King Edward Village Revisited

Editor’s Note: Usually I just add reader’s comments to the existing blog, but in this case I think the reader deserves her own guest blog.  Vicki Engel responded to my “White House” column in the Calgary Herald’s Neighbours section, January 9, 201, with some heartfelt insights on how the gentrification of her community is destroying the history and perhaps the sense of community she and her family helped foster.

In this column, I discussed how the redevelopment of the historic King Edward School in Calgary’s South Calgary community to an arts centre will be the catalyst for creating an urban village.

Read the blog King Edward Village

The King Edward School today with its grand entrance blocked by an art installation and the big box addition on the right side.  The school sits on a high point in the middle of the block creating a sense of authority, a common characteristic of early 20th century schools.  The schools were the dominant building in most new communities.   

Engel writes:

I read your article about the new plans for King Edward School (where I was a student) and the changes happening in Calgary’s South Calgary community where my father was a resident for over 60 years with much interest.

I believe your comment that the additions to the majestic sandstone King Edward School are ugly is a bit harsh.  From my perspective and experience, the two "ugly" big box additions were very functional.

Here, the girls learned to sew with a needle and thread, then a sewing machine in Home Economics, while the boys learned to build things with wood, hammer and nails in shop classes.  

Parents and students would also go to the gymnasium (big box) for concerts, graduation and yes, gym classes. They may be just big boxes to you, but to me and other students they are part of what made King Edward School able to offer the courses we needed to complete our education without having to leave our community.  

A street in West Hillhurst where all of the mid-century homes are still intact.

An example of the new two story infills that have replace the small post war cottage homes. This street is on the next block west of the previous photo of post war cottages.

An example of the new two story infills that have replace the small post war cottage homes. This street is on the next block west of the previous photo of post war cottages.

Post war homes ready to be torn down in West Hillurst to be replaced by four storey condos with modern design.  The homes had become run down as can be seen by the fence and were an eyesore to the community. 

A small infill condos like this one in Montgomery will replace the tiny post war houses in West Hillhurst.  I have used examples from other Calgary communities to illustrate how infilling i.e. densification and community renewal is happening in all of Calgary's established neighbourhoods within 10 km of Downtown. Many of the new condo blocks are flat roofed buildings that have a more European design than the pitched roofs of prairie homes.   

This seniors' care facility in Hillhurst is  good example of a modern building with a more traditional house-like design that creates an attractive pedestrian experience.  You would never know that there is an at-grade surface parking lot incorporated into this complex on the side of a hill. New infill developments can and should be more respectful of the existing sense of place and design. 

GABEsters vs. Wartime Housing vs. Community

Like most of the students at King Edward School, I had a father who provided for the family and a mother who stayed at home. We didn’t have the two-income high salaries of the GABEster families who are taking over all of the older communities near downtown.

Most mid-century families were single income with six or more people per family, bigger than the three, maybe four person families of today.  We lived in smaller homes, sharing bedrooms and bathrooms.  Learning to share is a key element of fostering a sense of community.

After WWII, the government provided to the soldiers who served in the war, the opportunity to purchase affordable 1.5 storey wartime housing. Dad bought one of these homes, where he and Mom raised seven children over the next 60 years.  People stayed in their community; they didn’t move every few years like they do now. You can’t build a sense of community when everyone is moving all the time. 

Since our family house was sold in 2006, it has been demolished and a 3-storey infill built, which has already had two different tenants. I call them tenants, as they seem to be more like temporary renters, than homeowners and committed community members.

I wonder if any of them are aware or even "think" of the history of the veterans who fought in WW II so they could have the freedoms that have resulted in the present day prosperity, which in turn allows them to afford their big expensive new houses?  

I think the history of South Calgary’s wartime families and housing should be incorporated into the King Edward School site redevelopment.

Modern new town homes in South Calgary next to King Edward School. Site restrictions result in streetscape being dominate by double garage.  The front lawn is moved up to the second floor deck and the roof top patio i.e. less neighbour and community friendly.  Unfortunately there will be no opportunities here for trees or any plantings.

History of Wartime Houses

Wartime home communities exist in every city in Canada. They offer a material glimpse into our collective memory of World War II and the socioeconomic challenges associated with that event.

Between 1941 and 1947, Wartime Housing Limited (later CMHC) built over 30,000 houses to provide affordable housing for munitions workers, returning veterans and their families.

These houses were based on standardized, inexpensive, sometimes pre-fabricated 1.5 storey designs that served as models for future housing initiatives across Canada after the war. Although they were conceived during a time of wartime, these wartime neighbourhoods developed distinct social and cultural networks that don’t exist today.

While some of these neighbourhoods dissolved after the war, many continue to thrive and currently remain a fixture in Canada’s urban areas. An estimated one million wartime houses are still standing in Canada today.

This is part of my family history in this community. It is part of Calgary’s history and it is part of Canada’s history.  It deserves to be recognized and some aspect of it preserved.  The redeveloped King Edward School should be as much about the past as the future. 

Example of new infill developments that fit into established neighbourhoods with mid-20th century home. Use of brick, recessed garages and pitched roof is synergistic with existing homes.

Destruction of wartime houses

Please understand, that when one has grown up in this neighborhood as I have, it makes me rather sensitive to the changes in my community by those who have the money to afford big houses.  Why can’t the new infills respect the past in some aspect of their design and materials?  I truly hope the artists who are going to be using the King Edward School as a multi-purpose art centre will respect the community’s history.  

I hope the artists, planners and developers will start to rethink and rework the history of the neighborhood history with their art, architecture and placemaking, not just ignore it.  Some of the post war cottages must in some way be preserved and incorporated into the new urban village, not just the preservation of the school.

Perhaps some homes could be moved to the school site and become artist’s studio or homes for young artists.

We must do a better job of connecting the past to the present and to the future.

About Vicki Engel

Native Calgarian, born in the Grace Hospital, graduate of Western Canada High School, the Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing, the U of Alberta, and much later, a Central Michigan University off-campus MSA graduate. Her family has been part of the South Calgary community for over 60 years.

Another example of new infill development with attractive staircases, front lawns, no street garages and house-like roof lines.

Everyday Tourist Comments:

I too live in an older Calgary community where the old cottage homes are being torn down on every block to make way for a larger home that will meet the needs and wants of the modern family and compete with the suburban homes. I live in one of the infills Engel comments on. 

However, my home does have a front porch, a pitch roof, vinyl siding, a bit of a homage to the wood siding of the mid 20th century and rear garage. Many visitors to our home have commented, “what great shape it is given it is an older home.” They are surprised to learn it is only 20 years old; many think it dates back to ‘30s or ‘40s.

While I sympathize with Engel, established communities must evolve to meet the expectations of new homebuyers.  Cities like London (ON), Hamilton, Winnipeg and Windsor (cities that were much larger than Calgary after WWII) struggle to sustain healthy inner city communities and desirable downtowns.  They would love to have Calgary’s problem of gentrification.

Example of infill homes with site restrictions that have been resolved with single car garages at front and garage off the alley.  Facade materials are compatible with older homes in the area. The planting of small trees and shrubs also help to make these homes more attractive. 

New Homes New Amenities

Calgary is unique and fortunate to have such strong established communities.  The fact young couples and families are moving in and upgrading the housing stock means these communities will thrive for another generation or two.

It also means the schools, recreation centers and parks will be revitalized; one just has to look at all the new playground equipment in the inner city parks. 

Wonderful new playgrounds are being installed in established neighbourhood as a result of young professional families moving into them.  These GABEsters are willing to invest their own money and fundraise to improve the parks, playgrounds and recreation centres that are near the end of their lifecycle. 

Last Word

I do agree with Engel that a better job could be done of linking the past to the present in the way we design new infill homes and condos.  Infill developers and architects need to do a better job of taking into account the existing sense of place and design in their new developments.

There has be a balance between the preservation of the past and prosperity of the present. While I realize that balance will be different for different people, I am not sure we are that far off having the right balance of modern and traditional design.

I am always amazed at how long it takes to redevelop an existing community.  We have lived in our community for 20+ years now and while there are less and less cottage homes every year, we are still surprised how many still exist.

On our block alone there are still several old cottages. By the time they are all gone, our late 20th century infill will be the historic home on the block. 


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