By: Jack Jackowetz
Brantford was no longer a city in transition. Change was well underway. New suburban housing and commercial developments were being built, primarily in the north end. The downtown began its rapid decline as the commercial centre of the City, it would be supplanted by Lynden Park Mall and strip mall developments along King George Road. The manufacturing sector was humming along nicely; there were well paying jobs available for young men right out of high school. The optimism of the decade did not foresee economic events that would culminate in the 1980s that would forever change the City.
A new official city plan was received in March 1970, a replacement of the 1951 official plan. The state of the downtown core and what to do about the Market Square dominated the discussions at City Hall. Mayor Richard Beckett suggested forging ahead with downtown revitalisation even without the support of federal or provincial money. As a first step, Beckett advocated for the construction of a parking garage to address the issue of inadequate parking. The block bounded by Market, Dalhousie, Queen, and Colborne Streets was the suggested location of the parking garage. This suggestion was supported by the downtown merchants. How would the downtown have fared if parking were available in the centre of the core rather than behind the downtown on the former canal basin?
A looming threat to the downtown core as the main shopping district of the City was the announcement of plans in 1970 to build two shopping malls in the north end of the City. One proposal was to convert the Brantford Plaza, anchored by Woolco, to an enclosed shopping mall. The other proposal was for the development of what would become Lynden Park Mall, at Park Road North and Lynden Road, with K-Mart and Simpson’s as the anchor stores. Development of the Market Square before the new malls were built was deemed essential if the downtown was to remain a viable shopping and commercial district.
In October 1972, Humber Oak Corporation presented a proposal to City Council for a development that was to include a department store, supermarket, banks, offices, shops, a restaurant, and parking for 180 cars. The downtown merchants opposed the plan as presented because it lacked two essential elements: a hotel and a high-rise apartment complex; there needed to be a resident population so the downtown would remain an active space.
Despite these concerns, the City agreed to lease the square to the company in July 1973. The company expected the development, anchored by a Metropolitan store, to be ready by August 1974. In June 1974, plans were scaled back as Metropolitan had pulled out and the company could not arrange financing. A curse had been placed on development of the Market Square by a Six Nations medicine woman in 1904. According to the Six Nations, Market Square was to always remain a public space with a farmers’ market. Private development of the Square conflicted with this cherished belief. This curse was renewed by clan mother Alma Green in 1974. By the end of 1974, development plans had been halted.
Local industry saw the state of the downtown as an impediment to attracting talent to the City. When local companies toured prospective employees around Brantford, after the tour ventured downtown, the question “How far away is Burlington?” was often asked. Burlington was considered a more desirable place to live. Downtown was seen by many residents to be a scary place.
A pedestrian mall was attempted during the summer of 1974, but it too was a bust, since it only exacerbated the parking problem by removing parking along the mall portion of Colborne Street.
A 1975 development proposal failed due to financing issues. In 1977, two proposals were received by the City and council accepted the proposal from Brantford-based, Homestead Projects. Homestead proposed developing Market Square and the area around the square, as well as constructing a parking garage. Their parking garage would necessitate the closing of Market Street. This project received monetary support from the province. The project had its detractors: Alma Green renewed the curse yet again, Eagle Place residents opposed the closing of Market Street, heritage advocates worried about the fate of heritage buildings and some downtown merchants objected to the plan.
To add further insult, a Toronto-area planner commented that the downtown looks like a slum and that no knowledgeable major developer would invest in it. An agreement was signed between the City and Homestead in June 1979. Homestead struggled to get the project underway on their own. In October, Homestead announced that Campeau Corporation, one the Canada’s biggest real estate firms, would become a partner. In November, Eaton’s agreed to be a part of the development. Homestead and Campeau could not agree on the terms of their partnership. Homestead found a new partner and Campeau and Eaton proposed to continue to work together. The City opted for the Campeau/Eaton consortium.
The Brantford Downtown Association was replaced with the Business Improvement Area in December 1977. A Business Improvement Area permits the City to levy an improvement tax on downtown businesses. The tax is used to improve the area and promote the downtown as a destination.
Moving traffic through the downtown core was still a problem. Improving traffic flow through the downtown would require the phasing out of on-street parking in the core and the synchronisation of the traffic lights. More off-street parking would be needed to replace the lost on-street spots. The purchase of the Forbes Brothers car dealership property at Darling and Queen Streets in 1972 was in response to the need for additional off-street parking. It took the City until 1978 to conclude an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation to synchronise the downtown traffic lights. Dalhousie and Colborne Streets were part of Highways 2 and 53 through the City.
Fires continued to plague the downtown. A fire on 11-January-1970 damaged six businesses at the corner of George and Dalhousie Streets: Miller and Miller law offices, Varga and Frank realtors, Ideal Cleaners, OK Shoe Store, Rainbow Fabrics, and Karek’s Food Specialities. All available fire trucks were needed, and off duty firefighters were called in to fight the blaze.
On 27-September-1972, a fire destroyed the Brantford Clinic, located at 54 Brant Avenue. The rear portion of the building and medical equipment was lost. This is now known as the Central Professional Building.
The Formpac fire, 36 Morton Avenue East, on 6-November-1973 destroyed the factory and warehouse costing the city 200 jobs. It was Brantford’s most costly fire to that time with the loss estimated at between $4 and $5 million. The plant was built by Grace Containers and opened in 1964. The name of the company changed to Formpac on 1-April-1971. Formpac made foam meat trays and egg cartons. Formpac did not rebuild the plant.
A fire destroyed the Belmont Hotel, 155-159 Colborne Street, on 29-May-1974. The Belmont was built around 1860. It housed 44 tenants at the time. The hotel was not rebuilt and the property remained vacant until Massey House was built in 1980.
The Squires Court at 97-99 Dalhousie Street, now a Laurier academic building, caught fire during the early morning hours of 15-October-1975. The hotel was built in the 1890s and opened as the Woodbine Hotel. In 1914, the name was changed to The Strand Hotel. It became the Squires Court in the early 1970s. One person died in the fire. Two months after this fire, on 29-December-1975 fire destroyed three businesses a few doors west of the Squires Court; B.B. Submarine, Beauty of India, and Brunswick Billiards. Pauwels Travel and the Brass Monkey again suffered damage. Fire broke out twice in 10 weeks on either side of these two businesses.
On 14-February-1976, a fire destroyed the building and five businesses at the corner of Dalhousie and King Streets: Mike’s Camera Shop, Mr. Tony’s Hair Stylist, Tuxedo Corner, Brant Art Shoes, and the Sub Tub. This building housed Lough’s Drug Store on the corner since 1931. Lough’s closed in 1975.
The Hotel Kerby, at the corner of Colborne and George Streets, burned on 29-July-1976, and shortly thereafter the building was razed because of the structural damage sustained during the fire. The Kerby was once Brantford’s pre-eminent hotel and the largest hotel in Canada West when it opened on 24-Aug-1854. The hotel was closed between 1858 and 1865 and then became a barracks for the local militia. In 1872, J.C. Palmer bought and reopened the hotel.
On 31-August-1976, the vacant former H.E. Mott factory was destroyed in less than an hour. The building, located on the east side of Clarence Street between Wellington and Nelson Streets, was originally occupied by the Verity Plow Company, then later by Goold, Shapley, and Muir. Mott bought the building in 1934 and operated there until they moved to a new factory on Wadsworth Street in 1958.
A fire on 14-December-1978 damaged the business of Brant Screencraft, located at 1 Alfred Street, in the former Bixel Brewery building.
The 1970s was a tumultuous time for the Police Department. There was division between duty officers and supervisory officers. In addition, the cost of policing and officer pay provided The Expositor with plenty of stories throughout the decade. In 1971, the police commission recommended up to a twenty percent pay raise in order to bring Brantford police salaries in line with other Ontario departments of comparable size. By 1974, the cost of policing was estimated to be four times higher than 1964. A 1976 pay increase for police resulted in a doubling of salary for police officers in six years. A 1977 report by the Ontario Police Commission revealed that policing costs in Brantford were now 25 percent higher than other Ontario cities, a dramatic change from the pay situation in 1971.
In 1971, Brantford Police formed their first Emergency Response Team.
In 1972, the thin red hat band was added. Almost all municipal forces in Ontario used the thin red band to differentiate municipal forces from the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP. In August-1972 a computer was installed and connected to the Canadian Police Information Centre in Ottawa. Brantford was the 30th centre in Ontario to do so. Initially this allowed the police to do motor vehicle checks but eventually was expanded to provide information concerning people, criminal records, gun, and stolen property. The Volkswagen Beetle, colloquially called the VW “bug”, was introduced to the police’s fleet for patrol purposes.
In 1976 a police motorcycle was reintroduced into service. The use of motorcycles was eliminated in 1973 due to noise issues. The 1976 model was quieter.