I suppose the headline suggests something big, when all I really want to talk about is dinner in a small town.
I was in Barrie today for a play at the Mady Centre, a charming new theatre right in the centre of town.
Because the weather has been so bizarre of late –record cold this week, after an ice storm over Christmas that knocked out our power for over two days, and record warmth today—the plan was to get there early in case the driving was bad.
I recall seeing a show at the Mady Centre a couple of years ago, when it first opened. I don’t pretend to know Barrie, but seriously, there seemed to be no place nearby to eat.
Today? We were sitting in a place called The Local Gastropub, looking at an Indian restaurant across the street. I can’t comment on the Indian place, but that’s two more places than I was aware of on my first visit. I believe there’s also a nice café just next door that was completely packed full.
I am reminded of a line from one of my favourite movies, a line I remember using in a 2011 review I wrote of a performance at the Greek theatre at Guildwood in Scarborough. I said “if you build it they will come”, speaking of Scarborough, but I could just as easily have been speaking of Barrie & the Mady Centre.
Recently, possibly because it’s the beginning of a new year, I saw writers in the Toronto Star & at CBC asking for suggestions on ways to improve our city.
And it hit me. What’s a good way to build a city? Here it is, in miniature. I’m not saying it’s the only solution, but what Barrie has done is clearly transforming their downtown. The theatre seems to be attracting people who then need to eat lunch or dinner or to have a coffee or a beer. It’s not rocket science. If you want people to come to a downtown to spend their money, they need something to do, some reason not to shrug after work and just get in the car to go home.
Let me pause for a moment to notice that the meal was remarkable.
One of us had what they called “the best chicken curry I’ve ever had”, and I had a delicious salmon and leek cake, presented on top of green pea mash & a whisky sauce. The menu is full of attractive items I didn’t try (haggis lollipops? deep fried mars bars?), that are sufficiently enticing that I want to come back, perhaps next time I take in a TIFT show at the Mady Centre.
Barrie is a little seedling compared to Toronto, but surely what we see happening there is the same kind of process we see anywhere. If anyone wants to help build a city –Barrie, Toronto, Kukamonga ? –they should fund the arts. You get a lot of bang for your buck. For every paid worker there are often others working for honoraria or even as volunteers.
The money spent on the arts is good for the economy. I have another specimen besides Barrie to point to. Look at all those European cities. Their arts are subsidized. Their tourism & culture are, of course, unparalleled. You don’t go to Paris or London because you want to get deals on hotels. You’re there for the shows, the operas, the galleries: the art.
And the food before and after.