One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

May 13, 2012

House History

I’m still researching my house’s history. I’ve been through the Henderson’s from its beginning up to 1966 and I’m going through the land titles from 2000 back and have reached 1947.

I’ve discovered another connection between this house and another house on the block – but I’ll try to put the whole story together for a blog post later, when my information is a little more complete.

For right now I will say that researching a house of this vintage in this city is very frustrating. My friend with the 1940s house emailed the city archivist who emailed back that day, “Oh yes, we have plans for your house.” Me, I didn’t hear back for two weeks – and, bless him, I think it’s because he spent a bunch of time going through the Henderson’s and old tax rolls for me because there wasn’t anything else. He explained when he finally replied that in the 90s, the city had made the decision to destroy its 600,000+ store of plans and permits. Many of them were in poor shape and they weren’t thought to have much value and they didn’t know how popular house history searches were going to become, etc, etc. He said they have some plans – but what to keep was determined by dollar value. I sent back a list of nearby addresses that I think are built on the same plan, but he didn’t have anything for them either.

His tax roll info did confirm some of my suspicions about when the house was built and by whom. So that was nice.

But then also, the land titles website is some kind of awful to get through. The only way to go through the history is to start with a modern title number, find its document, look up the referring title number and then find that one’s document, etc. Only, most documents aren’t in the system. You’ll find a record of the document number, you can then click an icon to create a request for that document and sometime later (usually within a couple of hours) the document will have been located and imaged and put into the database.

So I’m able to get through about two titles a day. Which, when you have 100 years to get through can be a pain, especially if people were buying and selling your house frequently (which, in the latter half of the century, they were). Also, a couple of times, the format of the title numbers changed and I’d find a document record, then submit the request and either get an error, or the request would go through but then later the record would be updated to say it wasn’t valid. Then I had to email for help and get told, “oh, sometimes if you reverse these portions of the title number you’ll find it that way.” Ohhhh.

And then there is that there just isn’t much in the way of house photos in the library’s local history room.

I do kind of wish that anyone in possession of old family photos that depict any historical portion of the city (building and house interiors, exteriors, street views, community activities) would donate them to the local history room. Just because this whole search has made me spend a lot of time thinking about how it’s not like no-one ever took photos of the things I want to see. They’re just… somewhere. Somewhere private and unsearchable and owned by people who don’t even know how badly they’re wanted.

On another historical topic, last month I saw a listing on Kijiji for a little character house located in the neighbourhood that I grew up in – $1500 if you moved it off the lot for them. The listing said they wanted to develop on the lot but the house was so cute and would make a great cottage or starter home and they wanted to see if it could possibly be preserved.

I emailed the woman with the listing to say that we weren’t in any position to buy and move a house – but that if she didn’t have any takers, maybe she would consider letting me and Ian come see what the house had for character fittings and make her an offer for its hardware, trim or windows.

She did end up having a bit of interest in the whole house but mostly people were kind of flaky and dragged their heels a little bit until she said that they just had to get moving on building so they were going to tear it down. We ended up getting two perfect little piano windows with their original wood finish. Three taller windows, these ones painted. Three bedroom doors, two closet doors, and five heating vents and five cold air returns and the front-door. Additionally, when we were there taking things apart, they said, “go ahead and pull out all the wood trim if you like.

We haven’t done anything with those goodies yet. Our personal project at the top of the list is still finishing the stairs and making them safe. At the same time, we’re helping my mom and step-dad build some kitchen cabinets in lieu of birthday presents.

In the meantime, the piano windows are leaning against our dining room wall looking picturesque and there’s a pile of doors and wood in our garage taking up ridiculous space.

Researching the house’s history makes me feel like I’m walking around seeing my house and neighbourhood in layers. It sounds cheesy, but I literally step out the front door to go somewhere and look around and behind all the apartment buildings and the paved street and boulevard, I feel like I can almost see all these little yards with quaint fences, a big old schoolhouse on the corner, the street a mess of mud and ruts. When Ian and I sit in the livingroom at the end of the day and chat over a cup of tea, I imagine that the nook at the front is gone and the back room is a lean-to kitchen again, I wonder how many children have been sent up to bed in this house, how many adults had their evening conversations in that living room.

Among the list of early occupants – the time when I think the house was rented out, I’ve found one man who worked in the newspaper industry – working as an operator at our local paper and there’s a picture online of him, years earlier, in the press room of the Calgary Herald. There was another occupant that I found in a photo of the “union of typographers”. I told this to Ian. “So,” he said, “we might not be the first ones to debate fonts in this livingroom.”

But also, researching the history of houses in the neighbourhood leaves me a little melancholy. I read stretches of title ownership that end in a transfer to relatives “as executors for the estate of”. I see occupant lists change as husbands die and widows grow old alone in a house where they spent forty years raising their children (not this house, but neighbouring houses). I see children who moved away then move back home in the year or so before their parent dies. Not like modern records that just end in the implication that, “then they sold and moved somewhere else”.

Though Ian and I talk about planning to stay here forever, I wonder if that will actually work out for us. Nobody grows old in the house where they raised their kids anymore.

Partly the issue is that mortgages are so big these days. Once the kids are grown (and, I suppose, provided they do move out), if the house isn’t paid off, it would be foolish of us to keep on putting living expenses into a bunch of space we don’t need.

On the 1963 title for this house, it was valued at $4,000. And although that was the estate transfer and probably undervalued, it’s not really anomalous; it sold five years later for less than $10,000. Can you even imagine?



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  1. Alison

     /  2012-05-14

    I was in the (older, dirtier) antique mall yesterday and looked briefly through a pile of old photographs. It just made me sad – pictures of several generations all spiffed up gathered to be photographed with a new baby, someone’s wedding picture, for goshsakes. How do important pictures like that end up for sale in some antique stall for 50 cents?

    But on a happier note, there was that story a few months back of the Edmonton dude who wandered into a Winnipeg antique store – not because he was an antique buff, but because he was killing time – and found his own family’s pictures. True, his family was kind of a big deal here, but what are the odds?


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