While I always enjoy an art opening, I wasn’t at Lougheed House Friday night just to ignore George Webber’s photos.I was there to see the national historic home built in 1891 for James and Isabella Lougheed. Located right downtown, I’ve walked through Beaulieu Gardens many times, but I’ve never been inside the adjacent stone mansion. The gallery party for this year’s Exposure Photography Festival was the perfect excuse to take a gander. I swear it didn’t look this spooky in real life. Inside, who did I meet but Joe Lougheed, great-grandson of James and Isabella. Even though he also looks a little spooky, ignore anything you’ve heard about this house being haunted — it’s all my fault! It might be shaky hands, but I prefer to blame my old iPhone 5. Changing it to black and white improved the photo’s fuzzy focus ever so slightly, plus it’s in keeping with Webber’s pigment print series. Joe immediately launched us on a whirlwind tour of his great-grandparents’ house, which is now a museum. Am I the last person in Calgary to realize this? Probably. Meanwhile, I asked Joe what it was like to be standing in his great-grandmother’s bedroom, preserved for posterity, and he said it was pretty cool. Yes it is.Joe’s family couldn’t pay the taxes on the property during the Great Depression, so the City of Calgary took over the Big House. During the the 1940s, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps occupied the casa, painting many of the features a mild shade of military green.Meanwhile, the Lougheed House connection to the art show taking place in the basement? In 1912, Senator James Lougheed helped finance the Calgary Petroleum Products Company, which struck black gold in Turner Valley two years later – the first commercial oil field in Western Canada.
Webber’s achingly lonely photographs of the abandoned Turner Valley Gas Plant are on display at the Lougheed Gallery until March 22. Next time, I’ll have to go back in the day, when the restaurant is open!