Belonging   (12.06.25)

Penny Lane  -  The End

This past week I attended a book launch for a photographer friend of mine.  He is a fine art photographer who, under the auspices of a local organisation, took on a project to photograph significant buildings, new and old, in Calgary.  The book launch went very well and he was appropriately heralded for his artistic and thoughtful imagery.

As I stood there, in the midst of strangers, I had time to realise that the key people associated with the event ranged anywhere in age from 25 to 45 years old.  There were a few exceptions, easily identified by their grey hair.  This event was a gathering of the people who mattered in this business at this moment in time and as a retired person out of the bustle of city life, I was not one of them.

I couldn’t help but reflect back to my days as a thirty-something engineer in leading roles in the company I was working for at the time.  I was doing exciting new things and was constantly looking for ways to improve how I did my work and how others did their work.  I also was vigilant about finding ways to improve my life in Calgary.  After a few seconds, my mind returned to the event I was attending and I found myself disturbed at all the new buildings that have gone up in ‘my’ city.  These buildings have been constructed on the lots where buildings of my era have been deconstructed and along with them some of my sense of belonging.

As I looked at one of the prints on the wall showing the new and striking Eighth Avenue Place, the memory of its predecessor, Penny Lane, came flooding back.  Penny Lane was an older brick office building on 8th Avenue that was turned into a downtown shopping mall in the ‘70s and then ripped down in this new century.  The photograph above captures the last days of the old Penny Lane with only the core of the building left.

As I remembered that old building, my thoughts drifted back to the late ‘60s when I used to go there to work with the original owner and manager of Spartan Controls, now part of a very significant company in Western Canada.  I also remembered buying a fantastic herringbone jacket for my wife Leslie at a rather exclusive women’s store; picking up my favourite Cherry Blend pipe tobacco from the tobacconist where I could find tobaccos not available anywhere else in Calgary; having business lunches in the restaurant on the inside of the mall; ordering and buying hard to find classical and jazz records and CDs from an upscale music store; getting quick lunches at the bagel shop where I could eat while I looked out the open windows onto 8th Avenue; and, of course, having drinks after work with friends at Ceili’s Irish Pub.  Can one still do some of these activities today?  Of course, and many younger folk do, albeit in different locations.  I think what I’m really lamenting is time past – my time.  That was when it was my turn to be young and challenge the status quo.

Yesterday, I visited the new Atlantic Avenue Art Block building in Inglewood.  It houses many things, including the Esker Foundation Art Gallery and the Gravity Espresso Bar, both worth visiting.  Architecturally speaking, the building is unique and, I think, very well designed.  The red brick façade on the front reminded me of the old Penny Lane.  I wonder if there was any intent with that part of the design, or if it was just a way of inserting a bit of the old with the new.  Regardless of what the motivation was, I liked this new building that had a taste of classic architecture.

In the Esker Foundation Art Gallery, there was something written on the wall above one of the exhibits that helped to give perspective on my lament about my lost city landscape.

Every generation renews itself in its own way: there is always a reaction
against whatever is standard.

- Sol LeWitt, artist

I guess that will always be so and therefore the young adults of today, just like their predecessors, will also have the opportunity to see their familiar city landscape jackhammered to the ground in their later years.  In these later years of mine, I know that I will have to hang on to memories without having the visual aide of a familiar city landscape.  It is just that I don’t feel as comfortable, nor is there as much a sense of belonging to Calgary as I once felt.

I realise that my feelings are not exceptional; they are just the result of the influence of a changing world and a changing life.  As I look forward along my life’s path, I will use this quote of Maria Robinson’s to help stay positive in the midst of change and keep my mind exploring.

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today
and make a new ending.”

      - Maria Robinson, writer