By Frederick Hunter
16 Street between 21 and 23 Avenues, S. W.
Bankview’s largest park fittingly bears the name of one of the Community’s leading activists and best-known advocates, Professor Dr. Harvey Allan Buckmaster, a complex and fascinating man with a complex and fascinating mind embracing many interests and fields of endeavour. Dr. Buckmaster himself, despite his self-effacing modesty, richly merits and deserves further personal attention herein.
The Park’s real roots date back to the placement of temporary experimental barriers installed throughout the Community as a traffic-calming measure in 1981, which were later made permanent, including one partially affecting that portion of 16 Street later incorporated into the Park. However, the Park itself was begun in earnest only in about 1985 and required the further purchase of five older residences and the complete closure of that small piece of 16 Street. Development and improvements continued even after formal dedication in 1991. So, in all, a full decade was expended from these first preliminary traffic diversion steps until the Park’s dedication in honour of Harvey and Marg Buckmaster, a tribute recommended and demanded by numerous private Community residents in individual submissions to local officials.
Harvey A. Buckmaster was born and grew up in Calgary’s Beltline area, son to Herbert James Buckmaster, a travelling sales representative dealing in farm implements and household and domestic appliances, one day to be honoured as the oldest active commercial traveller in Alberta.
In his youth Harvey, through a ticket-selling job, fortuitously won a free week at Camp Chief Hector, the YMCA summer camp at Lake Bow Fort near Seebe, which event may have first helped introduce him to the beauties of nature, partially setting the stage for the ardent environmentalist he was destined to become. So enchanted and entranced was he with this experience that he returned to spend seven summers there in all, eventually advancing to the staff as instructor in hobbying, as well as swimming and other outdoor pursuits.
It was there also that he first seriously took up his interest in photography, in the process gradually creating and amassing, largely inadvertently, a remarkable collection which would become of tremendous value in later years as a resource for historical and environmental research. However, in those days its main purpose was the pleasure he derived from his hobby, and the income generated by the occasional sale of a few pictures, which enabled him to indulge another passion, electronics.
As a teenager during World War II., when amateur radio was all the rage, Harvey learned to assemble electronic equipment at William “Bill” Smalley’s shop, and soon joined a club for radio buffs. Although one might expect that this type of enthusiasm might have awakened his love of physics, it was not so. In High School he hated physics but enjoyed chemistry and mathematics, which were less intimidating to him.
At The University of Alberta he enrolled in physics regardless, and it took him three years of struggling to finally throw in the towel and switch programmes, adopting mathematics instead. From there he proceeded to The University of British Columbia for a Master’s degree in the latter, but, upon completion of that course, and after having spent a summer at the Atomic Energy plant at Chalk River, Ontario, the relationships of physics to other disciplines finally became clear and he gained a new perspective and appreciation for the field. This discovery resulted in his proceeding toward a Ph.D in that subject after all.
His early inclinations now combined to lead him to specialise in the emerging fields of radio-astronomy and astro-photography during his postdoctoral work with Nobel Prize laureate Martin Ryle at Cambridge University in England in the mid 1950s. Upon his return he joined the academic staff of The University of Alberta, and transferred to its Calgary campus, UAC, (now The University of Calgary), at the time the present location was opened in north-west Calgary in 1960. Again his awareness had been further heightened as to the way all things relate, and the connexion of physics with biology, together with the realisation that not only do molecules commune with each other, but they also cease to communicate with the intervention of abnormalities such as malignancy. At the same time his natural tendency toward and affinity for scientific logic began to develop into sharpened skills of expression and persuasion in other areas as well, eventually leading this quiet, gentle and somewhat shy man into unlikely territory as a debater par excellence.
Convinced that not all discoveries, merely for their own sake, necessarily result in positive or progressive outcomes, and that sometimes they can even prove quite regressive and detrimental, Harvey Buckmaster began to gravitate more and more toward the activist left, often challenging current thinking as well as opposing the “powers that be”. Many times his unorthodox positioning would place him in direct conflict with authority figures and the “Establishment”, but Harvey was never one to be thus intimidated.
Two serious blows befell him in these early days. One was the untimely death of his first wife in only her 30s, which loss was in due course mitigated by his marriage to Margaret who was to become his ally and collaborator in all his future ventures. The other was an accidental fall in which he struck his head on a floor, precipitating three operations over a period of some 15 years, and the eventual failure of his sight in one eye regardless. He spent a year in hospital, but was not about to compromise or sacrifice the joys of photography, art, drama and the outdoors, especially hiking, as well as his environmental concerns. Indeed, so greatly had he missed these activities, that immediately upon discharge he organised and led an expedition on a weeklong wilderness backpacking trek!
A thoroughly comprehensive and exhaustive inventory of Harvey Buckmaster’s contributions and accomplishments might well fill volumes, but a few highlights will perhaps suffice to provide some insight into his involvements in both academic and Community affairs. Prior to UAC’s Autonomy as The U of C, he for three years acted as liaison betwixt the two major Alberta Campuses. Later, at the independent University, often much to the chagrin of his superiors, he championed such causes as The University of Calgary Faculty Association (TUCFA), the equivalent of a union for salary negotiating and bargaining rights and other work-related concerns, of which he was a Board member and President, and served on its Pension Committee. He sat as a General Faculties Councillor and a Governor of The University, in which capacities he vehemently opposed two-tier or differential fees for foreign students. He became also Chairman of a Committee to evaluate the Faculty of Education in Calgary. Those descriptions, however, offer scarcely an introduction to the scope of his efforts.
Probably even more importantly, Buckmaster was staunchly dedicated to matters of much greater import outside the Campus Community, and a considerable portion of his time was devoted to defending heritage preservation, natural conservation, designation of parks and public spaces, as well as Community improvement and quality of life, particularly, but not exclusively, as it affected Bankview. He fought equally diligently at all levels for the establishment of Nose Hill Municipal Park and Fish Creek Provincial Park, and in behalf of the Rocky Mountain National Parks in general, as well as small local parklands at home in Bankview, of which he was a long-time Director and President of the Community Association and, as such, instrumental in bringing forth its vital Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP), largely ensuring Bankview’s survival as a viable neighbourhood. On the Nose Hill project alone, he often acted on behalf of the National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada (NPPAC), and, according to one modest estimate, attended and participated in at least 40 meetings in a single year on this topic alone!
In the end, his impressive powers of reasoning, his obvious fairness and sense of sincerity, and his reputation for sterling integrity not only won him many friends, but won the respect of opponents as well. At home in Bankview he was honoured in 1991 by the naming of the Community’s largest park, which he had done so much to create, and, professionally, his colleagues at The University of Calgary, after retirement, brought him back in 2004 to confer upon him, at Convocation, The U of C’s second-highest Award, that of membership in the prestigious Order of The University of Calgary.
On the latter occasion, The University itself summed up his life and times in these words: “Harvey Buckmaster began his career as a research physicist at The U of C and became an integral part of The University’s early development and its drive for excellence. He published widely, and combined outstanding scholarship with extensive service to his profession, to The University and also to the wider Community”.
This is an excerpt from Frederick Hunter’s A STROLL THROUGH OLD BANKVIEW: SOME 70+ SIGNIFICANT SELECTED SITES. It’s a massive body of work and a highly detailed history of Bankview’s various important sites. Check it out for more great neighbourhood history.