There’s a rich piece of Calgary history buried in the bushes along the Elbow River pathway, just west of 4 Street SW.
Even if you’re looking for it, you might miss it. We did the first time around.
While the history of this massive sandstone home, now reduced to rubble, has been well documented by local historians Harry Sanders and David Mittlestadt, and written about in 2015 by Avenue Magazine, it’s being retold by a local filmmaker in a civic history mini-documentary.
It’s the story of what’s today known as Lindsay’s Folly.
Local filmmaker and part-time teacher, Kelsy Norman, first learned of this historic home when he had Sanders on a podcast he was doing while with the University of Calgary. They had discussed the home of Calgary pioneer Dr. Neville James Lindsay and Norman thought it was the perfect subject for one of his short films.
That film is now on YouTube, called A Calgary Dream in Ruins.
When you climb through the site, now enveloped by the decades of river valley foliage growth, you can still make out the basic structure: Windows, walls, the front veranda, and you can imagine the view Lindsay and his family must have had overlooking the Elbow River.
“At first, I thought I was just going to be interested in the history of the home,” said Norman.
“But in reality, the history of Dr. Neville Lindsay is equally fascinating.”
Lindsay came to Calgary as a passenger aboard the first train to the city back in 1883 and opened a medical practice. He also participated in the Klondike gold rush and then turned to real estate later in life.
It was just before World War I (1913) the massive, planned 14-room home was started.
The home, which, if you haven’t gathered yet, was left unfinished. Several theories emerged as to why the home wasn’t completed, but his grandson, Bill Walsh, who still lives in Calgary, told LiveWire that the reason was simple.
“He went to New York and got a million-dollar loan for this project and others. Then World War One started and they cancelled his loan,” said Walsh.
It’s for this reason he has an issue with the idea of it being called Lindsay’s Folly, which he believes is a reference to the theory that issues with the ground near the riverbank caused the building’s collapse.
Walsh, now 86, said that hypothesis in itself was folly, noting that as a youth, living along the Elbow River, he and his friends used to go up and play on the structure. They would climb the walls, go in the utility tunnels under the property and spend hours at “the castle.”
Sanders, for his part, said an engineer later confirmed for him the ground was suitable for construction, debunking the structural myth.
“In (the engineer’s) professional opinion, it wasn’t so,” Sanders said.
It’s this fascinating – and conflicting – history that captured Norman’s attention and led him to the film project.
With his trusty Canon 70D and a Panasonic camera and a few good microphones, along with early mornings on the pathway, he’s put together a taste of Calgary’s history in a medium suited for today’s generation.
“This is fun. I do this because it’s fun,” said Norman.
“I love telling stories and I love educating people. That’s what gets me so stoked about this.”
Norman said the YouTube comments he’s received on his work, mainly from Calgarians, have been focused on the wow factor of learning about largely untold stories in the city.
“I just love that. And I hope that it gets them to want to go see this in person, that it gets them out of the house,” Norman said.
Both Sanders and Walsh applaud the approach Norman is taking to bring city history to the people.
“I think it’s good. There are many mediums… to bring history to citizens. A short video, there’s a natural appeal to that,” said Sanders.
“It cannot fail to spread the word.”
Walsh agreed. He said Calgary’s history is filled with tales of great people and learning more about them connects current citizens with the past.
While nothing’s formally planned at this point, Norman said he’s looking at Victoria Park history as his next challenge. His prior video, Last Houses in Downtown Calgary has nearly 60,000 views on YouTube.