“There are a dozen cities where one might choose to grow old, their literary homecomings thick with temptation. Those are the places that seethe with pilgrims, where postcard racks adorn sidewalks and the same bells have rung for centuries, tours of significant sites available hourly. But those cities tastes of their own indigestion, wield a language lethargic with habit. They are complacent; their bones crack when they shift”- Requiem (excerpt), Aritha van Herk from In This Place (2011)
Is there a better description of everything the Canadian city of Calgary, Alberta is not? Dynamic, with seemingly boundless growth and aspiration, the city’s “Be Part of the Energy” campaign goes far beyond the region’s strong relationship to the oil & gas industry, to deeply reflect its identity. But beyond the reverential tone of Requiem’s opening stanza, beyond the sense of gratitude Calgarians surely have for the economic windfall of a place which can afford to be so busy and constantly reinvent itself, there emerges a concern for what is lost and a desire to understand what is happening. As van Herk continues,
“What sets us wandering past signs and into sun-drenched hideouts, where we begin to talk about the way we were, traces of a present already slipping away?”
The more years you spend here, often many more than you expected, the more likely you are to see the endless redevelopment and sprawl as strange as it inevitably encroaches on memory. In Calgary’s most southern neighbourhoods, past Fish Creek Park, “the deep south”, there is a collective memory that Midnapore, one of these neighbourhoods, “used to be a town”. Regardless of its humble origins, the area seemed to follow in Calgary’s “dynamic” footsteps, growing and changing extensively in the 23 years I’ve lived here for. Trying to sort through all the changes I saw growing up, I was led to try and determine what the area was like in decades past. After seeing most of what the Public Library, Glenbow Museum and University of Calgary Library had to offer on the subject, I wrote down the following about the area’s past:
“No condos, no suburbia, no overpasses, no C-Train, no fences, no billboards. No clutter”
This picture, shows how sparse the original hamlet was. Its peak population was only 519 residents in 1969, and it was never more than a couple blocks hugging Macleod Trail around present day James McKevitt Road and 146 Avenue SE, with a few more farms and other buildings in the outlying area. For comparison, I tried to match up a present day shot to the 1959 picture. My first attempt was in summer:
Which turned out about as good as it looks. So, I tried again in winter:
And well…blame the season, blame the trees. Blame my poor photography skills, or my lack of a wide angle lens. Tell me that I should have gone an acre up (alright) or an acre back (nope, I was just about in people’s backyards along Midridge Place). The Providence Care Centre being constructed by winter didn’t help, nor did the freshly planted trees in the foreground. Even taking all of these things into consideration, it’s nearly impossible to recognize the area.
Though it’s pretty easy to tell there is a lot more going on here now than there was then. There are the houses on the left, the trees and parking lot of the retirement home on the right and apartment buildings straight ahead. Meanwhile, the most obvious elements of the 1959 photo are long gone.
Straight ahead is the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator of Midnapore, which was demolished in 1986.
To the right is the original Father Lacombe Home, most of which burned down in 1999, though the remaining structures were used for St. Mary’s University. The grove of trees across Macleod trail is still there, though now framed by a Lutheran Church, a hideous fence and cursed condos:
Meanwhile the cattle fences in the foreground of the original have been replaced with traffic barriers, with a much different purpose. Most of the other little buildings in the photo have been replaced with something else too. Attempting to understand all of this, and realizing that there is a lot more to the area than I ever experienced, left me with a lot more questions.
What arises from all of this is, with so much lost, and even more gained, what is the point of it all? Why do some things remain for centuries, while others are lost after a few years? Even in this area, and not visible in the 1959 photo, are two churches in Midnapore which have been there for over a hundred years, and are often seen as a landmark in the area. The elevator and Lacombe home were seen as landmarks too; is there anything else which is now gone but was once held in high regard? Is there anything more recent which holds the same reputation? What, if anything, serves to support and define the community? And who are some of the people behind all of this?
Here I will explore my own memories, the area’s history, and the collective experience of the area’s residents, to try and find some answers.