“It was the 'bad' part of town then too,” my mother says. “The poor part of town. People didn’t have a lot money. But we didn’t care. People helped each other.”
By Audrey Whitson | September 3, 2020
My mother’s family spent more than a year in Boyle Street. The family arrived from Saskatchewan in the fall of 1935. She was eight years old; it was the middle of the Great Depression. Her parents ran a rooming house on 101A Avenue, a few doors down from the first German-Canadian Club in Edmonton, the Edelweiss. While the old club building still stands, the house is long gone, yet in the middle of a hot July afternoon she remembers the exact spot, now a bare parking lot, in what is now called The Quarters. It was 13 blocks to Sacred Heart School, straight down 96th Street, and she walked it every day.
The Salvation Army has always been part of the fabric of the neighbourhood, she tells me. On the early fire maps in the archives, there were many buildings marked Rooms (often for single men) and several hotels along 96th and 97th Streets, some of their names still familiar: The Empress, the International, the Windsor, the Royal. “It was the ‘bad’ part of town then too,” my mother says. “The poor part of town. People didn’t have a lot money. But we didn’t care. People helped each other.”
This was all part of her territory once, these few square blocks. The Klimov family’s Corona grocery in the Brown Block at 9674 Jasper Avenue where she would fetch the odd fruit or vegetable her mother needed for cooking and where she returned to work at 15 in the middle of the Second World War. The Gem Theatre on the north side of Jasper Avenue and the Dreamland Theatre on the south side where her uncle would take her to picture shows when he was in the city. The Turkish baths in the basement of the Gibson block.
The old GWG factory (later the Army and Navy) further up 97th Street. The drugstore, now a pawn shop on the corner of 97th Street and 103A Avenue (called Boyle Street then), where she would run errands for her mother. We walk by, pausing tentatively in front of each door trying to conjure what had been.
We walk as far as Mrs. Marinits who kept a rooming house on 103A Avenue, three doors west of 96th Street (at 9614), where the Edmonton Police Headquarters now stands. Mrs. Marinits was a friend of the family and, my mother says, treated her like a daughter. Later when my mother worked in Edmonton, she would often go to visit and sometimes stayed the night in Mrs. Marinits’s front glassed-in porch full of plants. Just a latch on the door. “Not many thieves then,” my mother says. We stand pondering the place on the sidewalk where the front gate would have been, an old linden tree and a huge shrub rose on the wide front sidewalk are all that remains of that time.
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On our way home, my mother points out a two-storey house with a glassed in front porch that was the same period and style as the one Mrs. Marinits owned, and I can imagine my mother there, still a teenager, surrounded by green plants, the scent of linden blossoms wafting in on the warm summer air, settled in, home for the night.
Audrey J. Whitson has lived in Boyle Street since 2012. Her latest book, The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning, was shortlisted for the 2020 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize. To subscribe to her blog or follow her on twitter, visit www.audreywhitson.com