Diversity, inclusion top of mind for Lougheed House Re-Imagined project

The historic site's volunteers are asking marginalized individuals to come forward and share stories

Lougheed House (OMAR SHERIF / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY)

Lougheed House wants to rewrite its history.

While working on a new initiative for the historic site, curator Caroline Loewen noticed that many people view the house negatively.

“We realized that Lougheed house, as museum, represents a certain thing to the public,” she said.

“It kind of represents a colonial history, it represents a patriarchal history, and we want to undermine that.”

The Lougheed House Conservation Society is encouraging marginalized individuals, especially those within the Métis and the LGBTQ2S+ community to come forward and share their stories of the site.

“What we’re looking for from people is either their memories of Lougheed house, their stories that may connect or intersect with Lougheed house, and it could be in non-direct ways,” said Loewen.

Rewriting history

Built in 1891 as a house for Senator James Alexander Lougheed and his spouse Isabella Hardisty, it was designated as a national historic site on November 29, 1977.

It’s now operated by Lougheed House Conservation Society. They’re a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and public use of the historic house and its gardens.

According to Loewen, there are connections to the site that don’t represent that colonial or patriarchal history.

In the 1980s and 90s, the park around Lougheed House was the centre of Calgary’s gay prostitution stroll, known in the community as the “Fruit Loop”.

Isabella Hardisty, who lived there with her husband, was Métis.

“We’re really hoping to build a history of Lougheed and the site through these diverse voices and alternate perspectives,” said Loewen.

“We’re really trying to ground the histories that we’re learning about in this, in the physical site itself.”

A good start, but more should be done

Politician and LGBTQ2S+ advocate Anna Murphy walks past the house on her way to and from work every day.

She said she’s aware of the negative connotations the site has on members of both the Métis and LGBTQ2S+ communities.

“When we look at something like Lougheed House and the historical context and image that it has within the community, it hasn’t always been positive or affirming for individuals,” said Murphy.

“This is a good step forward,” she said.

It’s an opportunity for an institution of privilege to elevate diverse voices and experiences that often go unheard, Murphy said.

But it has to be followed through and done properly.

“This is a great initiative and has really great potential,” she said.

“But you need to make sure that you’re you’re getting out there and you’re making it accessible to these communities that may otherwise not trust an institution that has done them or their community.”

Murphy added that historic sites around the city and the province should undergo a similar initiative.

She’s hoping to see places like Fort Calgary, the provincial legislature, and other symbolic structures revisit their history.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the invitation to comment on your interpretive initiative for the history of Lougheed House. I have some concerns that revisionist history done without due care to the full context of the times can result in skewed or biased information. I hope that while we are inviting the two groups mentioned, that we would also welcome comments from contemporary neighbors to the property, people who were in service to the House and family, political and social leaders of the times, house guests and others who may have had contemporary thoughts about the house and the family. I am sure there are memoirs from The Duke of Windsor and some of his pals that exist from his days of being a house guest. And I notice that there is no mention above of the period in which the House was used as a Red Cross Centre and of the sad auction sale when the contents were sold and the property became City of Calgary property. And leave us not forget the building fabric, architecture, design and function and including the Carriage House and any other buildings that were part of the site. I will follow the project with interest.

    • At a tour of the grounds this summer, the Red Cross debacle was addressed in a smart and detailed history. During Pride, Kevin Allen held two LGBTQ history walks which started at Lougheed House. I found both gratifying and interesting. While I agree that more can also be hoped for, efforts are being made. Sometimes the interest has to be there; being relatively new to Calgary, I’m curious about how the general population of this fine city “feels” about Lougheed House. Thoughts?

    • Hi Morris. Thanks for participating in the conversation! I think you are right in saying that many people need to be invited to share their perspectives as we reimagine the house. The Lougheed House has been host to many people and organizations over its long history, including the both Duke and Red Cross which you mention as well as the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and many others. The more of those histories and perspectives we explore and learn about, the richer the site will be. I’d invite you to visit the project’s website at lougheedhouse.civilspace.io/en/projects/lougheed-house-re-imagined to learn more.

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