One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

April 25, 2012

House History

I spent all day today with my nose buried in the Saskatoon Henderson’s directories for 1911 through 1965. It was amazing good times.

As a bit of background, there’s some confusion regarding the age of our house. When we bought it, the listing didn’t specify the year (as they almost always do), it just said “old time”. I think our realtor said that the listing agent said they couldn’t track it down reliably. Then, when we were going over the title transfer with the lawyer, we said something about its age being a mystery and I’m pretty sure he said, “What? No, 1920.” And we said, “really? Just like that?” And he said, “Yeah, 1920.” Pretty decisively.

And we were like, “Oh, okay. We thought maybe older, but 1920 probably makes sense.”

But then if you look up our house using the city’s online property search, that database says “1940”. To which we responded, “Oh I don’t think that can be right.”

After a while of living here, I posited to Ian that perhaps our main floor layout had been changed rather significantly. When you come in, there is a stairway immediately to your right, which is typical of old houses around here. What isn’t typical is that the stairway has a complete wall boxing it in, even though it has a balustered railing. What is also not typical is that the space to the left of the entryway is just completely open to the livingroom. Which is lovely and spacious, but ‘open’ rooms just aren’t seen much in character homes here either. So looking at it, and thinking about other character homes I’ve been in, I came up with this theory that there used to be a wall between the entryway and the livingroom – which essentially demarcated a long hallway stretching out ahead of you on entering. That hallway would take you into the kitchen – though in our house the end of it has been walled off. And the wall next to the stairs wouldn’t be there, you would be able to look over the railing down on the hallway from the stairs. Additionally I figured that the door to the basement would have been at the end of that hallway, but had been moved into the kitchen.

As time passed and we debated this theory, Ian noted that there were a lot of houses in our neighbourhood that, from the outside, looked like potential twins of our house. They’re the same height, same roofline, similar window configurations. So one day I sat down with google streetview and put together a list of addresses and then looked them up on the city’s property search to note their square footage and year built. And found that our “twin” houses were predominantly built in 1912. Which about makes sense in relation to when the neighbourhood was developed.

And yet ours theoretically wasn’t built until 1920. Or 1940.

We wondered if a first house had been built on the lot and then something had happened to it and they’d rebuilt in the style of the existing houses. Or if the house had been built in 1912, but something had happened to it and it had required significant enough reconstruction that the city considered it a new building as of that point. We also wondered if maybe the lot had belonged to a neighbouring house (not uncommon to build on a double lot in order to have a grander side yard) and then eventually sold off. But that didn’t really explain the house style.

So when I started getting into the Henderson’s directories today I thought, “ah, here’s a chance to see how far back residents at our address were recorded. Whether it goes back past 1940 or 1920 or whether there might be some significant gaps that suggest something.

So the records do go back to 1912. But also, it did sit vacant in 1929. And again from 1962 until at least 1965. Poor house. We also know that it sat vacant for three or four years at the end of the 70s after a significant fire on the back wall of the kitchen.

But here’s the part that I found really kind of cool. I was working my way back in time from 1965, looking through the street listings just to get the name of the principle resident for each year. And as I did so, I would occasionally glance at the neighbours’ names. There are only three houses left on our side of the street – everything else having been knocked down for apartments and condos. Next to us is an adorable 700 square foot cottage. And past that on the corner is a kind of grand foursquare. Not immensely grand, you know. But it has its original wood crafstman style entry door and although many of the windows have been upgraded, it still has original wood on a number of windows. I suspect that it’s very lovely and interesting inside.

Well, as I was going back through the years, I noticed a particular surname on that house from 1965 going back to 1962. I just noticed it because it was the same as someone I’d heard about in passing years ago. At 1961, the given name was different. And then as I went back more and more years, that name was the same year after year.

On our house, the occupant changed very, very frequently. No wonder there’s nothing original left in our house, eh?

At some point, I took a break from the Henderson’s and googled the name of the guy who was listed as the principle occupant of the house on the corner. And I found a lot on him: references to his being a former Deputy Chief of Police, that there are archival photos of his 1961 funeral in some provincial database, and cool footnotes about the length of time he served on the force and being one of the principles in forming the Police Association in 1920.

We have brand new neighbours in that house and I kind of wanted to knock on their door and give them all this info.

I went back to my Henderson’s (what do you do when it’s possessive and then plural? Henderson’ses?) and worked back another few years and came to 1923 where there ceased to be any mention of that address. (Which makes sense too because I knew that there had previously been a significant Temperance Colony house built on that site, that was obviously a different structure). So then I was like, “Oh my god, he was actually the first owner, probably commissioned or built it himself. And then lived there until his death. And it stayed in the family for at least another four years after that. How tremendously cool.”

And I admit, I felt a little jealous because our house’s occupants were turning out to be a litany of unresearchable John Doe types with no attachment to the house at all.

And then I got into the 1918 directory and I saw his name again. But this time it was next to our address.

And he was here in 1917 and 1916. Prior to that, there was a different occupant every year. I think this may actually have been a rental property owned by the brothers who also owned the livery at the other end of the block and frequently rented to their drivers. We’ll see when we actually do title searches. But still, this dude lived here for three years. And when he was ready to start his own household, he came back five years later and built his two doors down in the same style.

I feel like he was probably the first person to love this house. And I kind of love him for that.

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