October 23, 2019

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'Peg history at their doorsteps

Famous city homes -- and the people who live in them now

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/8/2011 (2977 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/8/2011 (2977 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Eric Marcinkow had a visit from Terry Fox's brother and sister last summer.

HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Eric Marcinkow had a visit from Terry Fox's brother and sister last summer.

People who move into a different house often wonder about those who lived there before, but it's rare to actually get the chance to learn much about the former occupants.

Sometimes there are little hints. Leftovers from those who've gone before — pencilled-in lines on a doorframe celebrating a child's sprouting height, or stained walls, still pungent from tobacco smoked years before.

But for people living in homes once occupied by famous Winnipeggers, the past can be figuratively and literally at your doorstep — like Transcona resident Eric Marcinkow who opened his door last summer to the brother and sister of Terry Fox.

The pair were in the neighbourhood and wanted to reminisce about the Camrose Bay home where they grew up with a brother who would go on to inspire a nation with his Marathon of Hope.

Neil Young's Grosvenor Avenue address, where Bob Dylan turned up a few years ago.

Neil Young's Grosvenor Avenue address, where Bob Dylan turned up a few years ago.

"My daughter said, 'Dad, someone wants to see the house,' " recalled Marcinkow, a single dad. "I said 'What do you mean someone wants to see the house?' and it was (Fox's) older brother and sister. We talked for a while."

Now, the Transcona resident feels a connection to Fox, especially after his own sister died from ovarian cancer. This September, three generations of the Marcinkow family will walk in her honour in the Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope.

No plaque or marker identifies the special significance of Marcinkow's home, and the Free Press only learned of its existence when the address was spotted on a letter a young Terry wrote to Santa Claus.

Many homes once occupied by the likes of Burton Cummings, Neil Young and Marshall McLuhan bear no sign of their former famous occupants, and some residents would like to see the city do a better job of honouring the history of its celebrated Winnipeggers.

Marcinkow believes while we could probably do a better job of celebrating local luminaries, he acknowledges boasting goes against our nature.

Nellie McClung's home on Chestnut street. Now owned by Dr Kurt Markstrom, here posing in the living room.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nellie McClung's home on Chestnut street. Now owned by Dr Kurt Markstrom, here posing in the living room.

"It's kind of the Canadian way," said Marcinkow. "We don't say much about things like that."

Over in Wolseley, resident Kurt Markstrom knew exactly what he was getting into when he bought his Chestnut Street home 11 years ago.

The Toronto transplant and University of Manitoba professor purchased the former home of Nellie McClung and surprised his wife with a biography about the famed campaigner for women's rights — with the deed of sale for the house tucked inside.

"I'm a historian," said Markstrom. "It was really exciting for me to get the chance to own a piece of Manitoban history."

He describes his home as big, drafty and lacking in proper insulation, but suffering from no shortage of character and warmth.

Jennifer and Garett Norberg live in this home at 152 Bannerman Ave. where famous Winnipeg singer Burton Cummings once lived with his grandmother.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jennifer and Garett Norberg live in this home at 152 Bannerman Ave. where famous Winnipeg singer Burton Cummings once lived with his grandmother.

The Markstroms were happy to have the Manitoba Historical Society post a plaque honouring McClung in a flower bed in their front yard. No one seems to give the place any special attention, he said.

But across town in the North End, Garett and Jennifer Norberg are having the opposite problem.

Prior to a recent interview, Jennifer answered the door with a smile and fired off the stock question she so often puts to strangers: "Are you here for Burton Cummings?"

The young couple jokes they've had so many people visit the home asking about the former Guess Who band member they should charge admission.

It's rumoured the living room is where Cummings penned the hit song These Eyes — but renovations to the interior have transformed the place past anything the Winnipeg-born musician would recognize if he visited again.

507 Gertrude Avenue, boyhood home of Marshall McLuhan. (HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

507 Gertrude Avenue, boyhood home of Marshall McLuhan. (HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

If the Norbergs ever feel overwhelmed by the attention the home draws, they could always ask John Kiernan for advice. The owner of the Grosvenor Avenue address once home to a teenage Neil Young was at the centre of a flurry of media attention three years ago when another rock legend turned up at the door.

Kiernan was putting away groceries when he saw someone standing on his front lawn.

"Suddenly I realized it was Bob Dylan," said Kiernan, who promptly invited him on a tour of the home — noting there had been some significant changes made to the place since Young lived there in the 1960s. "My youngest daughter had painted the bedroom pink, so I don't think it is quite the same as when Neil occupied it," laughed Kiernan.

In the days following Dylan's visit, interest in the home went viral. Media from across Canada called for interviews, and more people than ever stopped to take photos in front of the home.

Kiernan understands the fascination — the desire for people to visit a place that was formative in a great man's life, but he hastens to add that it's a family home and not a shrine. "We're not doing tours," said Kiernan. "It's our home."

Kiernan has mixed feelings about erecting plaques to commemorate famous Winnipeggers — especially when they're still living.

"I like the idea of having a little distance to commemorate a historical figure," said Kiernan. "But Neil Young is a current figure."

Still others would like to avoid attention as much as possible.

The young family residing in the old home of Marshall McLuhan — universally regarded as the father of communications and media studies — would prefer not to have a plaque posted on their property. And since obtaining a homeowner's consent is one of the most important steps before a plaque or marker can be erected, it could be a while before the Gertrude Avenue home receives official recognition.

Kiernan said he understands that kind of reluctance. "The house has its own story, too," said Kiernan. "It's about change."

meghan.potkins@freepress.mb.ca

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