For those of you that are new to town, (new being anyone that has been here for less than 10 years). In early the 00’s there was a plan published and circulated that aimed to try and put a blueprint in place on what Collingwood could/should/would look like in 2020. It was called Vision 2020.
Last weeks posts on the economic and aesthetical state of our downtown obviously hit a nerve, because they created a lot of interest opinion and views on this blog. I was reminded of Vision 2020 by its mention on Downtown BIA’s website which I was poking around in while doing some research for my “Downtown” posts. I asked around and acquired a copy of Vision 2020. A few of the things that were suggested by myself and others were included in Vision 2020 almost 15 years ago. But what was immediately apparent to me was the freshness in thinking that emanates from this document, sorely lacking these past few years.
I plan to do a few posts on this under utilized blue print for the future of Collingwood. My hope is that maybe this report can be dusted off by the next council and we can start this conversation again (Vision 2030???).
First some background:
I arrived in Collingwood in March 2000. Coming from the pristine North Vancouver, BC. I thought the place was a bit of a dump. It seemed like it had never really recovered from the ship yards closing 14 years previously. There were still dilapidated buildings around the rundown Mountainview Hotel, un-demolished relics from the towns ship building past. That was your first impression when you arrived on Highway 26. First St was an abomination of rundown fast food joints and gas stations on every corner, plus whole blocks of closed down stores with shabby rentals above them. This was all prior to Intrawest (the reason I ended up here) putting its first shovel in the ground at Blue Mountain.
In 1999 it was decided by then Mayor Terry Geddes to commission the Vision 2020 blueprint for the future of Collingwood. A group of volunteers were put together headed up by Marg Scheben Edey. A survey was sent out to every household in Collingwood, responses tabulated, a “Vision” was created and released to the public 23rd October 2000. What’s interesting is the fact that this document made over 250 recommendations many of which never saw the light of day, even though it cost $75,000 and chewed up thousands of hours of volunteer time by the committee trying to get town council to move forward with this blueprint. There are reasons why this plan was never adopted. Those reasons still plague the governance of this town to this day. The following is an excerpt from Vision 2020:
Chapter 3 – A Vision for Our Downtown and Attractions
November 3rd, 2020.
I work here as an official Town greeter. Well, I don’t think of it as work, and they don’t pay me, but it’s my job as a volunteer to point out some of the highlights of Collingwood, the Gateway to Georgian Bay. And I’m proud to do that because, 20 years ago, if you were standing right here on Hurontario Street in front of the Federal Government Building, you would look north and never even know you were in the vicinity of a 6,000 square mile body of water. Hard to believe, but back then we were a town without a waterfront.
In the year 2001 Collingwood was already a green community with a fairly well developed urban forestry and beautification program, ensuring that nature and culture mixed well. But the downtown was a hodge- podge, architecturally. Still, a few visionary merchants had taken the lead and put their money where their shops were, fastidiously restoring the heritage elements of their century-old buildings. Then Town Council began a collective collaboration with most of the other merchants, who in turn made a concerted effort to do as much as possible to restore the town’s core to its former glory, resurrecting original brickwork and the vibrant colours of the various building facades to their original splendor. A grants-and-loans incentive program was introduced,
signage and paint themes were harmonized, and big- name stores were challenged to open here under the strict building guidelines of a town with an action plan. For a community of about 35,000 people, we now enjoy one of the finest retail mixes in Ontario. It is our reward for working hard to reverse the flow of shoppers to Barrie and Owen Sound. We sold big- name retailers on the idea of smaller, boutique-style outlets in the Ste. Marie, Hurontario and Pine Street corridors, and we promoted bigger versions of our own only-in-Collingwood specialty and value stores. Hurontario became a pedestrian-friendly outdoor mall that offered better prices on all of the trendy brand names that tourists paid a lot more for up at the ski resort, and everything else one would ever need, from groceries to hardware, from paint and paper to drugs and notions, from café au lait to street dogs. There is harmony now. Our Downtown retail area – spread as it is over Ste. Marie, Hurontario and Pine Streets – nicely compliments the new stores and commercial ventures that have sprung up on the waterfront and in the Town’s west end. Would you like to take a pedestrian tour? Of what? Heritage homes, parks, culture? You won’t need a guide. Just grab one of these brochures and follow the coloured markers. How about Grand Avenue? There was a time, really, when it was called First Street that it was an eyesore – sort of an indigestion alley of fast
food restaurants and gas stations. But now it’s more of a promenade. All of the electrical wires have been buried and there are trees and flowers and bike lanes and, where there were lights, we now have traffic circles. Between Grand Avenue and Georgian Bay there’s the Gateway Park Boardwalk, and it runs along the shore from the west side resorts to Sunset Beach, almost three green kilometres in length. Looking east down the boardwalk you’ll see a remarkable-looking structure surrounded by trees and water. That’s the Collingwood Cultural Centre, home to the Town’s Art Gallery and Performance Live Theatre. If drama’s not your cup of tea the Centre’s Small Stage is hosting an eclectic mix of jazz, swing and classical music until the end of the month. That will be followed by a retrospective of rap music, which was very popular at the turn of the Century. The Collingwood Cultural Centre won’t seat as many people as Carnegie Hall, but the architecture is award winning, the waterside setting unparalleled, the venues far-reaching and the acoustics nothing short of spectacular.
In my next post I will publish “Vision 2020” in its entirety. It makes interesting reading all these years later.