By: Jack Jackowetz
The 1980s saw significant changes in the downtown. New developments designed to reinvigorate the downtown totalled $50 million. Yet, as much as there were new developments some things did not change. Downtown Colborne Street continued to see an exodus of businesses and the buildings continued to deteriorate due to the lack of enforcement of property standards. In spite of all the investment downtown residents largely stayed away. The new developments closed streets, which reduced traffic, and reduced on-street parking.
I am amazed at the hurdles a municipality can puts itself through when it tries to make the right decision and satisfy the demands of multiple constituents with conflicting needs. Politics always complicates the process. With the proposed developments contemplated for downtown renewal, a search began for the site of a new transit terminal. Little did anyone think this task would take nearly ten years. The development of the Market Square along with the closure of Market Street between Colborne and Dalhousie Streets required a new municipal bus transfer site. In 1984, the Public Utilities Commission selected the municipally-owned parking lot at Dalhousie and King Streets as a temporary transfer location for its terminal but downtown merchants did not want to lose the parking spaces so it was back to the drawing board. City staff proposed to close Queen Street between Darling and Dalhousie Streets and purchase the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building to use as a terminal building. This solution was opposed by the YM-YWCA as the pollution from the buses and traffic congestion was not compatible with the operation of a fitness facility. City Council then selected the north side of Dalhousie Street between George and Market Streets but this was immediately rejected by the PUC as unworkable.
The deadline to find a location, 1-January-1985, came and went. There was only one thing left to do: set up a committee of course. Representatives from the PUC, City Council, the Business Improvement Area, and Campeau Corporation began another search. Twelve sites were studied and two were selected. The committee selected the Dalhousie Street parking lot across from the Sanderson Centre (now the location of Harmony Square) and Council approved the location, but the BIA lobbied hard against this site and in March-1986 Council withdrew its approval. A new committee was struck, this time with more Councillors. In July, the PUC and technical City staff recommended the Dalhousie and King Streets parking lot as the best location to encourage downtown revitalisation. However, this site meant the acquisition and demolition of heritage buildings forcing businesses in those buildings to relocate. The parking lot itself was too small to accommodate future expansion and would require a terminal redesign. For these reasons this site was rejected by City Council in February-1987. The search was still on.
In June, the property behind the Canada Trust building on Darling Street, the former site of the Forbes Bros. GM dealership was selected and approved by City Council and the PUC. The delays saw the price of the terminal building increase by $100,000. The new terminal finally opened on 20-September-1988.
The City had been lobbied for years by the arts and culture community for a performing arts space. This would be an important addition to the community in its civic renewal efforts. The market for cinemas was changing from one of a large theatre with a gigantic screen to multiplexes,
facilities that housed multiple small intimate theatres in one complex. Famous Players had contemplated chopping up the cavernous Capitol Theatre into several small theatres, forever destroying the interior of the theatre building. Campeau planned to build a multiplex in their Market Square development and was trying to lure Famous Players, the owners of the Capitol Theatre, to move their operations to the new mall. When Famous Players agreed, the Capitol Theatre was surplus to their needs and was offered to the City for $425,000. The City would have its performing arts centre.
The theatre closed its doors on 21-August-1986 and the City concluded its purchase of the building in October-1986. Market studies indicated that the theatre would need to operate on a subsidised basis for between $100,000 and $200,000 a year, yet the City pressed on, hiring a manager. The first production presented at the City’s new performing arts space was the musical Evita, in October-1986. The production was a success. However, a consultant’s report released in November identified $4.2 million in needed repairs and upgrades. The first-year box office results were disappointing. A report noted that the theatre suffered from poor planning and organisation. The theatre needed better financial controls. A new name for the facility was also recommended to distance the theatre from its movie palace past.
A new marquee and lobby were completed in 1988. Brantford-born Hagood Hardy was a featured performer in 1988. The theatre was closed in October-1989 to undergo a complete restoration of the auditorium, to return it to its 1920s splendour.
The Sanderson Foundation, founded by the wife of Brantford industrialist John Sanderson, donated $500,000 towards the restoration of the theatre. On 11-December-1989, City Council during an in-camera session decided to rename the facility The Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts. This was a contentious issue because the decision was made in-camera and the Sanderson Foundation attached no conditions to its gift.
John Sanderson’s father Henry, arrived in Brantford in 1831 with his parents, from Lancashire, England. Brantford was a small village of 350 people at the time. Henry built a successful farming operation on Paris Road. His oldest boy John was born on the farm in 1857. John had a head for business. He joined Adams and Son, a wagon manufacturing company in Paris in 1886. As the firm grew, John quickly rose in the ranks of the company becoming a partner in 1892. In 1900, the company was reorganised and became the Adams Wagon Company and moved to Mohawk and Greenwich Streets in Brantford, with John as President. The new factory was the most modern in Brantford boasting an assembly line. In the early 1890’s, the Sanderson’s bought and moved into the Bell Homestead. John’s business interests expanded, and he sat on the boards of many local companies. John’s success continued, and he moved his family to a grand home at 74 Dufferin Avenue. John died suddenly on 14-March-1917 due to complications from diabetes. John’s estate passed to his wife Emily after his death and then to their two unmarried daughters after Emily’s death in 1937. The foundation set up by the family continues its support of church mission work and city causes to this day.
International Telecommunications Discovery Centre
A telecommunications museum was to be a major City altering development. Initial projections estimated that the museum would attract 350,000 visitors a year after five years. This was later revised to 700,000 visitors per year after five years. The telecommunications industry showed little enthusiasm for the project but the community was solidly behind the project. A 1982 report deemed that the museum was feasible and laid out what needed to be done regarding the marketing of the facility, the fundraising necessary, and the cost of construction and operation.
In 1983, the City selected the site of the former Scarfe factory on the Ring Road (now named ICOMM Drive) for the location of the museum. The building built for the museum is now the Brantford Casino. The CNR rail line separating the Scarfe property from the former Massey-Harris property was relocated and the CNR bridge was repurposed to carry a new water main across the river. The museum was expected to be open by 1987.
In 1985, the cost of the museum was estimated at $20 million. The provincial government pledged $5.5 million towards the project contingent on matching federal funds which were pledged in 1986. The City was expected to contribute $1 million. Fundraising would make up the difference. The opening date had slid to 1990.
The museum, to be known as the International Telecommunications Discovery Centre, was to consist of three modules. One module would focus on the history of telecommunications, drawing heavily from the Bell Canada collection of artefacts. The second module, called Telecom 2020, was to be a science centre type discovery centre focusing on commercial applications of future technology. The third module, the Canadian International Telecommunications Institute, would be used by technology companies to create cooperative development programmes. It was hoped that the Institute would be the catalyst to draw technology firms to the City and help diversify the local economy creating high paying research and development positions.
The sod-turning for the museum building occurred on 16-June-1989. The opening date was now 1991 and, of course, the cost of the project continued to increase. Those increases would have to be borne by the City and the fundraisers.