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.
Brantford celebrated two 100-year anniversaries in the 1970s. The Brant Bell Centennial commemorated the 100th anniversary of the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in Brantford in 1874. In 1977, the City celebrated the 100th anniversary of its incorporation as a city. Both events were moderately successful and occurred despite organisational disarray, a lack of cooperation between groups, and late planning for the various organised events.
Ideas for the Bell Centennial began in 1969 but by 1972 no firm plans or committee to lead the celebration were in place. A wide range of ideas were proposed for activities and memorials: an arts centre, a production on the banks of the Grand River involving a cast of 50,000, a world-wide telephone bill lottery, a musical production, and a parade. The marquee exhibit was to be Telescience 100, a portable hands-on exhibit of telephone equipment, that would be housed in a temporary geodesic dome located in the Darling Street parking lot downtown. The plan was to have this exhibit tour Canada after the summer of 1974 and then end up in a permanent purpose-built museum in the City. A massive two-and-a-half-hour parade with 10,000 participants was one of the highlights of the year. An original musical, celebrating the history of the City and Bell, was performed in the rotunda of City Hall. The International Villages Festival, celebrating Brantford’s cultural diversity, was launched as part of the Bell Centennial festivities. The idea of creating a national telecommunications museum to highlight the past, present, and future of telecommunications was first raised by the Bell Homestead Committee in 1974.
For the City’s centennial celebration, promoter Arthur J. Kelly suggested creating an historical extravaganza on Kerby Island in the middle of Grand River. Kelly said his production would make Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments look like a Sunday School pageant. Kelly successfully organised Brantford’s 1967 and 1974 parades. The year also included a civic party on 31-May-1977, featuring a 190-foot birthday cake; a parade and picnic; and a musical production that paid tribute to the working men of Brantford.
Arts and Culture
It turned out that the new Civic Centre was not an ideal venue for the performing arts or cultural events, so the community again focused on developing a space for arts and culture events.
ArtsPlace opened in 1972 in the Temple Building, on Dalhousie Street next to the Post Office. It was Brantford’s second art gallery. A 1973 consultant’s report prepared for the Art Gallery of Brant identified the need for an arts centre, ideally located downtown. The report suggested an arts complex could be the City’s centennial project. The complex could be centred around the Capitol Theatre, now the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, and would require, in addition to the existing theatre, a 550-seat studio theatre, a 25,000 square foot visual-arts centre, and convention and meeting rooms for 200 people. City Council’s Executive Committee approved the idea as a centennial project. In 1975, the City began negotiations with Famous Players to purchase the theatre. The asking price of $1.2 million was too steep for City Council. An independent group representing a number of local organisations began a campaign to raise money to buy the building. Enter Arthur J. Kelly with an ambitious plan to raise the money to buy the theatre.
In 1978, Kelly convinced Famous Players to give him a year to raise the money. Kelly’s plan included a $5.20 levy on each person in the community and a two-day annual festival on the banks of the Grand River, featuring a symphony orchestra on the first night and a rock band on the second night. Kelly then organised a concert for Kerby Island, in the middle of the Grand River, for August 1978 featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Kelly hoped the concert would attract 70,000 people. However, ticket sales were slow and Kelly struggled to make even a meagre pre-payment of the orchestra’s US$66,000 fee in July. The orchestra was caught up in the novelty of the event and worked with Kelly even though the finances were looking grim. The show went on and was watched by an estimated 20,000 people. Tickets were priced at $5.20 per person, but only about 11,000 tickets were sold. Because the concert took place in the middle of the river there was no way to control who got to see the show and if they had a ticket or not; people simply watched from the banks on either side of the river. The concert reportedly lost about $40,000. A lawsuit was launched by the orchestra for payment of services rendered. The lawsuit named Kelly, the City, the mayor, and an alderman. Kelly always acknowledged that the debt to the orchestra was his, and his alone. The case was settled out of court in 1981.
In 1978, the National Museums of Canada rekindled discussions of building a telecommunications museum and in 1979 the Secretary of State made a $20,000 grant available to study the idea. The thought was this museum could draw up to 300,000 people a year. It was estimated to cost $9.1 million and could open in 1982. However, interest from the telecommunications industry was tepid and contributions from the industry was an important aspect of funding, so plans were shelved.
Sports and Recreation
In July 1971, the National Hikers and Campers Association held their 12th annual and first international campvention at the newly developed 435-acre Brant Park. 30,000 campers from across North America descended on Brantford. Brant Park became a city within a city.
A new Lions Park was developed in West Brant on 33 acres of land at Gilkison and Edge Streets. The new park included an arena, a running track, and playing fields. The new park was to replace the old Lions Park at Market and Ontario Streets because the new Brantford Southern Access Road bridge was built on a portion of the old Lions Park lands. The new arena opened in December 1971. A second ice-surface was added to the North Park Arena and the facility was renamed the North Park Recreation Centre. The second arena opened in 1972. The complex was renamed the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre in 1982.
To this time, the City only had one indoor public swimming pool, at the YM-YWCA at Queen and Darling Streets. To address the need for a second indoor pool the North Park Aquatic Centre was built and opened in 1974. It was an eight-lane, 65-metre Olympic sized pool and diving facility, built adjacent to the North Park Arenas. The complex hosted the 1975 Canadian National Diving Championship, a testament to the quality of the facility.
Discussions regarding the revival of Mohawk Park continued. The condition of the lake remained the major stumbling block. A 1975 report recommended making the park a day-use park that would include pools, playground equipment, an amphitheatre or a pavilion. The public felt differently and wanted the park rehabilitated but left in as natural a state as possible.
The Brantford Braves won three Ontario Baseball Association championships: 1970 (the City’s first in 35 years), 1975, and 1976.
In 1971, the Brantford Warriors won the Mann Cup, for the national Senior A lacrosse championship. The Mann Cup has been awarded since 1910. The trophy is one of the most valuable in all of sports as it is made from solid, albeit low-karat, gold. This is Brantford’s only Mann Cup championship team. The Warriors lost the 1972 Mann Cup to the New Westminster Salmonbellies, the same team they beat the year before. Gaylord Powless was the star of the team.
The Brantford Forresters won the 1971 Ontario Hockey Association Intermediate A championship. Brantford teams also won the championship in 1947 and 1964. In 1972 the Brantford Forresters moved to Senior A. The team was known as the Forresters between 1972 and 1975. In 1976, they were renamed the Brantford Alexanders. The team was named for Alexander Graham Bell. In 1977, the Alexanders won Brantford’s first national hockey championship, the Allan Cup.
Brantford had been in the running for an OHL Major Junior A franchise since 1974 when it seemed almost certain the Hamilton Fincups would move to town. Instead the Hamilton team was sold to another Hamilton group and the Toronto Marlboros ended up playing 20 games at the Civic Centre in the 1974-75 season. The Marlboros did not return in 1975-76 because of conflicts over ice time with the Brantford Alexanders Senior A team. The Fincups almost moved to Brantford in 1976 but that deal fell through as well. Finally, in 1978 the Hamilton Fincups moved to Brantford and were renamed the Brantford Alexanders. The team moved back to Hamilton for the 1984-85 season. The team made the play-offs five out of the six years it operated out of the Civic Centre.
In the boxing world, Frank Bricker’s boxers, training out of the Branch 90 Legion continued to have success. Gary Summerhayes won the Canadian light-heavyweight championship in 1973. Gary’s brother, John, won the Canadian lightweight championship in 1974. Then in 1978 Gary won the Commonwealth light-heavyweight title with an eleventh-round knockout of Australian Tony Mundine. This duplicated a feat achieved by Brantford boxer Gord Wallace in 1956. Gord was also coached by Frank Bricker.
Wayne Gretzky first made national news in 1971 at the age of 10. In that year, Gretzky scored 378 goals and had 139 assists for the Nadrofsky Steelers. In 1975, Wayne moved to Toronto to continue his career away from the pressure and negative attention he received from other players’ parents, including the parents of his teammates in Brantford. In 1977, Gretzky was drafted third by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. On 12-June-1978 Gretzky signed a personal services contract with Nelson Skalbania owner of the World Hockey Association’s Indianapolis Racers. The contact was for seven years and US$1.75 million. Gretzky only played eight games for Indianapolis. On 2-November-1978 his contract was sold to Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers.