Goodbye Little Brown House

I always liked the little house at 439 West Kings.  With striking brown and white paint and an enclosed porch, this house stood out on my nightly walks with the dog.  439 West Kings had character.

To me, the collection of additions and roof angles told of a home that started small, and grew to meet the demands of its family.  Perhaps there was at first a simple box, which was later enlarged with a kitchen out the back.  Then they added a porch, and later this was closed in, giving an extra living space.  Perhaps there was once a garage around the side, but that must have decayed, and it wasn’t big enough for two cars anyway; so they paved the front lawn.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a temporary pole on the front lawn.  The death knell for all houses signals the cutting of services, and the subsequent demolition.  The pole was joined by a big bin and a “Danger” sign, as the demolition team removed asbestos; how alarming it must be to see a “Danger” sign on the house where you raised your family!  Last week, an excavator, almost as big as the house itself, moved in, and someone saved some of the pretty wooden windows.  

No one could blame me for skipping the walk last night.  Even the dog huddled in the doorway and needed a push to go do her business.  Tonight, the house is gone.  Not even a hole remains.

Now, I’m sure the house was better looked at than lived in.  The additions over the years would have sunk at different rates, making the floors a drunken shamble.  The pretty wooden windows were certainly single-pane and drafty.  It probably cost a fortune to heat.

Yet, I can’t help missing it.  The demolition removes another link to Delbrook’s working class past.  Whole stories of lives lived and families raised have gone to the dump with the kitchen door jamb where generations logged their growth.

What story will the new house tell?  Will it be another 6000 square foot faux-craftsman-style pile that says the owners are too busy for DIY, and can afford not to undertake it anyway?  Or will it reflect their personal style and needs, and their ability to pay?  Guaranteed, it will not be modest.  

What narrative will these new houses convey as the neighbourhood evolves over the next 50 years?  Do we expect them to remain unchanged, forever boxing up their inhabitants’ lives behind tidy pot-lit facades?  Will they too sprout porches and outbuildings?  Will we subdivide them to make duplexes as the land becomes ever-more unaffordable?

Well, I don’t know, and maybe it doesn’t matter: 439 West Kings Road, despite its character, was only a building.  What does matter is that we encourage development in our neighbourhood that enriches our lives with real connections to the people around us.  How can we ensure that development continues to encourage the street hockey, block watch parties and life-long friendships that make Delbrook worth living in? 

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