Butler Mansion: As It Was

As a former resident of 11 Butler Crescent N.W. in Brentwood where the recent tragedy occurred I humbly recall the positive experience of living in that house with all due respect to the victims and their families.

The now infamous 11 Butler Crescent N.W. was better known as Butler Mansion to those who lived there as I had known it from 2009-10 and afterwards on visiting friends who held down the fort. Having recently moved away when I first heard about the tragedy in Calgary a city I had called home for nearly six years I felt a kind of shock I had never experienced before. The shock of knowing all too well the scene of a violent crime. As I lay in bed a spring snow falling on New York City outside my window my mind coursed through the hallways of Butler Mansion wondering why how where when who… and remaining at a loss. Yet I am humbled before the loss that reverberates through the hearts of the families and friends and of those involved and to all Calgarians and Canadians.

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 admittance was a privilege as there was a fervent interview process conducted by the eldest roommates. On a resounding musical note we concurred that we both liked Mississippi John Hurt. 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 prove to be a lifelong friend.

Another of the elder roomie duo spoke of the embedded fortuity of 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 roomies that revolved as often as the doors at Radio City Music Hall was right. My first interviewer showed up that day with a brand new acoustic Martin guitar that he had won valued at over $6000. 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 the door of my room at Butler placed there by the still-true girlfriend of my former roomie and now lifelong friend. She often graced Butler Mansion with her special talent as a painter and artist spending summer days outside vibrantly and skilfully colouring 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 a positive and creative place where people from all walks of life from Calgary and truly from all over the world gathered to enjoy themselves. People from every age group attended the regular gatherings whether in their 60s or yet to enter preschool and people of many different cultures called Butler Mansion home as the night opened its doors to Latin American fiestas to sushi dinners to vegan barbecues and literally tubs of sangria. It was the kind of place 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 where 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 began to weep in the arms of my future wife.

That personal loss can’t be compared to the recent tragedy at Butler Mansion and the number of individuals affected — family friends students musicians neighbours. 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.

Matt Hanson is an occasional Fast Forward Weekly contributor who now lives in New York City.