Norman Ravvin's Café des Westens

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

The Wales Hotel (709 2nd Street SW) was demolished in March 1974 to make way for TD Square. The building was the first in Canada to be destroyed by dynamite. The plan went awry and the 43-year-old building came down off its target. Debris scattered into the intersection of 7th Avenue and 2nd Street and smashed windows at a nearby Royal Bank. (Photo: Glenbow Museum)

The Wales Hotel (709 2nd Street SW) was demolished in March 1974 to make way for TD Square. The building was the first in Canada to be destroyed by dynamite. The plan went awry and the 43-year-old building came down off its target. Debris scattered into the intersection of 7th Avenue and 2nd Street and smashed windows at a nearby Royal Bank. (Photo: Glenbow Museum)

Funeral-home owner Martin Binder is a Calgary old-timer. He arrived as a young boy with his Polish parents during the Depression, and has watched the city reinvent itself over the decades. He remembers the day that “marked the beginning of the end of the city he’d grown up in.” On a Sunday in March 1974, Martin settled into a viewing spot not far from the site on 2nd Street and 7th Avenue. As he read his weekend Herald, he heard “a sound, like the ripping of a piece of canvas” as the hotel’s brick walls collapsed.

 

Over the next few years, exploding buildings caught on the way dances caught on in the old jazz clubs in Harlem. It was happening on every block. People came out to watch. There was the odd casualty as stray pieces of plywood and cinder blocks came rocketing out of nowhere onto pedestrians’ heads. No conservation groups challenged the carnage. The city was making history – as the wisdom of the day went – so it didn’t have to worry about preserving its heritage. As the town boomed and money was made, Martin set aside his sentimental attachment to buildings like the Wales. The city’s population grew by tens of thousands each year, and his accountant made a very impressive effort at reporting the funeral home’s rising revenue, without adding any snide remarks about the rising death rate that went with the emigration of over-excited fortune-hunting crowds from across the country. People brought their hard luck and illnesses and bad habits with them and, chasing the big time, died under the soft breath of the Chinook.

 

Norman Ravvin, Café Des Westens (Red Deer College Press, 1991)