Final Curtain Call at Hart House
Hart House has been sold.
If only the walls could talk. They can’t, so I will. To that extraordinary old house I’d like to say, thanks for the memories. Growing up in the world of pro wrestling was zany and chaotic but Hart house was always, to my earliest memory, a safe place. It was home. The sturdy mansion was built in 1905 by Edward Henry Crandell, a brick and masonry baron who came west from Ontario to settle in Calgary in 1899.
After the Crandell children were grown the house became a refuge for orphans and convalescing children run by the Red Cross until they gave up the lease. Crandell’s son moved back in with his own family until the brick business collapsed in the 30’s and Crandell turned the already quarter century old manor over to Judge H.S. Patterson, who raised his own children there until putting it on the market in ‘51.
In the late summer of that year my father fell in love with the estate on first sight and bought the house, along with the thirty acres upon which it sat perched atop Patterson Hill, surrounded by woods and wildflowers, and an exquisite unobstructed vista of downtown Calgary, seven miles distant, framed by the meandering Bow and snowcapped Rockies. It wasn’t long before the Harts turned this house of distinguished lineage into a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and the Munsters - filled with a cast of characters that Barnum and Bailey would be hard pressed to top!
Maybe not so oddly, the house was always very much a reflection of my father. Strong. Sturdy. There for you in times of trouble. Warm. The heart of Hart house was unquestionably the dining room. Every Sunday for fifty years ( fifty years! ) my mother and father delighted in throwing lavish feasts for anybody who dared to show up. The Hart kids literally chewed the fat with an endless and ever changing assortment of freaks, musclemen, midgets, giants, and tough guys - who found out that at Hart house they were more normal than they thought.
The rest of the time the Hart kids generally did our eating in the kitchen, which Stu had equipped with the finest in second hand restaurant ware from Calgary’s best steak houses and hotels. Just to set the record straight, dad did the cooking, mom ran the office. When I think of the expression, “out here in the fields, we fight for our meals ...” all I can say is I won more than I lost. Stu grew up in the dirty thirties and having known hunger he was more than strict about wasting food. Every night he got great satisfaction in piling twelve dinner plates high, the older the kid the bigger the portion. Then he’d call us to dinner and all the Hart kids would come out of the woodwork in a race to get there first. It wasn’t that we were hungry, it was because the heaping portions were way too big for any of us so the older boys would grab the smallest dishes and the smallest kids would be left sitting there, for hours, having to finish off plates of spaghetti that you could barely see over, while my father stood guard. Nobody went hungry at Hart house. After years of utter frustration my poor mother completely gave up on trying to be Susie Homemaker and us Hart kids knew as much about housekeeping as we did about rocket science. Most of the bedrooms were always knee high in clothes but that didn’t matter, I always figured if you didn’t step on them they were clean!
I slept in a room with five beds and as many brothers. Trying to sleep on school nights, or any night for that matter, was a lost cause. It was all part of the routine, dad slamming his hand on the wall the office shared with the boys’ room telling us to knock it off.
Undoubtedly, the room that will always be the most famous is the infamous dungeon in the basement. Now if those walls could talk, they’d be screaming uncle!
Of course I’ll always remember the once spectacular view of the city from the picture window in the living room. I hope all those people living in those crappie matchbox condos are enjoying that view now. It helps me to feel less guilty about their back view of dead Cadillacs piled up in Stu’s yard for oh so many years.
So, after over fifty years of celebrations, victories, and losses .... the credits are about to roll at Hart House. There’s only one more whoop up before the final curtain call. And in keeping with my parents’ long standing open door policy, you’re all invited to come by! On August 14th from 2-6 a cover charge will benefit The Stu Hart Amateur Sport Foundation and space is limited. For tickets and information call Frank Sisson’s Silver Dollar Centre 287-1183.