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West Hillhurst to celebrate 75 years with throwback Grand Trunk celebration

In 1948, a group of World War II veterans recognizing the need for parks and playgrounds decided to create a community association to meet the needs of their area.

Calling themselves the Hot Shot League after the then-Grand Trunk Streetcar that ran through their community, a 75-year legacy was born.

Although Grand Trunk and the trolley the association began on—as the community was named at the time before it eventually became West Hillhurst in 1957—no longer exist as they did, the community association has continued to serve the West Hillhurst community for that entire period.

On Sept. 16, the West Hillhurst Community Association is holding a 1940s throwback party to celebrate their own diamond jubilee.

“Our mission as the community association is to engage the neighbours in the community. So, for us a successful festival is having neighbours come together in one place,” said Peter Studen, Director of the Grand Trunk Festival.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with live music, food trucks, and a market, followed by a ticketed party from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Both events take place at the West Hillhurst Community Association.

For people really wanting to get into the spirit of the community’s past, the festival features a ’40s-themed kids zone, and the evening features some of the swinging sounds of post-war big band.

The Grand Trunk Festival, said Studen, is challenging some of that original Hot Shot spirit, echoing one of the original slogans used by the community association “we can make our community ‘Big’ if we would all help just a little.”

“During the daytime, the outdoor market festival is really just that is to have a reason for neighbors to get together and rub shoulders and meet new neighbors and create new connections,” he said.

“If we do that, that really helps us meet the community association mission. And those simple connections become the fibre and the bond that really creates a stronger neighborhood.”

The community that wasn’t supposed to be as long lived

Grand Trunk was created as a community in 1907 and was named in honour of the railroad being built through Calgary.

By the post-war era, Grand Trunk became one of many communities along the northern curve of the Bow River that would become home to returning WWII veterans. The small bungalow homes, the so-called Victory Homes, were meant to be a temporary solution to housing.

Three-quarters of a century later, said Studen, those homes have become anything but temporary to generations of Calgarians.

“There’s still a countless number of them that are still in this community,” he said.

“So not only does that give you a sense of history, but there’s families living here that have lived here for decades. An example is one of my neighbours, Lloyd. He grew up in this neighborhood and is now retired. His whole family grew up in the 50s and 60s, and they’re still here, and that’s that’s not an isolated situation.”

He said that businesses like Dairy Lane have roots that go back to that same time period in the 1950s, while other locations like Grand Trunk Cottage School stretch back to 1912.

“There’s iconic buildings and connections within the community history that goes way back,” Studen said.

Part of the legacy that the community association wants to celebrate with the Grand Trunk Festival is the creation of the parks that still exist today.

Grand Trunk Park, next to the Grand Trunk Cottage School, was one of the parks created by the community association. Another is the West Hillhurst Park, located next to the community centre.

“I’ve had this wonderful experience for the last number of months as I’ve been walking the community and other volunteers have been walking in the community and meeting neighbours. The best experience is when I hand [a festival postcard] to somebody and introduce myself and say, ‘Oh, hey, I’m with the community association, we’re having a festival… come out and join us,” Studen said.

“The amazing experience of meeting a new neighbour, and it may be somebody who’s just around the corner from where I live, and they’ve been living there for 10 years, and I’ve never met them. I’ve had countless experiences meeting Shawn and Susan, meeting Sharon and Evan walking their dog.”

Festival for all Calgarians to celebrate

Studen said that the West Hillhurst Community Association was inviting more than just locals to the Grand Trunk Festival.

The community building that the association has engaged in, he said, was about all of the surrounding neighbourhoods like Hillhurst, Kensington, and Sunnyside, and the rest of Calgary as well.

“There’s technical lines that separate the communities, but the businesses and the neighbours are really connected,” Studen said.

“We started with our neighbours on West Hillhurst and connections to our surrounding adjacent communities. But also Calgary as a whole to come in and celebrate this rather significant event, 75 years of being a service in the growth of Calgary.”

He said that the hope is that the festival becomes one of those important historical markers in the community for future generations to look back on.

“I think that one of the things that we’re looking to establish is coming out of Covid… is neighbours learned to live inside, they learned to be a little bit more insular than they might have been in the past. This is an opportunity to, you know, break out of that isolation,” he said.

“Reconnect as neighbours, and become engaged in something that’s going to help grow the identity of community. And you know, that identity will become part of the past history and grow that history to something new.”

For more details on the Grand Trunk Festival, see grandtrunkfestival.com.