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House History Serendipity

January 29, 2015

I recently moved to Edmonton’s Westmount Heritage area, which is one of the oldest and most historically interesting neighbourhoods in the city.  Several of my neighbour’s homes sport plaques naming the initial inhabitants, and those houses, plus the overall character of the neighbourhood is being preserved through architectural guidelines.  My house is not the original on the lot, so when I decided to research my house history, I knew I was really researching the lot, and the original house, but still I was interested to know who might have lived there.

 

 

I began by searching online through voters lists and census records and then visited  the City of Edmonton Archives to see what they would suggest. They pointed me towards the Fire Insurance Maps.  From these, I saw that in 1913, the lot was vacant, but by the 1950’s, a stucco house existed there.  I wasn’t quite sure when, however, it had appeared.

 

I read more about the founding of Westmount and the growth of the city thereafter.  Apparently Westmount developed very quickly in the period from 1912-14, but then the bubble burst[1], and development stagnated.  Many lots that had been purchased on speculation remained vacant- perhaps my lot was one of these? Many of these lots were returned to the city due to tax arrears and the land was often subsequently rented out for gardening[2].   Perhaps my lot was used in this way prior to having a home built on it.

 

I followed the little house through the Henderson’s City Directories, finding the inhabitants to be postal clerks, barmen, and welders.  Sadly, the house was left vacant for most of the 1970’s.  The house does not appear in the directory prior to the 1940’s, hence that is probably when it was built- unfortunately, too recently for me to expect to find famous Edmonton founders living there.   However, I still found something very surprising.  Amongst the names of inhabitants is that of one of my great uncles, who died before I was born.  He (and my great aunt) lived on the lot for four years in the 1940's.  His name was fairly common, but the directory also gave the name of the trucking company he owned.  That too sounded familiar from family lore.  I ordered up his clippings file from the archives, and found information on both his company, and his obituary, so I was able to verify that he was indeed my relative.  What a surprising twist, unknown to all of my close living relatives who would have been too young at the time to remember such a detail.  This was one of those goosebump moments that keep genealogists coming back for more!  If I’d had any doubts about my move to my new neighbourhood, I can’t help but think now that it was somehow fated.

 

My research continues... next to contact Land Titles to see if they can add any pieces to the puzzle.

 

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[1] Lori Yanish and Shirley Lowe, Edmonton’s West Side Story: The history of the original West End of Edmonton from 1870, (Edmonton, Alberta: 124 Street and Area Business Association, 1991), 75.

 

[2] Lori Yanish and Shirley Lowe, Edmonton’s West Side Story: The history of the original West End of Edmonton from 1870, (Edmonton, Alberta: 124 Street and Area Business Association, 1991), 77.

 

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Colleen Murray

@cmgenealogy