Demolition of iconic Calgary violin store 'diminishes the richness of city life'

Though it called 16th Avenue N.W. home for more than a century, a building home to a distinctive violin store was expeditiously demolished Saturday.

W.A. Gough violin store on 16th Avenue N.W. was more than a century old

Calgary photographer George Webber submitted this photo of the W.A. Gough violin store, just one of many he said he had taken over the years. Webber said that despite its state of disrepair, the building had a very artful quality of rectangle and colour. (George Webber)

Though it called 16th Avenue N.W. home for more than a century, a building home to a distinctive violin store was expeditiously demolished Saturday.

The distinctive facade of the W.A. Gough violin store made it a favourite of many frequenters of the avenue, even though it had not been open for business for years.

The shop's owner, Al Gough, died in 2013, but was a well-respected violin maker and restorer in the community.

Though Saturday's events didn't mark a significant historical loss, Calgary historian Harry Sanders said the building's demolition diminishes the richness of city life.

"Along 16th Avenue, that building stands out ... there are people who still remember that business and Mr. Gough," he said. "But also just how it adds to the richness of city life by giving us temporal dimension. When you drive along 16th Avenue, there's not much there that tells you that street was there over 100 years ago.

"That building does. Or it did, until yesterday."

A different era

The building itself dates back to 1912, originally opening as a plumbing operation called Anderson & Dick plumbers.

Sanders said the building also played host to a number of other businesses prior to becoming a violin store, including a branch of a well-known drycleaning shop named Dollar Cleaners & Dyers.

This clipping from the November 5, 1912 edition of the Calgary Daily Herald, shows the building permit of what would later be home to the W.A. Gough violin store. Initially, the building opened as a plumbing operation. (Clipping submitted by Harry Sanders)

Sanders said the building's constancy reminded us of a Calgary from a different era, as the building was constructed shortly after the annexation of the village of Crescent Heights.

"It's part of a phenomenon. It reminds us of 1912 Calgary, early development on an early commercial street in a distant subdivision in Calgary," he said. "Even though it post-dates the annexation of the village of Crescent Heights, it's a reminder to us of how old that area is within the city, and a reminder of what it might have been like in the time of the village of Crescent Heights."

Music memories

Many voiced their dismay at the loss of the building, including Jeff White, a Calgary native and double bassist.

A former member of the Calgary Philharmonic, White has lived in Denmark for seven years. He recalled the shop as being tiny, with a counter in the middle surrounded by violins and a workshop in the back.

As a young musician, White received a yearly scholarship from Gough from age eight until he left Calgary at age 16 – the only scholarship available for bass players in the Kiwanis Musical Festival at the time.

"Realizing he made a little point of making sure us lowly bass players had help, is pretty meaningful to me, actually," White said.

The demolition also provoked strong reactions on social media, including from Andrew Chomik.

Architectural heritage

Calgary photographer George Webber said he had photographed the building a dozen or more times over the years.

"My little practice has been to record the vanishing architectural heritage of the city and I've been doing that for many years," he said. "I'm just fighting my own little personal battle against the relentless forces of time."

Webber said despite its recent state of disrepair, the loss of the W.A. Gough violin store could diminish a sense of community and history in the area.

"[Buildings like that] really humanize and warm the street. It gives the street a sense of history and identity and connection to the community, to the people that would have their instruments repaired there," he said. "We sometimes [have] those very kind of individual, idiosyncratic, almost folk art independent businesses.

"That building is likely to be replaced with something which is much more chic and modern and utilitarian."

CBC was not able to confirm with the city whether or not the building's sign — W.A. Gough Violin Maker & Restorer —was preserved.


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