McLuhan’s Edmonton home opens as arts facility, historic site

McLuhan’s Edmonton home opens as arts facility, historic site
 Michael McLuhan and his wife Danuta Valleau stand in front of the house where his father Marshall McLuhan once lived at 11342-64th Street on Thursday, April 18, 2013. The house is being turned into an arts centre and historic site. Photo by: John Lucas , Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Famed philosopher Marshall McLuhan always cherished his Edmonton birthplace even though he moved away at age four, his son Michael said Thursday.

“I’m not sure if he came back that often, but he talked about Edmonton all the time when I was child,” McLuhan said.

“He loved the wide-open skies and would talk about being a Prairie boy … I just think he always held Edmonton very close to his heart.”

McLuhan, 60, was making his first visit to the city in which his father was born in 1911 to take part in the grand opening of the family home as an arts facility and historic site.

The communications theorist and literary critic who coined such phrases as “the medium is the message” lived in the Highlands two-storey until his family moved to Winnipeg in 1915.

With help from the city, Arts Habitat Edmonton bought the house for $475,000 last year from its longtime owners, and plans to do $75,000 in renovations.

The non-profit group has painted the Arts and Crafts-style structure’s interior with colours from when it was built in 1910 and put up family photographs from McLuhan cousin Stuart MacKay, who lives in Edmonton.

“The intention of buying it was to preserve the house in Highlands and also to honour the McLuhan mandate,” Arts Habitat project co-ordinator Katherine Kerr said.

There’s space for a studio in the garage and the three former upstairs bedrooms will be rented out as artist offices.

One of those spaces holds the McLuhan TV Wall, five screens running interviews with the famed philosopher, an episode of the Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s and closed-circuit video of the people who walk into the room.

Other versions of this installation have been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Edmonton International Airport.

“I think McLuhan was getting the sense of the all-pervasiveness of the television screen that people didn’t understand when they were watching these friendly, funny shows,” said University of Alberta Prof. Marco Adria, who helped assemble the display.

“This technology was bound to become us.”

In future, parts of the home will also be rented out for small events. It’s open for a public drop-in Friday from noon to 7 p.m.

Michael McLuhan, a photographer who lives with his wife north of Toronto near Owen Sound, presented for the opening 54 unpublished photos of his father shot by Henri Dauman for Life Magazine in 1966.

He described his dad, a longtime University of Toronto professor who died in 1980, as a classic workaholic.

“He would get up at four or five in the morning and start his reading. He would come home at six and frequently have his secretary in tow so he could dictate, sometimes while he was lying down.”

The McLuhan home in Winnipeg and the two in Toronto are in private hands. Michael is thrilled the Edmonton house, at 11342 64th St., will be available to the public.

Although he’s the executor of his father’s estate, he hasn’t read all his books, but said his complex ideas were discussed so much growing up that he doesn’t have to.

“I certainly appreciate it now more than when I was 15 … It was inculcated at a very young age around the dinner table. It was the wallpaper of our lives.”

 Photo by Alex Kuskis

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