With a project like WRECK CITY where we are dissecting and examining houses, it’s impossible not to think about the history of the spaces, the former tenants, and the many long years between us and them. As bittersweet as these musings are, we’ve been interested in hearing from people who have accumulated research about the spaces over the years. While we realize that this project couldn’t be possible without working with houses scheduled for imminent demolition, we respect these homes, love them in our own way, and view WRECK CITY as a swan song for the neighbourhood as it morphs into something new once again. The following is a fascinating blog generated by Christine from the Calgary Public Library about the history of 819 5th Avenue NW, one of the houses being transformed as part of WRECK CITY by Buddies in Bad Times and other Artists. To borrow a phrase from artist Camille Betts “[WRECK CITY is] like a wake, only not a sad wake. More like a Mardi Gras wake.” (you can hear more from Camille and others by reading Artists Tranform Houses Facing Wrecking Ball by Stephen Hunt of the Calgary Herald)
POST RE-BLOGGED FROM THE CALGARY PUBLIC LIBRARY’S COMMUNTY HERITAGE AND FAMILY HISTORY PAGE
BLOG BY CHRISTINE H.
I never like to see old houses demolished. I was especially sad to see that one of the Sunnyside homes on 5th Avenue slated for demolition is one we are very familiar with, number 819. We have images of that house and of a family that lived there in our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. We were so attracted to the postcards that we created a presentation designed to highlight just how much information can be found with only a few little clues. We called it “Ancestors and Their Attics” and presented it during Historic Calgary Week. We started with the postcard above which had the names Felix, Jo and Eva and “taken in July 1914 at Calgary” written on the back. With that little bit of information we were able to track down another card with the last name of the family, who lived at 819 5 Avenue NW for a brief time between 1914 and 1915.
We were able to spin that information into a bit of a family narrative. Felix was a railway man. At the time the family lived in Calgary, he was working at the powerhouse behind the new Palliser Hotel. The way we found that was by searching for photos to use to illustrate the CPR, where Felix said he worked in the 1916 census. In searching, we found the picture of the powerhouse with “Where Felix Worked” written in the same hand as on the other postcard. The cards had been acquired years apart. Using this we followed the family to North Carolina, where Felix continued to work on the railroad, moving through the ranks to brakeman (as listed on his 1917 US draft registration card) eventually becoming an locomotive engineer. Jo and Eva were both born in Kansas, but Felix’s place of birth remains an enigma to us. That he was registered to vote in Calgary (we found his name in a municipal voters list) suggests he was Canadian but some documents say he was born in France. The family had lived in the States, they were there for the 1910 census, moved to Calgary for a brief time, and then back to the States by 1917, when Felix was required to register for the draft.
The family was renting the house. We know this because the owner of the house is listed in the tax assessment records for 1911 (the year the house was built) as David Hambly, who was a contractor. He also appears in the 1911 census at 819 with his wife Isabella, his son Harry and daughter Kathleen as well as his father James, who was also a contractor. In 1911 their neighbours were Robert Wilkinson and his family in 817, William Edward (?) and his wife in 817a (the back of the house) and then Hugh McPherson, all the way down the street at 827. It looks like 823 and 825 were not yet completed or weren’t occupied.
Sunnyside was a growing community back in 1911 and in a way, these houses are providing a home, albeit on the verge of their demise, for another community. Wreck City is a project that has devised a way to say a glorious farewell to these old homes. By installing artists in each of the houses, the final days of these old dears will be marked with beauty and invention. As I say, we never want to say goodbye to these old homes, but if we must, let it be with a party. Check out the Wreck City website for information about the houses and their artists and join in the farewell party.