Friday, May 14, 2010

This is My Cecil: Hotel Histories

The Cecil Hotel in Calgary has a bit of a notorious reputation. According to the CBC, police were called there 1,700 times in just one year, and there was a stabbing death there in 2008. This year Then, the City of Calgary took possession of the building, and some councillors wish for it to be demolished as part of a "revitalization" of the surrounding area.

But as artist Tomas Jonsson is attempting to show in his project This is My Cecil, there are also more complex histories of the hotel--ones that tie into struggles between the affluent and the poor, between developers and social aid agencies, between heritage and progress.

On Tuesday, May 11, Jonsson began holding regularly scheduled workshops (Monday-Friday, 5-8pm) at the Epcor Centre to to facilitate sharing of narratives around the Cecil. As Jonsson notes in an essay,

It is clear that the Cecil needs to change, but what the nature of that change can be is still a matter of debate. As a city-owned asset, all citizens own it, and have the right to present their ideas on the site and related issues. A proposal for the Cecil that embraces the complexities of the site and takes up difficult discussions is neccesary to truly understand the lived use, and what this entails. Rather than paving over, excising its recent past, the Cecil can instead work as a conduit to take this up and work through the troubled legacy of Calgary’s development and identity.

In his essay, Jonsson also notes similarities to situations in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver; I would add there are collaries to Queen West in Toronto as well (the film Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel comes to mind). He also notes photographer George Webber's past work in documenting Cecil Hotel residents and exteriors.

In any case, Jonsson's project sounds interesting. Closing reception is May 28 at the Epcor Centre, if you'd like to talk with him about the results of his research.

1982 image of the Cecil from On Site Review

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