A couple of weekends ago I took these photos of McNab Park in Saskatoon. It was initially military housing during World War II that later morphed into low income housing after the RCAF shut down the base in Saskatoon. What started as low income housing later turned into slum housing by the time it was shut down.
I have always had a weird fascination with military housing, probably going back to how the Canadian Forces base in Calgary stood out from it’s surroundings. McNab Park was nothing like CFB Calgary and was left isolated and surrounded by the John G. Diefenbaker airport on one side and light industrial and warehouse space on other sides. There was no school, no businesses serving the community, and no bus service after 6:30 p.m. at night which means that if you are living there and working, you are walking home (it’s at least a mile walk from the closest bus stop), or are paying a cab. If you are like a lot of retail workers, you are walking home a lot of evenings. If you need something, the closest convenience store is the overpriced shop at the airport which makes your average 7-11 look like a Wal-Mart in terms of stock.
McNab Park was just left up there to deteriorate which is too bad. The barracks are quite nice. The three that I have been in over the years were well built despite not being that well maintained. I remember them being cool but most houses (including ours) built during the war needed an insulation upgrade. A conversation this week told me that they only have one thermostat for three units which would be an annoyance but not something that made those places uninhabitable.
As they were, they provided affordable housing for low income families in the city and now they are gone. Sure they were remade and many were moved to Fairhaven and sold as $250,000 affordable housing units although I doubt any of their former inhabitants were able to afford them. There are other subsidized housing units in the city, such as those provided by the Saskatoon Housing Authority but with the SHA, you have waiting lists and when you have no where else to go, McNab Park was a decent option for a large family.
I have always wondered what McNab Park would have been like with a small store, decent landscaping, and some of amenities that we take for granted in Mayfair (like two large parks, playgrounds and late night transit service). In other words the stuff that every other neighborhood has in Saskatoon. Even growing up in Deer Ridge in Calgary as it was being built where community infrastructure is lacking compared to what it is today, we had a pocket park and great areas to play in.
For years the discussion about McNab Park is that it was a problem to be eliminated (and replaced) rather than a community that needed to be stabilized and invested in. Not too many communities anywhere do well in that context. The end result is that Saskatoon lost a part of it’s history and in the end gained some moderately affordable housing units that could have been built for that price anyways. I think Saskatoon came out behind on this deal.