It wasn’t all bad at The York Ho­tel

Ex­hibit fea­tures sto­ries, photos and video of for­mer Ed­mon­ton land­mark

Calgary Herald - - CITY - GOR­DON KENT

Two lo­cal artists want Ed­mon­ton res­i­dents to re­mem­ber the other side of the story about one of the city’s most no­to­ri­ous nightspots. The York Ho­tel, on the 96th Street drag at 104th Av­enue, was vis­ited by po­lice, fire and am­bu­lance staff 1,200 times in 2007 and 2008, al­most as of­ten as all the busi­nesses in West Ed­mon­ton Mall com­bined.

The site of sev­eral stab­bings and deaths, it was closed when the city bought it in 2010, and torn down two years later.

Syd­ney Lan­caster says the sta­tis­tics only show one side of the story.

“There were rough el­e­ments, but it was also home. Peo­ple spoke a lot to us about the kind of com­mu­nity they felt, the friend­ships they made,” she says.

“There were re­la­tion­ships that were pos­i­tive. I think it’s im­por­tant to have a more bal­anced per­spec­tive on what these build­ings mean.”

She and fel­low Quar­ters Arts group artist- in- res­i­dence Mar­ian Switzer are cre­at­ing York: Mo­ments, an in­stal­la­tion about the York in the atrium of the Boyle Street Plaza on 103A Av­enue.

Three photo- based prints from dif­fer­ent stages in the ho­tel’s history are al­ready in the win­dows. They hope to hang about 300 photos from the ceil­ing by the end of Septem­ber.

An ex­hi­bi­tion based on im­ages put to­gether for a 2013 show opens Aug. 15 in the Stony Plain Mul­ti­cul­tural Cen­tre Public Art Gallery.

They’re de­vel­op­ing the work with video, photos, doc­u­ments and sto­ries by peo­ple who knew the build­ing, which opened as the St. Peters­burg Ho­tel in 1913.

“One woman came in and said, ‘ The York Ho­tel, that was where I met the love of my life,’ and they’re still to­gether,” Switzer says.

The artists vis­ited the run­down 40- room inn to take pic­tures shortly be­fore it was de­mol­ished. Many of the for­mer res­i­dents had left pos­ses­sions be­hind — tooth­brushes and de­odor­ant still on the sink, clothes scat­tered on the floor.

But there were signs of more pos­i­tive lives than the mouldy car­pets and frayed cur­tains im­plied.

“Peo­ple would write po­ems about hope. There would be chil­dren’s toys,” Switzer says. “Peo­ple would leave notes on other peo­ple’s doors say­ing ‘ Hey, friendly neigh­bour.’”

The pair are con­cerned about the fate of the ten­ants who had to leave, be­cause many had nowhere to go.

They also worry about Ed­mon­ton’s will­ing­ness to tear down links to the past.

The York was once one of four rau­cous tav­erns within about three blocks of 96th Street. Noise now comes from con­struc­tion rather than shouts and mu­sic as the area is slowly re­de­vel­oped into the Quar­ters.

Switzer and Lan­caster rec­og­nize the York’s faults and sus­pect many neigh­bours were happy to see it go.

But they don’t want any­one to for­get the com­mu­nity such fa­cil­i­ties can pro­vide.

“We all want a place to call home,” Lan­caster says.

“In that sense, los­ing the York was a very deep loss for some peo­ple that don’t have a lot of op­tions.”


Syd­ney Lan­caster, above, and Mar­ian Switzer are col­lab­o­rat­ing on an art pro­ject that re­flects upon the history and im­pact of the no­to­ri­ous York Ho­tel in Ed­mon­ton.

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