Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Something I Wrote About Downtown Brantford

I was perusing the Facebook the other day and saw that an orginization in my city is running a contest. Apparently, those interested in entering just write their favourite vintage memories of Downtown Brantford and they can win something.
This was a no brainer for me. I grew up with Downtown Brantford as my playground.

A little background for the non-Brantford readers.
Brantford is a city built on industry and manufacturing. However in the 80s and 90s when manufacturing plants started closing up, moving south and changing to more automated ways of doing things many people in Brantford became unemployed in a short period of time. This along with the move from cities planned around a downtown core led a once thriving downtown to turn into a veritable wasteland. I'm not even joking. At one point the downtown was a bustling place where families would hang out and at it's lowest point it was cast as a location in a horror movie because the set directors really didn't have to do anything to it.

Scene from Silent Hill, 2006
See those boarded up buildings, that is not set design, that was our downtown. 
So anyway, here's the article I submitted with some additions because you're not all from Brantford.

As a long-time resident of Brantford, and for the most part Eagle Place, Downtown Brantford has been
a big part of my life.

For over 20 years I attended Cornerstone Church, which was housed first in a second storey space on
Queen Street and then, for many years, in the old Mason building on Colborne Street (right across from
Zorba's Greek restaurant). My dad was out of work for most of my childhood and so he spent a lot of
time volunteering at the church with my sisters and I in tow. We would often walk with my dad to the
church and would stop in at the local businesses - Jamie's Bookstore, de Haagen's bakery, the exotic
pet store and one or both of the two arcades downtown. I still remember ballet classes being help in a
building next to Cornerstone and at least 2 furriers, including Nymann's, that offered cold storage for
all your fur items.

The former Cornerstone Church building. The third floor was the coolest.

My mother also took us downtown often to pay the bills and simply to get out of the house. We would
walk or sometimes take the bus to pay the bills at the PUC office, the Post Office (had to sit on those
Countless Brantford children have burned their bottoms sitting on these lions during the summer.

 the Union Gas building and for a while even the Bell Telephone building where I saw my first
touch tone phone. 

I sat in this guy's lap more times than Santa Claus.

We would sometimes stop at the Burger King or the Laura Secord in the Eaton
Centre for a snack, run around Victoria Park or take part in one of the many programs offered by the
Brantford Public Library when it was still housed in the Carnegie Building. 

Formerly The Brantford Public Library, now part of Laurier Brantford's campus.

We took advantage of BiWay’s (the downtown location's) closing sale, I got lost in the old Woolco and I saw my first movie,Snow White, in the Capitol Theatre. I remember the huge murals of Pauline Johnson, Wayne Gretzky and Tonto on the side of Pauwels Travel Bureau and was treated to a birthday lunch at the Colonial Resturant one year. For some reason my mom always changed the subject when I asked why we
couldn't eat lunch at Justine's. (Nb. Justine's was a strip club.)

As a teenager The Downtown was a cool place to explore. I discovered Admirals and the beauty that is
the Junk Pile 

Read what's included in the Junk Pile and lament that you don't have that in your home town.

as well as a great 2 for 1 pizza place on Colborne Street's south side. At one point there
were at least four great second hand stores in the downtown core, a used record store in what used
to be a luggage and leather goods store and a great little Polish grocery and deli. Unique World in
the Mall catered to all my black light and incense needs, there were two theatres I could choose from
on a Saturday night and the short lived Red Rocket Cafe let me indulge in some excellent food in a
fantastically, kitschy environment.

Then I went away to school, vowing never to return to Brantford again which I'm pretty sure is the one
surefire way to ensure that one returns to Brantford indefinitely.

When I returned after four years in Waterloo and almost two in Hamilton, Brantford had changed.
The downtown core wasn't cool anymore, it was sad. The casino that had promised to solve all of
Brantford's problems had failed to live up to the glorious future politicians had promised and the
positive aspects of allowing Wilfred Laurier University to expand in Brantford were still being debated by local politicians.

I had started a family since leaving and, to be honest, would probably have avoided Brantford's
Downtown like the plague if things hadn't started to change.

The embracing of Laurier as a positive change for Brantford by city officials, the creation of Harmony
Square and the intentional role of community organizations like Freedom House, the Brantford Public
Library and others have made the downtown a positive place for families and businesses to be, as well
as, a place I want to explore again and a place where I can make memories with my own family.

Frosty Fest brings 15,000 people into Downtown Brantford over 3 days. A far cry from Silent Hill.

1 comment:

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