Calgary a better place to live.
Reference notes from granddaughter Wendy Wells, November 2017.