Former McLuhan Edmonton Residence to be Used for the Arts


Marshall McLuhan Residence, City of Edmonton, Sustainable Development

Marshall McLuhan Residence

By Lawrence Herzog, Herzog on Heritage   |   April 16, 2012  

Herbert Marshall McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web nearly 30 years before it arrived, and coined the expressions “the medium is the message” and “the global village.” He was a leading and often controversial thinker on the universal impact of mass media. The arrival of the Internet helped sparked renewed interest in his work and perspective, long after his death in 1980.

Now, the Highlands house where McLuhan lived for a time as a boy is going to be preserved as an interpretive centre, library, and home for residency programs for artists and writers. City councillors voted on February 1st to provide the Edmonton Arts Council with $75,000 to purchase the property at 11342 64 Street NW.

The Craftsman-style bungalow was built in 1912 from plans drawn by Ernest William Morehouse and Arthur Nesbitt, architectural partners responsible for more than 30 houses in the early days of the Highlands. Their firm, Morehouse and Nesbitt, designed the mansions of William McGrath and Bidwell Holgate, founders of the district. Morehouse and Nesbitt also designed the Ash Residence, Chown Residence, Atkinson Residence, Highlands Methodist Church and the Gibbard Block on 112th Avenue, among others.

An assessment of the McLuhan Residence compiled in January by the City’s heritage planning department, reported that the historic integrity of the 100-year-old house is high. “The style is fairly typical of residences developed prior to World War I in Edmonton’s earliest neighbourhoods,” the report says. “The house is significant for having been the early boyhood home of Marshall McLuhan.”

Biographer W. Terrence Gordon writes that Marshall was the older of two boys born to Elsie Naomi Hall and Herbert Ernest McLuhan. His mother was a Baptist schoolteacher who later became an actress, and his father was a Methodist who worked as a real estate agent.

Marshall was born in Edmonton on July 21, 1911, shortly after the family arrived from Creighton, Alberta. His parents purchased a lot in the fledgling district in August 1912 and were granted a permit to build a $3,000 house on it.

Local contractors Bailey & Berry constructed the home. “In line with its Craftsman bungalow style, the McLuhan Residence appears almost rustic,” says a description written in 1993 by historical consultant Dorothy Field. “The exposed beams, cast concrete foundation, low pitched roof, and large front porch columns are typical of the style.”

With the coming of war and boom going bust in 1914, Herbert’s business failed, and he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He contracted influenza and was discharged in 1915. The family moved to Winnipeg that year, but retained ownership of the house until 1923. Gladys Griffiths, a teacher and assistant principal at Highlands School, then purchased it.

Griffiths sold the house in 1928 to her sister Julia May and husband Walter Husband, a salesman for the National Drug and Chemical Company. Husband’s brother Herbert owned the Highlands Drug Store in the Gibbard Block, from 1926 to 1944. Walter Husband sold the McLuhan Residence in 1956. Doug and Cheryl Toshack bought the house in 1974 and have owned it for 38 years.

Over the years, they’ve been visited by countless of the curious and scholarly. CBC even filmed part of a documentary on McLuhan at the house.

In a CBC Radio documentary aired in 1980, his brother Maurice talked about how Marshall was always interested in the latest technology, even as a small boy. They would huddle listening to the crystal radio set that Marshall had built.

Marshall McLuhan received a PhD from Cambridge in 1934, and taught English at various colleges in the United States before settling in to teach in Toronto in 1944. Even so, he maintained a strong connection with Edmonton and returned often.

The University of Alberta awarded McLuhan an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1971. 
He died in Toronto in 1980 at the age of 69. To mark the 100th anniversary of McLuhan’s birth in 2011, the University of Alberta hosted the Herbert Marshall McLuhan Edmonton Centenary.

“Professor McLuhan often commented that his upbringing in Western Canada provided a valuable alternative, or peripheral, perspective on the world,” says Dr. Marco Adria, director of the U of A’s Master of Arts in communications and technology program. “In his writings, he recalled experiences in Edmonton that were to shape his intellectual life.”

The Marshall McLuhan Residence was added to Edmonton’s Inventory of Historic Resources in 1993, acknowledging McLuhan’s accomplishments and connection to the Highlands neighbourhood and his birthplace. The new use for the property will recognize McLuhan’s connection to Edmonton and his place in history and modern culture.

The Edmonton Arts Council’s affiliate organization, Arts Habitat Association of Edmonton, is working on various business models to manage the residence. The proposal to make the house a destination for local, national and international writers and thinkers has the support from the University of Alberta, the Writers Guild of Alberta, the Highlands Historical Society and the Highlands Community League.

The City is also moving forward to designate the residence a Municipal Historic Resource. It’s a fitting 100th birthday present for a little house with a bigger connection to the cultural history of the “global village.”
Photo by Alex Kuskis

One Response to “Former McLuhan Edmonton Residence to be Used for the Arts”

  1. 1 Former McLuhan Edmonton Residence to be Used for the Arts | Art Trends

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