I’ve always been nostalgic. Perhaps most poets are, casting glances at the past, fascinated by anthropology or memoir, imagining a time that was purer, quieter, simpler and easier to survive in while still making art. And, until I was 16 and left home, I was raised in a capacious house on a decently sized lot with trees and gardens. No palace, but not an uncommon residence in the ’70s and ’80s.
Oh, I should note that I’m a born and raised Vancouverite, transplanted to Edmonton twice — in 2006-09 as a renter in Mill Woods and in 2018 to Alberta Avenue as (finally!) a homeowner. In the Lower Mainland, in the 21st century, it’s almost absurdly inconceivable that anyone not a multi-millionaire can afford a detached, single-family dwelling. And I hankered for a house with some history, neither a fixer-upper nor a new abode. With the assistance of some friends-turned-sleuths, I managed to find, and put a humble down payment on, my 1905 manse, who dubbed herself “Delilah” the moment I stepped into her colourful, cozy rooms and knew she would be my forever home.
I’ve just begun doing research on her former owners, a trajectory stretching back to the early railway, the year Alberta became a province but before the university or the Hotel Mac was built, when the area was still scored with wagon trails and known as Packingtown, then Norwood, with the street itself being named Carey, not 94th, before the shift to the numbered grid system in 1912. So far, with the nudgings of a local archivist, I’ve located the home’s inhabitants back to 1915 when soldiers lived here, followed by carpenters, debt adjustors, Canada Dry labourers and government officials. No more than four people at a time lived in her three bedrooms and full basement, and the longest any family resided here looks to be around 17 years.
Since I moved in, Delilah has been decorated with bones and rocks and driftwood from West Coast beaches and forests, with original paintings, instruments and countless books. I got a little bird feeder made for the back deck and ordered a fire pit. In spring, I plan to plant sunflowers and continue to reap the feast of tomatoes, cucumbers and raspberries the former owners once seeded.
Fortunately, these same owners painted the walls beautifully, upgraded the electrical system and modernized the plumbing. Mostly, I now just enjoy the pleasures of living here, in a neighbourhood whose denizens catch up at the local pub, Mona’s, once a week, when I’m not bopping back to Vancouver to work in film. This is the balance our current economy demands: Reside here, possibly work there. I’m coming to terms with it, this way to keep “having it all.” And, in a neighbourhood beginning to truly burgeon beyond its issues as the Arts District, my 114-year-old home continues to stand, her foundations having survived so much cold, so many political, economic and emotional shifts, welcoming me utterly, an indubitable transplant, but still so happy to be here.
Catherine Owen has published 13 collections of poetry and prose, many nominated for prizes from the Earle Birney to the CBC to the Re-lit. She won the Alberta Poetry Award in 2010 for her book, Frenzy. In 2020, ECW will release her next volume of poems called Riven, and Wolsak & Wynn will publish the anthology of 25 memoir writers she compiled and edited, Locations of Grief: an emotional geography. She also works in film props, plays metal bass, runs a reading series out of her home called 94th Street Trobairitz and is learning how to butoh dance.