Alison Jackson was last seen heading out the door with a camera slung over her shoulder. For more than three decades from 1953 until her death in 1987, Jackson passionately pursued her mission to record Calgary’s history through photographs. As a native Calgarian, a pioneer advocate of heritage preservation, a librarian and a photographer, Jackson was determined to keep Calgary’s past alive. There was never enough time to save all of the city’s old buildings on film. With an impeccable instinct for what buildings were historically important long before "heritage preservation" became part of the city’s vocabulary, she managed to capture the best side of about 1,000 of Calgary’s fine old structures. Many of them, like the first permanent courthouse built in 1888 and demolished in 1958, are no longer part of the cityscape. In a 1978 interview with the Calgary Herald, Jackson said the demolition of the city’s first courthouse upset her more than the loss of any other building. "It was a dreadful shame it was destroyed. It was associated with many people important in Calgary’s history including Senator James Lougheed, R.B.Bennett, Sir Frederick Haultain and Colonel J.F.Macleod."
Born in Calgary in 1912 on the cusp of the first big boom, Jackson was part of the frontier city’s unfolding history. Her father, of Scottish descent, owned a local bakery while her mother tended hearth and home at 813 15th Avenue S.W.
Alison attended Central School (now Carl Safran) and graduated from the University of Alberta. Her lengthy career with Calgary Public Library stretched from 1941 to 1974. She worked first as a librarian and in 1957 was appointed as Head of Cataloguing. During the early years with the library she left briefly to further her education. In 1945 she earned a Bachelor of Library Science from the University of Washington and in 1951 a Masters degree from the University of Michigan. Although she had many other interests, including travel, collecting antique dolls and singing with the Grace Presbyterian Church choir, she devoted much of her life to raising public awareness about Calgary history through slide shows and talks to community groups and school children. In 1975 Jackson’s photographs were used in two publications written by Trudy Soby in celebration of Calgary’s 100th Anniversary. Be It Ever So Humble and A Walk Through Old Calgary were the first popular books ever published about Calgary’s historic buildings. Trudy Soby, (now Trudy Cowan), Chair of the Lougheed House Conservation Society, remembers Jackson’s commitment to heritage. "Alison loved Calgary’s history with a passion. She felt that the fabric around her was disintegrating and that somehow it had to be held and kept. She photographed the grand, the glorious and the ordinary."
Jackson once modestly commented about her hobby of photographing buildings, "I never dreamt that when I started this that anybody else would be interested."