Trigger Warning: As a former resident of 11 Butler Crescent NW, where on a Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014, an immense tragedy occurred, I humbly, and solemnly offer an outsider perspective, with all due respect to the victims, and their families.
11 Butler Crescent NW was better known as Butler Mansion to those who lived there, as I had known it from 2009-2010, and afterwards on visiting friends who held down the fort. As this now-infamous address is to be forever known for the Calgary police chief’s recent, devastating confirmation: “worst mass murder in Calgary’s history”, I intend to offer a brief history of the Butler Mansion, as it was in its heyday.
When I first heard about the tragedy, now far from Calgary, a city I had called home for nearly six years, I felt a kind of shock that I had never quite experienced ever before. The shock had an eerie effect, a creeping symptom that others maybe face who have been intimate with death, of knowing all too well the scene of a violent crime. As I lay in bed, a spring snow lit upon the islands of New York City outside my window, my mind coursed through the venous hallways of Butler Mansion, wondering, why, how, where, when, who… and remaining at a loss. Yet, before the loss that reverberates through the hearts of the victims’ families, and friends, and to all Calgarians, and Canadians, I remain humbled.
As a student at the University of Calgary, returning from a momentous study abroad experience in Peru during the summer of 2009, I first walked into Butler Mansion with dirt-stained, sandal-worn toes. “You’ve been to Cairo?” I was asked. Immediately, I could tell this house was special, and not everyone was allowed in, as there was a fervent interview process among the eldest of roomies. “I like Mississippi John Hurt,” we concurred, on a resounding, musical note. Later, I scanned a paper written by my interviewer, a stunningly erudite account on the life of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. This roomie in particular would soon prove a lifelong friend.
Another of the elder-roomie duo spoke of the embedded fortuity for those who take up residence at Butler Mansion, that good things would happen to people living there, that they would experience pearls of triumph in the midst of their transient lives. That young man, who stood watch over the ever-changing roomies who revolved as often as the doors at Radio City Hall, was right. My first interviewer showed up that day with a brand new acoustic Martin guitar that he had won, valued at over $6,000. I would leave Butler Mansion on my way back to Cairo, Egypt the following summer after winning what continues to be one of the proudest research grants I’ve received in my young life.
One day, a note was attached to my room door at Butler, placed there by the still-true girlfriend of my now lifelong friend, and former roomie. She often graced Butler Mansion with her special talent as a painter, and artist, spending summer days outside vibrantly, and skillfully coloring a large canvas that befitted a makeshift tipi. That afternoon, the note on my door directed me to Prince’s Island Park, to listen to a musician who would later become my loving wife.
Butler Mansion was essentially a positive, and creative place where people from all walks of life in Calgary, and truly, from all over the world gathered, to enjoy themselves. Abidingly, every age group attended the nightly gatherings, whether in their sixties, or yet to enter pre-school. Mexicans, Australians, Japanese, and Canadians from across the country called Butler Mansion home, as the night opened its doors to Latin American fiestas, to sushi dinners, vegan barbecues, and literally tubs of sangria. It was the kind of place that would naturally harbor the likes of the late, beloved musicians Zackariah Rathwell and Josh Hunter, where world music jams, and folk songwriters would share in harmonies, where painters would paint together over the same canvas, where conversations between roomies, and strangers alike went on seemingly endlessly. And finally, it was a place of refuge, of rest, and also of mourning.
One weekend, as I left Butler Mansion to visit a friend in Red Deer, my Great Uncle passed away. I did not mourn until I returned home to my cozy basement suite in the Butler Mansion, when I lit a stick of incense, and watched the thick smoke waft through a small rectangular window at the top of the western wall under the ceiling, and saw a rainbow. In that moment, I knew my Great Uncle made it safely into the beyond, and began to weep profusely, to mourn utterly, in the arms of my future wife.
To all of the people who are now mourning the deaths of Lawrence Hong, Josh Hunter, Zackariah Rathwell, Kaiti Perras and Jordan Segura, my sincerest sympathies.