In big cities development & culture seem to be big powerful forces, beyond either our understanding or control. Plans are made, enormous amounts of money are committed & spent, and the buildings go up.
It happens in smaller towns too, but because of the size, the process seems less daunting.
In spite of myself, I got a glimpse of urban renewal on a recent trip to downtown Barrie Ontario. Barrie is a town about an hour away from Toronto, only recently wearing the “suburb” label, having simply been a cute little town on Lake Simcoe. Maybe I shouldn’t call it little anymore, given that Google says their population is over 125,000, “one of the fastest growing towns in the area.”
Some of you may recall that a major fire destroyed some landmarks downtown in 2007.
It was quite traumatic for residents. While there was no human loss of life the historical part of downtown Barrie was heavily damaged.
But as I said, Barrie is growing. The town is small enough that one can observe the drama of loss and subsequent regeneration.
Last week I visited the new Mady Centre for the Performing Arts, to watch Great Expectations, presented by Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT). It’s quite a lovely little theatre, situated at one of the main intersections of Barrie, in fact right beside the area that was hurt by the big fire in 2007.
Opened just last fall, it certainly feels new.
After the show we strolled around a bit downtown, noticing that there were people hanging around the downtown. We drifted over to a nearby restaurant recent enough that it doesn’t yet appear in Google’s street view.
“Si Senor” calls itself “Barrie’s only authentic Mexican Restaurant”. The tortillas filled with spicy fish were unlike anything I’ve encountered in Toronto, followed by fried ice cream. The inside of the restaurant was gleaming almost as brightly as my smile after I’d had my dessert, which left me wonderfully buzzed. As we surveyed the traffic in the heart of Barrie I was thrilled to see the natural regeneration taking place before our eyes.
Speaking of tortillas, I was reminded of a voice in the corn. In the film Field of Dreams a voice whispers from amid a field of corn “if you build it he will come”. Something similar seems to be at work in any community. Just as in the film, they don’t know why they’re coming, but they come, perhaps to hang out, maybe to meet their friends. It’s very healthy, and wonderful to see. In recent years we’ve seen theatres go up in the small towns that ring Toronto (Richmond Hill & Brampton come to mind, but there are others of course), reflections of a growing sophistication.
“Great Expections” is a perfectly apt title under the circumstances. Nevermind Dickens or Pip, this is a town with Great Expectations.