Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rediscovering downtown Cranbrook may bring community together

by Michael J Morris

When I first arrived in Cranbrook during the Spring Break of 1988 to look around, it was with mixed feelings that I decided to travel through five provinces to spend it here, a place I had never visited despite having made previous  trips to British Columbia.

After one of the harshest Northern Ontario winters in many years, the sunny skies of Florida had more appeal. However, as I had often contemplated relocating to somewhere in B.C., the decision was made to travel 3,040 kilometres by car from Chapleau to Cranbrook, and of course return.

Checking in to a motel on 'The Strip' at three a.m. I was still up early and out for a walk, and my first view was of the white-capped mountains before me, a totally awesome sight on any given day: since I moved here just over a year later, they are likely among the main reasons I have stayed in Cranbrook. 

For a short time I thought The Strip must be Cranbrook's main street which being a downtown kind of person, it was one of the places I wanted to explore. I soon discovered the real downtown area which has been the subject of revitalization for at least a quarter century.

Although, today as one who walks everywhere more than 25  years later, I know how  to get downtown by various routes but  my anecdotal research reveals that it is one of the major questions asked me by motorists, "Excuse me, how do I get downtown?"

Depending where I happen to be, that is not the easiest question to answer, given the rather strange configuration of Cranbrook's street network. I do give credit though to those who worked to improve the entrance to downtown and raised the funds for the arches.

At the risk of using a bad metaphor, the Cranbrook street pattern and not just to the downtown, in some ways reflects the community itself -- confused about what it wants to be, which has led to much division among the citizens.  For example, for the longest time, it was referred to as the "Key City" and by many it still is. Then as a result of a rebranding exercise, it became the "heart and soul of the Canadian Rockies" which didn't last long.

Most recently, "Mountains of Opportunity" was coined, but generally has been reduced to the soaring eagle.

Despite it all, and most sadly, Cranbrook remains a divided place, when there is really no need for it. 

The greatest asset any community has is its people, with talents and abilities that can be used doing those things which bring a community together rather than divide it. But as one person reminded me recently, on most major issues, there appears to be about a 50-50 split among the populace on major issues: to wit -- the referendum on the recreation complex and on the East Hill boundary expansion.

Let's go back downtown. Historically, downtown has been the central place for all great cities. When I taught urban and cultural geography and sociology courses, we always began downtown. It was so when I taught geography when I first came here, but if I was teaching it today I don't think so. The Strip, the place I thought was downtown when I first arrived has replaced it with the arrival of the big box stores and other nearby businesses adding to the mix that was already there.

It's too late to reverse those decisions but it's not too late to revitalize the real downtown. Indeed, the process is underway with the arrival of the farmers' market and making it the main venue for Sam Steele Days. The major parades have followed a downtown route forever.

Why bother? Why not just let downtown stay as it is? Quite simply, because we can't be a vibrant community without it. Brendan Behan, the great Irish writer (all Irish writers are great by the way), in his book Brendan Behan's New York wrote that New York City "is my Lourdes, where I go for spiritual nourishment..." I know what he meant. My favourite places in NYC are Rockefeller Center and Central Park.

I also have my favourite downtown places in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Orlando et al

My favourite place in Cranbrook is Rotary Park, which I discovered over 25 years ago and still visit regularly. Perhaps, we need a "downtown conversation" informal at first, just to chat and listen to ideas .. to "blue sky" if you will the possibilities. Now that the warmer weather is hopefully arriving I plan to wander about the downtown more and rest in Rotary Park. Please feel free to stop me and chat.

I would also love to spend some time at the old Fire Hall, when it becomes the central place for arts and culture rejuvenating the entire downtown area. This new mayor and council, who seem to be divided on the future of the old Fire Hall, has an awesome opportunity to bring this city together by working with the Cranbrook District Arts Council. 

Maybe, we will rediscover the key that makes Cranbrook the heart and soul of the Canadian Rockies and will open mountains of possibilities. I just could not resist mangling metaphors.

 My email is mj.morris@live.ca

1 comment:

  1. Well written, Michael. Perhaps if enough people read it something positive will come of it.If not, the town will remain divided as it is now and that's sad.


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