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King Edward Hotel
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Pictures left in hallway
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Pinups and fire escape
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Ralph Klein pin in Robin Randall's room
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Robin Randall on Easter Sunday, 2004
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In 2004 the King Edward Hotel in Calgary closed its doors after ninety-nine years of operation. It was the oldest hotel in the city, and in the final phase of its existence it provided shelter to two dozen men, who were evicted on the 13th of August, a Friday. The King Eddy had been through at least two heydays: in its first decade as a classy establishment on the flamboyant Whiskey Row, along 9th Street, when it operated 150 rooms and a restaurant with forty tables; and in the 1980s, when it became known as Canada’s oldest blues bar, a tradition that continued to the end. During its last year, George Webber became interested in the men who had managed to fashion homes of a kind in the decaying structure, which was finally condemned by the City of Calgary as unfit for habitation.
November 16, 2003. Robin Randall, night shift manager at the King Edward Hotel, is fifty-nine years old, originally from England. He once worked as a financial advisor to a prominent Calgary businessman and later worked unloading paper products for Western Grocers. He makes about $900 a month. Medication costs $300 a month, rent $300 a month. He tells me that he has entertained many strippers up in his room. He points to a black-and-white photo of one of them on the wall across from his bed. He suffers from angina and congestive heart problems. He likes to smoke and drink Scotch. He is a baseball fan and trivia expert. His room is crammed with books. He used to drink with Ralph Klein when Klein was a reporter. He has never married. “I like the girls, there’s nothing wrong with that, hey George,” he says. He has $16,000 in unpaid medical bills. He once collapsed in the doorway of his room and luckily a fellow tenant helped him out. He’s concerned about living alone in case he has a problem and no one knows he needs help.
January 11, 2004. Denzil Moore is sixty-two years old and has been living at the King Eddy for five years. He is a semi-retired cook who used to work in camps as far north as Inuvik. He has two sons and eight grandchildren. His ex-wife is married for the fourth time. Terry Phillips is a carpenter from southern Ontario. He has been living in Calgary since the boom of the 1980s, and at the King Eddy for about two years.
February 1, 2004 , Superbowl Sunday. Reg Johnston in room 44 is fifty years old. He injured his foot recently when his motorcycle collided with a car. He makes about $20 a day picking bottles. He calls his bottle route a trapline. “If you can’t make it in Calgary, you can’t make it anywhere,” he says. A neighbour from just down the hall delivers fifteen cans of beer that Reg has paid him to pick up and deliver. Reg is originally from Medicine Hat. He tells me that you have to be tough to live here on your own, because you’re alone and there’s nobody to help you if you get in trouble.
The toilet next to Robert Randall’s room is out of order. He has to go up to the next floor to use one. He shows me a book of baseball statistics and says, “Those are nine hundred biographies in there, George.” He has just bought the biography of former Prime Minister Kim Campbell for 50¢ from the discard bin at the city library. He tells me that the man who wrote the screenplay for The Birds also wrote The Blackboard Jungle, and that the movie version starring Glenn Ford was banned in Alberta from 1953 to 1963 under the Social Credit government of the day.
May 16, 2004. Harry Cookson is perhaps the longest residing tenant at the King Eddy: fifteen years at least. He used to do custodial work at the King Eddy and is now retired. He has his own table in the King Eddy bar. The bar is closed on Sundays so Harry walks over to the St. Louis for a couple of jugs of beer.
Peter Konig is a musician who spends the days practising in this room. He has a computer, musical instruments, private bathroom. Everything is clean and tidy. The walls are covered with magazine pictures of wild animals, pinups and rock’n’roll stars. “I don’t play much in public, I’m pretty shy,” he says. His dream is to live on a boat in Vancouver.
Friday August 13, 2004, about 6:30 a.m. Many of the twenty-five residents, including those I had photographed (Terry, Denzil, Robin, Reg and Harry), left sometime in the night. Someone told me that they were probably in temporary shelters for homeless men. One man (I didn’t get his name) wanted to talk. He was wearing a black, stained T-shirt and missing many teeth. He was wandering, dazed, not having slept in two days. He was suffering from hepatitis C and required several thousand dollars’ worth of government—subsidized medication every month to manage the disease. He has been living in the King Eddy for about eight months. Before he lived in a homeless men’s shelter. He had saved up and bought a fridge, a desk and a few other items to set up on his own, and now everything was piled in the middle of the room but he didn’t know what to do.
Peter Konig’s tidy room was now nearly stripped bare. He didn’t want to stay and talk. He could barely stand to be there now that it was no longer his. A cockroach skittered across the hallway. Two of the residents cursed and stomped it to death.
Many of the men wanted to talk. They felt ill-used. The building was in bad shape but at least they had had their own rooms. When they needed help, one of the guys would lend bread and cigarettes. I wandered the hallways looking into the rooms with open doors: old calendars, filthy bedding, TV sets, pennies, and in one bathroom a gushing hot water bathtub tap that wouldn’t be shut off.