Tuesday, February 21, 2012

King Eddy Reigns Again

Sharon Wildwind

King Eddy was really popular in Calgary.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so informal. His full name was Edward Albert Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India. He was called Bertie for obvious reasons.

If you’re still lost, try the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Prince of Wales longer than anyone else, and the second longest-serving heir apparent in British history. He’s the person that the Edwardian Era (1901 to 1910) was named after.

The Canadian prairie provinces were being settled like mad during the Edwardian Era. All across Canada King Edward streets, apartments, hotels, parks, and schools sprang up like mushrooms. In Calgary two of the King’s namesakes—the King Eddy Hotel and King Edward School—have not fared well in past decades, but that’s about to change.


The King Edward Hotel, lovingly known locally as The King Eddy, was originally a commercial traveller’s hotel, situated downtown across the street from the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks. As you might imagine, the neighborhood has always been, well, iffy. Both the hotel and the neighborhood survived two world wars, prohibition (Yes, Alberta had its own anti-liquor laws), and many of Calgary famous boom/bust economic cycles. It morphed from a traveller’s hotel, to an illicit bar, to a single-room-only hotel to, in the 1970s, the best blues bar in Alberta. (Unless you’re from Edmonton, in which case you are likely under the misapprehension that Blues on Whyte was the best blues bar in Alberta.)

Though part of the building has been declared a heritage site, the entire building is now shut down, waiting to be a centrepiece of a new national music center, which is to be built, literally, around the hotel. I think the huge metal heart, which was welded across the front doors to secure them says it all. The King Eddy still has a place in a lot of hearts in Calgary.

The music centre and a lot of other things are part of a project, currently called the East Village Experience, to revive part of downtown. Reviving the east end is another thing that has survived multiple Calgary boom/bust economic cycles. I think this is the third revival promised since I moved to Calgary. I may have lost count. The other two never happened because of the bust part of those cycles, but I really hope this one goes ahead. Not only does that part of town need a make-over, but I would love to hear blues ringing once again from the King Eddy and its environs.

While I do hope the music center project succeeds, what my fingers are really crossed for is the King Edward School project.

Calgary sits on a massive sandstone deposit. On November 7, 1886, a large number of downtown Calgary’s wooden buildings burned. After the fire City Council passed a law that downtown buildings and some other buildings, like schools, were henceforth to be built of sandstone. King Edward was one of those sandstone schools.

There was nothing iffy about the residential neighborhood in which the school was built, and nothing iffy about the school either. Hardwood floors. Sixteen-foot-wide halls. Huge windows. Monogrammed cast-iron doors on the basement boilers. Decorative Canadian maple leafs sandblasted into the side of the building.

Time took its toll. As student populations declined, one wing was partially torn down so there would be less space to heat or maintain. An assortment of functional (read unattractive) sub-buildings were attached hither and yon as need dictated. Eventually the school closed and the doors were padlocked.

Last week a consortium announced that the school and its former playground, will be turned into what's being called an arts incubator.

(If you choose to view the video about the project, my apologies for the political message that precedes the video. It's campaign time in Alberta, and I can't figure out how to turn off that annoying advertisement.)

The school's truncated wing will be restored to its original proportions by adding a glassed-in meeting space and gallery area. Classrooms will again be used as classrooms, this time for art classes and lectures. Art groups will have office space. Developers will build combined apartments/studio spaces where artists can live and work in the same place.

Even the thought that my husband and I might one day snag one of those studio apartments makes me salivate. It’s a long shot, but I can dream, and if we never snag one, there will still be classes, readings, art events, and all manner of fun things to do in that wonderful space.

Bring on the revival of both King Eddies!
Quote for the week:
Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. ~Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987), American mythologist, writer and lecturer


Leslie Budewitz said...

Fingers crossed, Sharon -- I've been in several art studio conversions in Seattle and think they're marvelous!

Peg Nichols said...

Nothing to do with King Eddy, but I am reminded that today is Shrove Tuesday. Long story short: My daughter and I were in Luxemberg. Big, beefy British guy in John Bull suit is desperately looking for someone to represent Great Britain in the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race. National honor at stake. He runs up to Daughter, begs her to run in the race for the UK. Daughter protests, "But we're not from England, we're Kansans." Bellows John Bull: "Close enough!"

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, Peg.