“When chickens start scratching, wrote the Albertan in August 1913, “there’s no telling what they will scratch up.”
The chicken is in question belonged to Wilfred J. Watson, and they scratched up a missing by-law, an illegal street closure, and a conflict that made headlines for days.
This story began in 1907 when the city extended its southern city limit beyond 17th Avenue. If initial plans had been followed, Centre Street would have ended at the banks of the Elbow River opposite today’s Lindsay Park.
Instead, the street ends half a block further north, forming a T-intersection with 18th Avenue. Although never actually constructed, the missing road did exist legally. It is now the parking lot at St. Mary’s high school.
In 1908, A.L. Nunns built a home on 18th Avenue and asked the city to lease him the vacant right-of-way so he could extend his yard along the river.
There were no plans to build a bridge at that point, so the street was not needed. The city leased the land to Nunns for one dollar per year for his “quiet and peaceful enjoyment.”
He planted it with trees, and soon the Centre Street “stub” was forgotten.
In 1912, Nunns to England, and he rented his property to Wilfred J. Watson. Watson raised chickens, and this quickly offended the neighbours.
“He neglected the training of the chickens,” the Albertan wrote, “and did not teach them to stay at home.”
Exasperated at seeing their gardens rated by errant chickens, neighbors sought revenge. They seized on a technicality.
When Nunns first leased the property, it was discovered, council forgot to pass the necessary street closure by-law.
Neighbors who didn't like chickens suddenly transformed into concerned citizens demanding the reopening of Centre Street. They argued that a bridge would soon be needed for the new Canadian Northern Railway yards being built across the river.
There motive was suspect. Asked when such a bridge would be required, a CNoR official replied, not “in 1,000 years.”
Nunns, from his home in London, offered his own theory. He believed that a corral owner in the area, J.J. McHugh, was behind the move—so he could water his horses.
“This, he used to do before the street was closed,” Nunns wrote the mayor, “and the dirt and noise not to mention the rough language of the teamsters were anything but pleasant.”
City Council judged the 1908 lease invalid, and Watson’s chickens lost the right to scratch on the Centre Street “stub.” It continued to exist on paper, but in reality it remained a little park with trees. Finally, in 1934, council passed the by-law to close the road that never really was.
|Map of the proposed Centre Street extension and bridge to Lindsay Park. Calgary News-Telegram, 26 Aug. 1913.|