Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Houses in the 110 block on 89th Avenue are quickly coming down. One day a house has siding. The next day it’s naked. Two days later its front steps rise up from the street, leading to a pile of rubble. It takes a while to build a house, a shorter time to tear it down, no matter how long it stood there. This isn’t the first time a house has disappeared from 89th Avenue. A house can go very, very fast. One day it’s there. The next day it’s gone. Several years ago one house disappeared from the street. It was worrying to think that a house could simply go. But we all survived. But this situation is different. They’re tearing down 9 houses on 89th Avenue, the very block where Hope House stands. Even for a group of people who spend their working days focusing on hope, it’s not easy to come to work every day and not feel sad on a street where 9 houses are coming down. There are the minor inconveniences—no driving down the street, no parking. There is the total sensory involvement—the tinkle of shattering glass, the beep beep of the machine as it backs up to change position and take another bite. Now it’s a bite of the roof, next a bite of the wall. There are the challenges of working within metres of a major construction site. You do a lot of shouting. No more quiet meditations to help people deal with their problems. As if that isn’t enough, they’re also taking down the trees in 9 yards. Too bad there were so many trees in the 9 yards. Every day the view from the front of Hope House opens up a little. “I can see all the way to International House,” says Rachel. She says it sadly. It is clear that nobody at Hope House minded not being able to see International House. And then there are the experiences of a blind traveller on a street where the only predictable thing is that you can’t predict anything. Okay, I am THE HOPE LADY, so I’ll switch gears here and admit that things can get interesting. Construction guys are keenly aware that a blind person works on this block. They worry. They approach me. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’d like to give you my phone number. Then you can call me whenever you want to walk down this street. I’ll come out to help you.” Do you know how often guys want to give me their phone number? Not very often. Still, the task of finding the situation amusing can only carry you so far. Amid all the grieving and unsettling, there’s the good news. It’s good news that the university is growing. Who could be sad about that? More people want to study. More people want quality accommodation. The removal of 9 aging houses will allow further construction of the east Campus Village. East Campus Village, by all accounts, is a nice place to live. The best news is that Hope House is not one of the 9 houses. It is one of four that are staying on this rapidly changing block. With a little luck, it will still be standing when all the rubble is cleared away. “It’s in good condition,” explains the man from the university. So this old house will be put once again to the task of making the best of circumstances beyond its control. Hope House is a senior citizen among Edmonton houses. It’s celebrating its 96th birthday this year. Of course, it wasn’t always Hope House. But it’s had a long history of adapting to change. It was built for a family—a squarish 2-storey dwelling with a glassed-in sun porch topped up with a generous attic. For extra style it took on 2 second-floor balconies. Some time in the 1940’s it reached out in back to grasp a lean-to, a pantry maybe to augment its insubstantial kitchen. Some time in the 1960’s it graduated from family ownership to University owned property. It opened its doors to student renters—some legally there, some sleeping free of charge in the tiny space beside its huge basement furnace. Some time in the 1980’s it participated in the development of the Canadian Encyclopedia. One day the University of Alberta offered the dilapidated house at 11032 to the volunteers at the Hope Foundation. People with disabilities would be visiting, so the house went modern with a wheelchair accessible main floor bathroom where the pantry used to be. In the mid-1990’s it got an elevator. The attic space was opened wide enough for 6 desks. The leaning front porch was raised up a centimeter a day until it was level. One year the house got a new furnace. Two years ago it got new windows. Lucky Hope House. Somebody—no, many people—wanted it to have a future. And so they kept working on it until it was so cherished that it won the right to stand with three others on a street where 9 houses are being knocked down. It was, as they said, in good condition. There’s no getting around it. It’s sad to come to work on a street where 9 old houses are being knocked down. “We have to be reasonable,” I say in my HOPE LADY voice. “We have to take the long view. Two hundred years ago this street was a patch of bush along the river. One hundred years ago it was a farmer’s field. Last year it was a 2-sided row of old houses, most of them in deplorable condition. In two years a student will move here from Toronto, or New York, or Australia or Hong Kong and 89th Avenue, the way it will look at that time, will feel like home.”

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