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A digital trip down memory lane

By James Jackson
Waterloo Chronicle
Published Jan. 8, 2014A young Don Flumerfelt walks south towards the intersection of Lester Street and University Avenue in this family photo taken some time during the winter of 1965/1966. The former Northdale resident is now looking to recreate the community from that era using 3-D computer technology and family photographs.

While the City of Waterloo works to redevelop the Northdale neighbourhood from a student ghetto into a multi-use community, one former resident is attempting to recreate the area digitally using photos from a bygone era.

Don Flumerfelt was just a toddler when his family packed up and left their home at 249 Lester St. in Waterloo on Sept. 10, 1966 and headed to Boston, Mass., but he has spent the past year recreating the neighbourhood he barely knew using his father’s photos from their brief time in Waterloo.

The seed for the project was sowed following a digital distraction at work. He took a tour through the community using Google Street View and was shocked by how much the area had changed. His childhood home, along with many others in the neighbourhood, had been replaced by newer structures.

“I went on Google Earth (and) started walking up and down the street and thought ‘what are all these buildings? I don’t remember them,’” Flumerfelt said, laughing on the other end of the line in New Haven, Conn.

His mother and father, Viva and Leonard “Bud” Flumerfelt, bought the new three-bedroom ranch-style bungalow in 1958, when the area now referred to as Northdale was still a popular settlement area for veterans from the Second World War. Single-family homes and their young families quickly dotted the landscape.

Using a stockpile of old family photographs taking during the late ’50s and early ’60s, Flumerfelt is painstakingly recreating his family’s home — from the exterior walls and landscaping right down to the interior floor tiles and baseboards. He’s using an online rendering program called Trimble 3-D Warehouse, powered by Google, to recreate the neighbourhood.

He said looking at the old photographs of his home and his neighbourhood has aroused old memories he thought he had lost. Born on March 31, 1964, Flumerfelt was less than three years old when his family moved to the U.S. after his father got a new job.

It’s been a labour of love for Flumerfelt for more than a year, and it’s provided him with an interesting insight into his childhood and helped take him back to the days when his mother wasn’t afraid to send his older sister Jill down to the corner store for a quart of milk or some bread.

“One thing led to another and then I started waking up in the morning and having memories of the place,” he said. “I only had two memories of the place and now I have about 20.

“It’s usually only when I wake up in the morning. This is kind of like time travel.”

His interest in the community led him to do some more research online about Northdale, which in turn led him to the Waterloo Chronicle’s coverage of the community and the City of Waterloo’s plan to revive the area.

Given the short amount of time he actually lived in Waterloo, anyone who spent their formative years in the community or have lived there for their entire lives would surely value the opportunity to revisit the neighbourhood as it was during the ’50s and ’60s, Flumerfelt said.

“If all that matters to me that much, how much more can it mean to the people who have stuck it out?”

Councillors passed what it now referred to as the Northdale community improvement plan in June 2012, with the goal of revamping the neighbourhood — known mostly for single-family homes and student housing — into a multi-residential and mixed-use neighbourhood with an emphasis on attractive urban design and open space.

Last fall, a team of consultants from IBM also provided about $400,000 worth of pro-bono advice on how the city can best realize its plan to remake Northdale.

Coun. Jeff Henry, who worked extensively on the Northdale redevelopment plan, said the history and the heritage of the community is certainly considered when the city looks at ways to remake the area. He noted the intense interest in the area from both longtime residents and those new to the area.

“People have great pride in where they came from,” he said. “People who live or have lived in Northdale think fondly back to their time there and ask what’s happening, so there’s great interest in the history of the neighbourhood.”

Henry also noted the role of the Veteran’s Green memorial in preserving the contributions of some of the community’s earliest residents.

The heritage section of the City of Waterloo website has an extensive history on the neighbourhood and the first residents.

Flumerfelt’s family home was demolished in 2009, along with the homes at 247 and 251 Lester St., to make space for a new 6-storey student rental apartment.

He spoke to his parents recently about the neighbourhood and they said when they were preparing to leave in 1966, their neighbours were buzzing about the prospects of renting their spare bedrooms to students or converting their basements into extra bedrooms.

“I hope that whatever (the City of Waterloo is) doing up there, it turns out for the best,” Flumerfelt said. “If they’re going to go the direction they’re going and urbanize the place, what better way to remember what it once was than have a 3-D model that anyone can go walk down the street?”

Flumerfelt hopes to generate more interest in the project and is willing to help others rebuild their homes from that era. He even offered to open the program up to the public so anyone can build their own renderings of the community.

So far Flumerfelt has built 29 models of buildings. They can be viewed online by visiting http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/ and entering “Northdale Past” in the search bar.

You can also reach him by email at donflumerfelt@gmail.com.

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