Calgary memories part 1

Road trip post for 2011/08/11

Today I spent the afternoon driving around Calgary, friend Frink in tow, rephotographing important sites from my youth.  My parents and I moved to Calgary for the first time when I was 5 or 6 years old, my father coming out first to get a job in the booming construction industry.  He got us a basement room at 1016 19th Avenue SE, otherwise known as McKay Lodge.


It’s a weird building. It looks like a large house, but it’s a rooming house and at the time had seven apartments in it, plus an additional room in the attic that went with one of the apartments.

We lived in this place for five years, perhaps my most formative years, and I have loads of memories associated with it.  A few follow…

My bedroom was a tiny nook under the stairs leading down to the basement apartment.  Here’s my father repairing one of my Tonka toys for me.  The photo was taken from the stairs looking into my room:


My bed was to the right, under the stairs, and just above it there was a trap door in the wall that led to a crawlspace under the white windowed veranda seen in the previous photo; I would sometimes crawl out there and use it as a play space.

The downstairs apartment was too cramped and my father was making good money in construction, so we expanded by renting a second apartment in the same house.  We took the second floor front apartment, the balcony of which you can also see in the house photo above, and with it we got that spare room in the attic, which became my private playroom.  That was pretty sweet.

This is where my parents started homeschooling me.  I did have friends in the area, though.


This neighborhood (called Ramsay) was full of native kids at the time, and most of my friends came from that set.  Pictured above, brothers Francis and Norbert, and Stephanie (who had a nearly identical sister, Yolanda, who I sadly don’t have a photo of).  There were a couple others as well as some white kids that I played with.  It was easy to get the interest of other kids because I had lots of toys – tons of Lego, and later on a pedal go-kart and the Atari VCS.  Stories behind those two items I won’t go into right now.

Anyway, these native kids were a lot less naive than me and were always playing jokes on me and trying to get me in trouble.  For the most part it didn’t work; not being subjected to the same conditioning they went though at public school, I tended to be resistant to peer pressure.  Looking back at some of the things they said and did that I didn’t understand at the time, I now wonder just how much abuse and emotional trouble they were living under.  Most of them had badly alcoholic and disinterested parents, and one year all of them – every native family in Ramsay – were uprooted and moved down to Ogden, another neighborhood to the south, and not long after that shipped off to a reservation named Sandy something – there are dozens of reservations with the word Sandy in their name, so I have no idea where they actually went.  I often wonder what became of them and hope it was something better than the standard fate of native kids.

Just a few blocks from McKay Lodge is Scotchman’s Hill, which is a steep bluff overlooking the Stampede grounds and is a favorite spot for watching the fireworks – and has a good view of the downtown skyline.  Here’s a skyline photo circa 1995:


Picture-in-picture today:


And, for good measure, a panorama:


My mother and I would often ride our bikes around the right limb of Scotchman’s Hill, going to the downtown Co-Op for groceries.  Just across the river in the foreground of the above photo is this unremarkable scene:


It’s an important spot to me because of what happened here.  One day on our way to get groceries, I was riding my bike along this sidewalk and there was a small paper bag in the way.  Being an energetic kid who liked doing bike stunts, I was going to run over the bag just because.  Then it occurred to me that there might be a brick or some other nasty surprise in the bag, and avoided it at the last second.

As I rode past the bag, I distinctly heard a “Mew!” come from inside.  I jumped off my bike and waved my following mother away from the bag.  Sure enough, there was a bedraggled kitten inside.  My mother speculated that someone was going to drown it in the river but lost heart.  I sure was glad I hadn’t run over the bag.  We took the kitten home and nursed it back to health, and named it Catmatix.  He grew up to be a fierce and somewhat wild cat – when we went camping we would keep him on a long leash, but he would still try to catch rabbits.  He also wasn’t too bright – a few years later he disappeared in the winter, and we’re pretty sure he must have drowned trying to catch ducks or geese on the half-frozen river.

Onward to the aforementioned Co-Op.  Now a parking lot:


There was a good cafeteria in the grocery store that used to stand here; it’s where I developed my love for the hamburger deluxe, and pioneered the idea of the standard test burger (onions and ketchup only) as a means for comparing burger joints.  But what I most remember about this location is that it’s where I learned about the troubling concept of death.  It just came up in conversation once when my mother and I were heading home from here, and she tried to explain it to me as well as she could.  I found it disturbing to think that the time available to me was finite, even if it was an incomprehensibly long time to someone of that age (the year between birthdays was *forever*!) and I wondered how everyone seemed to be at peace with the idea and why it rarely came up in conversation.  I know now that the idea of death is an enormous psychological black hole that few people can deal with, but it was that day in this place that started my ruminations about it.


After five years, for some reason I don’t recall, we moved out of McKay Lodge.  Probably because the two apartments were too small and inconvenient.  We rented a house on 1a Street, just on the other side of the Stampede grounds.  Here’s my parents behind the house with the wooden camper my father built:1a_back

This entire block has now been demolished, and I expect they’re going to put townhouses in – that’s what has happened to the rest of the neighborhood.  Across the alley though there still stands a building which at the time housed a stereo & electronics shop, which is where my parents bought my my first programmable computer for Christmas: a Commodore VIC-20.  That plus the tape drive, a 16K RAM expander and a couple of games set them back about $1000 back in the day.  But it’s what got me started down the garden path to software development and game development in particular; this house is where I first learned to program.


Jumping forward many years to 1993, when we returned to Calgary, we lived in this house in Inglewood, not far from Ramsay:


I was still avidly programming, but in the meantime had upgraded to a ‘386 PC and had learned to program in C and assembly languages.  I was living here when I started taking computer science at Mount Royal College (now University), and when I met via Fidonet BBSing a small group of friends who I’m still very close with today.

This is also the house where my two dear dogs passed away.


Coal was part collie and part Newfoundland dog.  She had been mine since she was a puppy – her mother was also our dog.  Pictured above not long before she died peacefully of old age.  She was about 19 years old at the time.  Good dog and I still miss her.


Sporty was not specifically my dog – more my mother’s, but it makes no difference.  He was part alsatian or German shephard and part something else; we adopted him after he was full grown (perhaps I’ll tell that story when I get to Manitoba). Anyway, one day when I was walking him near this house, he was attacked by a much larger dog whose owner was not keeping it under control.  Sporty suffered a back injury as a result, and there was nothing the vet could do for him.  After a year of watching him barely able to walk and in constant pain, we decided to euthanize him.  It was a heartbreaking decision but I think it was the right thing to do.


Moving on, here’s then and now photos of me in front of this house.  Thanks to Frink for taking the updated version today.


As you can see, I have gained some weight in the intervening years. :(

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the stories behind the places I revisited today, but I’ll cut it off there.

We also did a little shopping, and in the evening gather for dinner and some video watching with a couple of other local friends.

Comments are closed.