When the York project originally began three years ago, our intention had been to go into the York Hotel and chronicle, investigate, and bring to light the stories of the building, and the people that passed through its rooms and hallways. We found poems scrawled on bedroom walls that portrayed feelings of both hope and despair, children’s toys scattered in the laundry room, buckets for safe needle disposal in shared washrooms, and stickers proclaiming a cheery welcome on tenant doors. It was a complicated space filled with things that both warmed us and caused us to despair. We knew our short time in the York Hotel was only scratching the surface; that underneath all the layers of paint and old wallpaper there were many stories itching to be told.
Support from Boyle Street Community League, Quarters Arts, and the Edmonton Heritage Council has given us the chance to begin uncovering some of these stories. Beginning earlier this year, we started a twice weekly drop-in at Boyle Street Community League that invited people to come by and either share their memories of the York Hotel, or bring photos to contribute to a photo-based installation, York Moments:Carried, that is now up in Boyle Street Plaza.
We had people share memories that marked some of their lowest times, but they still hold onto them fondly as a reminder of how far they have come in rebuilding their lives. There were people who shared intimate moments of how they met the love of their life one evening at the York Hotel; how they’re still together, and now that part of their history together has been erased from the landscape. There were also hilarious stories that included drunken decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time, but resulted waking up in “nothing but my gitch.”
YORK:Stories collects some of the stories we gathered. Some are told verbatim, others will be retold as best we can remember. These are the stories of a building that was home and community for many people, and of a neighbourhood that still holds the roots of the foundation that it was built on over a century ago.