ANOTHER VIEW ON NOTORIOUS YORK HOTEL
Exhibit features video, photos and stories of the former landmark
Sydney Lancaster, above, and colleague Marian Switzer are collaborating on an art project that remembers and reflects upon the history and place of the now demolished York Hotel within the city’s gritty Boyle community.
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 2007-08, 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 sordid statistics only show one side of the picture.
“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. “Another couple went dancing every Friday night.”
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 rather than preserve the city’s history.
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 local residents were happy to see it go.
But they don’t want anyone to forget the sometimes dysfunctional 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.”