Commentary

Laurier Brantford: You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

Humour staves off depression, and maybe satire can ward against intellectual bankruptcy in the Crisis on Colborne.

By Mahesh P. Butani
Published March 01, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the 100th Anniversary.

What is a centennial celebration about? age, wisdom, foresight? Or is it just a self-congratulatory pat on the rump for having come this far?

In our times, I think all centennial celebrations have been reduced to cynical caricatures of the infamous Virginia slims ad. You've Come A Long Way, Baby! Indeed, so let's party, let's rock the town!

Wilfrid Laurier University turns a 100 next year, and is asking its students and staff for ideas to turn its coming of age into a memorable and exciting year of celebration!

Being the celebrated co-authors of the Crisis on Colborne, it is highly unlikely that Laurier Brantford has the imagination to generate any original ideas to make this event a success.

Besides seeing how only a few students and staff of Laurier Brantford care to publicly engage with critical issues concerning their institution - let alone sign a petition - it has become our duty as Canadians to step up to support this institution in making its 100th the most memorable.

Humour Against Depression

Humour is one of the only tools left to defend oneself from the depression that sets in at watching your history being killed in front of your eyes.

While humour may not be able to stop the slaughter of heritage on Colborne, the laughter that humour may generate sure does help one to step back from the ugliness of the event.

By stepping back, it also enables us to understand what strategic collateral damage can do to individuals and institutions hell-bent on destroying the architectural heritage of cities in the name of progress.

The co-authors of the Crisis on Colborne have no fears of compromising the higher ideals that underpin good governance and public actions.

In such times, making these short-sellers of culture realize that they could very easily lose enrolment revenues is the most energy-efficient approach to saving our heritage, rather than consuming thousands of man-hours appealing to good conscience where none exists.

It is only the threat of hurting their god of revenues: their enrolment fees, which will open their eyes quickly to a better way of making money while imparting education, and achieving the same levels of urban density and intensification they desire in the core.

Humour has the potential of going viral globally within hours. Anger and forthrightness rarely do. Depression only freezes actions.

Humour can channel our cynicism towards strategic measures that offer the only chance to ensure that at least some of our history may remain intact for our children.

A New University Tag Line

So what are you going to say and do to make 2010-2011 the most memorable year in Wilfrid Laurier's history?

Maybe, the best place to start dismantling history, since that is the new game in town, is the tag line of the University.

"Canadian Excellence" can be so passé at moments like this. Instead, how about a tag line more representative of the times:

If education was indeed the focus of Laurier Brantford, health and fitness facility managers would never have been their public face in this crisis.

It is their Leadership & Contemporary Studies Program that Laurier Brantford should be making more sexy, instead of settling for selling health club memberships as a lifestyle bait for student enrolment.

But now this is done, and Canada's Heritage is soon going to walk the plank, not the perpetrators of this travesty.

So let us try to keep things light here, least depression creeps up on us.

Hamilton's Heaping Pile of History

There are many humorous ways of dealing with the aftermath of the inspired decisions of failed leaderships, which invariably leave the citizens with a heaping pile of history on their sidewalks.

Take a page from Hamilton. After the city failed to stop the destruction of the Century Theatre, they finally came up with a very simple idea of ensuring that this never happens again.

The century old bricks will soon be marketed internationally for ten dollars apiece, excluding shipping and handling, along with a personalized certificate of authentication.

A million dollars will soon be raised from the remaining hundred thousand bricks that were left on the site to fund a new International school of Architecture and Urban design in the city core.

The city itself will be used as a living laboratory for students who will come from all over the world to study the subtler aspects of heritage - and develop plans and best practices to assist the rebuilding of the core.

See? Humour helps, doesn't it? Although, if this were true, it may have made you a bit angry upon realizing that five more educational institutions could have been funded in our core - just from the sales of the gazillion bricks, which were carted to the landfill.

Or maybe even ten small villages could have been rebuilt from ground up, if these bricks were shipped out from the Hamilton port to Africa.

Conservancy as Act of Faith

Architectural conservancy in Canada must become a pervasive act of faith across communities, and not a line of defence. Now this is getting serious again. We must keep our humour!

Canada just won the gold, and Hamilton's downtown core was ablaze for over an hour with blaring car horns and waving flags, with people literally running on the streets and jumping out of cars at traffic lights to hug total strangers.

Now, if only we could get people onto the streets, with blaring car horns and joyous screams every time our architectural heritage is in need of a win or has scored a victory!

Do you think that the music video being released today of the new version of 'Wavin Flag' with K'naan, will capture the dilemmas of Canadian heritage?

One will rarely finds this kind of confident ecstatic outpouring on quite suburban streets. Sports fans must have deeper reasons to love our old downtowns.

I presume that they are coming downtown primarily to pay homage to the spirits of our ancestors embedded in our century old buildings found only in the core, and tell them that we have indeed triumphed and things will be all right from now on. And also to be reassured that the ancestors are still proud of us!

Can you imagine this kind of a public outpouring happening in front of vacuous boxes of glass and steel accented with stucco?

Even the sport fans would be embarrassed to show up with flags and horns in front of these cultural replicas. They need the real thing for their rituals.

Our cores, with their old buildings, are possibly the only authentic man-made ceremonial spaces left in our lives where we can celebrate our victories and communicate with our ancestors.

Humor does help in getting to know that!

Laurier Strategy Document Whisperings

Now, let us cut to the chase: there is a party to go to now. We have just triumphed. Who really has the time to read the subtext of the Laurier strategy document anyway?

In all probability it would whisper to us: We need a clear view of the river for our favorite condo developer - don't you get it? Besides, it is about intensification and getting more people into the core.

You might get cheeky and whisper back: No, I still don't get it!

To which it would finally let up and let out: OK, already! It has always been about that treasure map pointing to Colborne South that we found, while renovating another building in the core, and this is the only way we can safeguard the treasure from the pillagers of Canadian heritage. Now you see, why we had to do this our way!

Well... now remember we are getting late for the party!

It is just too bad that our history had to get in the way of Wilfrid Laurier's Centennial celebration.

The Board of Governors of Laurier should not take this crisis to heart, as some blowback is to be expected. After all, the history book from which their affiliates are attempting to rip pages does not belong to them, nor the City of Brantford - it belongs to Canada.

As for you who stand today on the threshold of life, with a long horizon open before you for a long career of usefulness to your native land, if you will permit me, after a long life, I shall remind you that already many problems rise before you: problems of race division, problems of creed differences, problems of economic conflict, problems of national duty and national aspiration.

Let me tell you that for the solution of these problems you have a safe guide, an unfailing light if you remember that faith is better than doubt and love is better than hate. Banish hate and doubt from your life. Let your souls be ever open to the promptings of faith and the gentle influence of brotherly love. Be adamant against the haughty, be gentle and kind to the weak.

Let your aim and purpose, in good report or ill, in victory or defeat, be so to live, so to strive, so to serve as to do your part to raise even higher the standard of life and living...

-- Sir Wilfrid Laurier

A footnote to the destruction of heritage:

Corporate branding can be funny business at times! The following would surely have even made Sir Wilfrid Laurier's head spin with laughter:

The Status of Laurier Brantford:

The formal status of Laurier Brantford within the university has never been addressed by the Board of Governors, and remains unresolved. In some ways, the campus operates like an undergraduate faculty on the Waterloo campus. It has it own Divisional Council, is managed by a Dean, and offers a distinct set of academic programs.

To recognize these aspects of the campus and resolve its status within the university, we will endeavour to: have the university's Board of Governors recognize Laurier Brantford as an affiliated university-college of Wilfrid Laurier University, with a "Principal and Dean" as its chief administrative officer (who would continue to report to the Vice-President Academic).

Ample room here for the mothership to back out gracefully and cut loose - if it turns out that destroying Canada's heritage in cahoots with a city council equates to losing enrolment revenues?

Humour can be so viral!

Looks like higher ideals may indeed by valued after all, and appropriately guarded by tenuous umbilical chords connected affiliates to Canada's institutions of higher learning. There actually may be some hope here after all.

Mahesh P. Butani is a non-architect, and a developer by default. He is involved in re-developing properties in downtown Hamilton; and has an MA in Arts Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC (1986), and bachelors in Architecture from Bombay, India (1982). Currently he is not an architect in Ontario on account of not having enough Canadian Experience; and does not qualify to teach as he carries too much baggage to fit into the Canadian education system. He refuses to be re-trained to fit in, on a matter of principle, and is a passionate disbeliever of icons and self-regulation of professions in Canada - but still maintains his belief in collective self-organizing behavior; and feels that the large swath of intellectual brownfields across Ontario are far more harmful to the economy than the brownfields left over from deindustrialization - and in response has set up a social network called Metropolitan Hamilton. http://metrohamilton.ning.com/

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 13:33:16

at least Brantford was able to get universities to locate in it's downtown. Even with a massive $50 million donation, which at the time, was made conditional on locating downtown (Braley knows what goes on behind the scenes and clearly knows that downtown Hamilton has zero chance of landing a downtown campus without being bribed with big bucks, although even that hasn't worked - and I'm talking about a real campus, not a $1 dollar building).

Brantford might be making stupid mistakes, but they're further along in some respects than our hometown.

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By townie (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 22:10:11

I love when the author can shine right through the subject matter like this. Eight paragraphs in and I could guess the bio would involve being an unqualified and likely out of work architect. Discovering he is also a wannabe educator unwilling to engage in professional development that could make him employable is just a happy bonus.
As one of those who live and function within our community instead of cynically lobbing drivel into the debate I welcome an end to the decades of neglect this buildings have suffered. I will welcome with open arms any institution or developer that has the vision to invest in my community and build the buildings we need for the next 100 years of our proud history.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 07:46:02

I'm just curious if there are firm plans and renderings etc...for what is going to replace these buildings in Brantford?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2010 at 09:05:12

@townie Your Live-And-Don't-Learn mentality would fit right in here in Hamilton.

We are, after all, the city that turned the beautiful York Boulevard into a dead expressway, clearcut Gore Park in the 1980s; demolished the old City Hall to replace it with a modernist structure that we allowed to fall into neglect and then "renovated" into an ersatz structure with cheap imitation materials; converted all downtown streets into one-way, multi-lane thoroughfares; decimated the HSR budget and retired the electric trolleybuses in the 1990s (devastating ridership in the process); demolished the Birks Building (which Oscar Wilde called "the most beautiful building in all of North America") in 1973 to make room for a bland law office; emptied out the Lister Block and allowed the building to fall into ruination; and so on ad nauseam.

So by all means, feel free to ignore the hard-won lessons of Hamilton's failed attempts to "renew" itself by demolishing its own heritage of solid buildings; but don't expect a different result.

If you're really interested in "an end to the decades of neglect this buildings have suffered", the obvious solution is to stop neglecting them. Demolition is the ultimate expression of neglect.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-03-02 08:06:09

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 09:26:55

I will welcome with open arms any institution or developer that has the vision to invest in my community and build the buildings we need for the next 100 years of our proud history.

Just to add to Ryan's comments, all of those projects, as bad as they turned out, started with a plan. Our Civic Square project is the best example though. It began with a planning study, federal urban renewal funding secured, a contract for development, and key tenants identified. Even still, it was years after demolition before anything materialized. Plans changed, funding was difficult, tenants didn't come forward, developers turned out to be dishonest, and so on. So the lesson is, large scale redevelopments involve such enormous amounts of time, money and uncertainty that their outcome may be wildly different from what is imagined.

In contrast, the city of Brantford wants to proceed with absolutely no plan for redevelopment.

This is so much like Hamilton's 40 year old mistake it's unreal. We were exactly in the position of 'willing to accept with open arms any developer...' after the first developer for Civic Square screwed us. And then, being in such a position of vulnerability, guess what happened? We got screwed again - who'd have figured?

I hope you're ready to accept with open arms blocks of weedy fenced off lots for the next 100 proud years of your history.

Comment edited by jonathan dalton on 2010-03-02 08:31:44

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 09:37:04

get ready for another clearing out of Gore Park. I've seen on some of the plans that several of the beautiful large trees that have finally grown back after the 1980's fiasco are on the chopping block. The biggest shock? - it's a TO consultant that is recommending the move.....just like in the 80's.
Live and don't learn - Hamilton's motto.

Welcome to your future, Brantford.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-03-02 08:38:03

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2010 at 09:38:26

townie >>> "...I welcome an end to the decades of neglect this buildings have suffered. I will welcome with open arms any institution or developer that has the vision to invest in my community and build the buildings we need for the next 100 years of our proud history...."

If you are able to publicly announce a freeze of 45 days on all demolition plans by tomorrow - I will present you a financially sound proposal from a consortium that has the track record to restore and redevelop these 41 buildings on Colborne South.

Are you up to the challenge?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 12:39:28

I would have gladly bought some bricks...

Anyone know where I can score some? Which landfill did they get carted off to?

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 08:42:08

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 14:13:49

Let's offer them some space in downtown Hamilton.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 04, 2010 at 13:21:34

for $1.50 a year. Time to jack up the rental rates downtown.

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