climbing the mont blanc Tales from growing up on the Legislative grounds

mont blanc classique fountain pen Tales from growing up on the Legislative grounds

Imagine a city kid growing up in a house with a backyard so large, it has an entire lake for swimming or skating, a forest of trees for climbing, and a parkland so vast even a dog might get lost.

And at least one person can claim one of those houses as his actual birthplace.

Over time, the houses faded from view and memories. But Frank Korvemaker, a retired archivist, recently brought them to the attention of the Leader Post in a letter last November after the recent passing, in Hawaii at the age of 91, of Ken Turner. He had grown up in one of the houses between 1926 and the early 1940s.

In 2008, Turner had sent the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan a series of emails, some accompanied by digital photos, detailing the house, his childhood adventures, and what it was like to grow up so near the provinces seat of government.

Turner had corresponded with Korvemaker over the span of about six months, responding to the many detailed questions the archivist asked about his upbringing on the Legislative Grounds.

The Turner house, 1925. Photo courtesy Ken Turner.

Houses were not part of the original plan when the Legislative Building was constructed between 1908 to 1912. However, around 1912, two gardeners cottages (even though they were actually spacious homes) were built close to each other directly south of the building. Ten years later, two more houses were added, south of the first two, to facilitate some staff members who due to the nature of their work were needed on site and on call.

In the mid 1920s Ken Turners father, Leonard, began working as a chauffeur for the provincial government. Given that his services could be required on short notice at any time, he and his family were provided one of the four houses.

And thats where Ken was born in 1926. The Legislative Grounds became his playground to roam and explore with his friends and older brother Len. At varying times over those years, other occupants included the chief engineer of the nearby powerhouse and the chief electrician for the government buildings.

The Legislative Building and the first two houses, to the north, were designed by the same architectural firm, Maxwell and Maxwell. The later, more southerly houses were designed by Maurice Sharon,
climbing the mont blanc Tales from growing up on the Legislative grounds
the provincial architect from 1916 to 1929. Turner grew up in the southwest house, a two storey, three bedroom home.

Two structures stood between the Legislative Building and the four houses. Immediately south to the south was a greenhouse, where all the potted plants and seedlings were grown for the government buildings and the grounds. South of that and just north of the houses was the first powerhouse, with coal fired boilers to power electrical generators and run steam to heat radiators in the buildings.

The powerhouse provided the first quirk of Turners upbringing. Monday.

This meant Sunday meals were cooked on coal oil stoves and lighting would be by coal oil lamps, Turner reminisced in one email. I can only assume that Civil Servants were not expected to work on Sundays as the (Legislative Building) would have no lights and/or elevators working.

The weekly shutdown also became part of the family story regarding Turners birth in the house.

(The living room) was my birthplace and Im told mother had a midwife, Mrs. Bright to help her in the delivery. The other somewhat, difference of my birth is that it almost happened by flashlight and coal oil lamp.

During the summer months the powerhouse would shut down the generators and all buildings, (the Legislative Building), houses etc. would be in the dark until early (Monday) morning. It appears I couldnt wait till daylight and so when the time came for birthing my Dad went across to the powerhouse and convinced the engineer on duty to fire up the generators as Mrs. Turner was in final labor. as here I am 82 years later, he wrote.

Leonard Turner and his son Ken in front of the Turner house, 1932. Photo courtesy Ken Turner.

For the four houses tucked behind the Legislative Building amid considerable greenery, the nearest neighbourhood was Lakeview, to the west across Albert Street.

Our family was somewhat isolated from the rest of Lakeview, and the other neighboring houses in the grounds, but Len and I were accepted as Lakeview kids and visited with our schoolmates and played on the Lakeview hockey and baseball teams. I cant say the same for my parents and maybe it was because of his job or more than likely our somewhat isolation in living in the grounds.

I never recall any social gatherings with any of the neighbors.

In those days, long before the era of much security or excessive supervision, the boys and their friends appeared to have the run of the park, which came in handy no matter what the season.

The Wascana Lake was in some ways a center for some of our enjoyment. In the early winter, if we had a early freeze, and no snow, the lake became a giant skating rink. It wasnt long before our friends from Lakeview, and neighbor kids would all get together, pick up sides and we would have a hockey game.

In the summer, before the weeds inundated the water, we would go swimming and our ole swimming hole was on the west shore due west of the south island. By midsummer however, the lake would become a green mass and something we called the itch would make swimming prohibitive.

Swimming may have been out of the question by midsummer, but there were always the islands. Willow and Spruce islands had only been in existence a few years at that time, created in the early 1930s as part of a Depression era,
climbing the mont blanc Tales from growing up on the Legislative grounds
make work project to deepen Wascana Lake the first time.