At Edmonton’s New McLuhan House, the Medium is the Message
This home at 11342 – 64th Street was once the home of famous Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan. Photo by Alex Kuskis
The little wooden Arts and Crafts cottage at 11342 64th St., is one of the oldest homes in the historic Highlands neighbourhood. Built in 1912, atop a small hill, it was designed for real-estate promoter Herbert McLuhan, his beautiful actress-wife Elsie, and their baby son Marshall.
The 1,500-sq.-foot home was designed by acclaimed local architects Arthur Nesbitt and Ernest Morehouse, who were also responsible for much flashier Highlands homes, including the Holgate and McGrath Mansions.
It was here that McLuhan, one of Canada’s most influential public intellectuals, learned to ride a tricycle. It was here that he went sliding in his wicker snow sled.
The McLuhan family fell on hard economic times. They left Edmonton for Winnipeg in 1915, but retained ownership of the house until 1923. It has only changed hands a few times since.
In 2012, Arts Habitat Edmonton, a not-for-profit which creates and manages affordable living and work spaces for artists, bought the house for $475,000. Since then, it has spent $150,000 more to renovate the heritage home, restoring its original elements, bringing it in line with modern building codes.
The City of Edmonton contributed $75,000 to the down payment and another $50,000 toward the heritage renovations. The province added another $22,000.
This Thursday, the smartly refurbished McLuhan House makes its public debut.
CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK TO VIEW A 2-MINUTE VIDEO OF MCLUHAN HOUSE: http://goo.gl/O6qDVX
In part, it’s an interpretive centre and photo gallery, celebrating its famous namesake.
The house also provides office space for Arts Habitat and the Edmonton Poetry Festival. There’s a big studio space with lots of natural light in the renovated garage, soon to be home to the McLuhan House official artist-in-residence. The sunny and open main floor will also be available for rent for smaller arts events, such as poetry readings, book launches or musical recitals. Arts Hab also has plans to revamp the home’s backyard boathouse as more studio space, perhaps for writers.
Because the house is in the middle of a residential street, it had to be rezoned for offices. That required lots of neighbourhood consultation and engagement.
“We really wanted to make sure the community would welcome us”, she says. “But everybody seems very supportive. They’re looking forward to the house being active.”
Huffman’s team worked closely with local architect David Murray and local interior designer Johanne Yakula, who both specialize in period restoration.
They strove to restore the home’s original feel, replacing the asphalt roof with cedar and choosing paint colours to reflect the period. But there are also post-modern touches. Instead of a floral wallpaper frieze in the high-ceiling living room, for example, the sort of thing that would have be typical of the era, they opted for a painted frieze of some of McLuhan’s most famous aphorisms.
There’s also a multimedia installation created by local artist and McLuhan scholar Marco Adria, an interactive sculpture made out of flickering TV screens, where the viewer’s real-time video image shares pride of place with archival television footage.
The highlight of the interpretive centre is its collection of archival photos of the young McLuhan and his family. Most have never been published or seen publicly. They were a gift to the museum from McLuhan’s youngest son, Michael, a professional photographer.
The striking photographs don’t just capture McLuhan’s Highlands childhood. In our electric age of ephemeral digital images, they are a remarkable, physical evocation of our community’s past. They remind us that while we may live in an online global village, we also inhabit a real place, with real stories. And while it’s true that McLuhan’s connection to Edmonton is a bit tenuous, McLuhan House isn’t just about the writer and his ideas. It’s just as much about our shared social history.
In a city with a sorry track record of preserving its architecture, it’s wonderful to see this small jewel shimmer, providing a glimpse of the past and affordable workspace for today’s artists and arts organizations.
“All words, in every language, are metaphors,” McLuhan said.
I don’t know if all houses are metaphors. But this one is, a metaphor for our evolving appreciation of our local culture.
“Every society honours its live conformists and its dead troublemakers,” McLuhan also said.
How lucky to be able to honour our homegrown troublemaker, here and now. (Source: http://goo.gl/6GvY3Y )
McLuhan House in 1929
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