Renovations to historic Calgary blues joint will see creation of National Music Centre

The King Edward Hotel, commonly hailed as the King Eddy, was a cornerstone blues joint and hotel notorious for it’s jivin’ vibe and atmosphere, being heralded as the “home of the blues.” That is, until the bar was closed on Friday the 13th in August of 2004, after being open for ninety-nine years.

The now boarded-up building on the prime real estate of Fourth Street and Ninth Avenue S.E. is now being rebuilt through the Cantos Music Foundation, into the National Music Centre.

Camie Leard, spokesperson for the musical foundation, explains the historical significance of the Eddy. “The magic of the Eddy represented a time and place, in Calgary and in music, that you can’t recreate.”

The three-storey hotel — easily recognizable by its four-foot tinsel heart on its front door — was once famous for the blues music reverberating through the walls. Replacing the depressing silence that has loomed within the building are the sounds of hammers, construction workers and generators all working towards the goal of transforming the King Eddy into the National Music Centre.Bill Dowey (left,) and Mike LeBlanc (right) revisit the King Eddy during renovations.
Photo by: Kyle Napier

The King Edward Hotel, which has already received $75 million in funding for its revitalization, will have the Cantos foundation contributing the remaining funds — a projected $135 million — to ensure that the project is finished on time.

“The hotel itself, architecturally speaking, won’t have many changes. The idea is to maintain its historical integrity,” says Leard.

The Calgary Municipal Land Corp. plans to restructure the former hotel through the Downtown East Village revitalization project.

Susan Veres, vice-president of marketing and communications for the corporation, says that though the interior will be restructured, “the envelope of the building can be maintained, and it will be incorporated into this design.”

Walking past the abandoned bar and hotel, one can still smell the dark and dingy atmosphere, and hear the raw potential blasting like a Stratocaster reverberating through the walls; without having ever entered the Eddy itself, you can still feel the history resonating through the baby-blue-paint-chipped exterior.

Performers, from Buddy Guy and Jeff Healey to Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Frank “Son” Seals, Koko Taylor, Dutch Mason, and Junior Wells, all big names in the blues field, have all had their time on King Eddy’s stage, helping to shape the legacy the bar is still remembered for.

The Cantos foundation, which had their proposal approved by the Calgary Municipal Land Corp. for redevelopment, has adopted the responsibility for the future of the Eddy and will determine how it will transform into the National Music Foundation.

Aside from simply removing the asbestos, mold, bird droppings, and eight years of buildup, they’ll be redesigning the interior of the building to become a performance and music space, says Leard.

 “The magic of the Eddy represented a time and place, in Calgary and in music, that you can’t recreate.”
— Camie Leard,
Cantos Musical Foundation

Leard says the renovations to The Eddy, which will begin in the summer of 2012, are planned for completion by 2015. In terms of retaining the architecture of the Eddy, the interior will be restored. Recording rooms and jam spaces will be built onto the existing structure, and there will be a bridge that allows access to the other side of the street in which there will be even more performance space.

Mike LeBlanc, chairman of Friends of the Eddy, lobbied for the preservation of the building when there were plans to demolish it in 2004. The Eddy obtained heritage status, and LeBlanc says this status is the only reason it still stands today.

Aside from its cultural heritage, LeBlanc says, “The building itself is actually a prime example of turn-of-the-century, 1900s, multi-story prairie architecture.”

Joanne Cassell, a veteran of the bar who’s spent 15 years as a bartender and waitress, has been described by LeBlanc as both a “den-mother and a bouncer.”

Cassell had taken care of the “Eddy Kids”, who she says were the musicians and patrons there “every week, every day, every show; you could always depend on the regulars.”Joanne Cassell (second from right) has seen many famous musicians and stars come through the Eddy, such as Burt Reynolds (second from the left).
Photo courtesy of: Joanne Cassell

She says she’s excited for the redevelopment, and wishes the Cantos foundation the best.

“I hope they can bring back that King Eddy feeling, and getting the people back out, and get the music happening in this city again,” she says. “We’ve got a lot of good blues here.”

LeBlanc says that the National Music Centre will be an all-week venue and recording space that will encompass all forms of music, with the focus on Canadians writing, collecting and preforming, and naturally, will have a focus on blues.

With the goal of restructuring the Eddy, LeBlanc says, “We want to tell [the world,] ‘Hey, look what we’ve built here, and it belongs to us.’ It’s a national focus, and it belongs to every single person in the country.”

The plans for the interior structure of the building will be released within the next few months, says Leard, but the visual plans and a flythrough video are available at www.nmc.ca

“We will be bringing music back to the hotel,” says Leard.

knapier@cjournal.ca