Place Identity: who you are and where you are from

'A big loss of community vitality went with it'

by Duncan Matheson


I get it; I understand that the province isn’t in a great financial position and that, in this environment, governments at all levels are obliged to be prudent in any decisions involving spending. This always brings about the argument of whether whatever is proposed is a “want” or a “need”. And that can be tricky.

It’s a need, folks, not a want.

I don’t know yet if most people - politicians included - realize that our Playhouse really is on its last legs and that repairing it is not an option. I also wonder if most people see replacing this facility with a new performing arts centre as more of a want than a need? It is true that a performing arts centre isn’t crucial to survival, but when it comes to the vitality of a community, this is definitely a need.

Which brings me to the following story.

When growth is the only way for a town to have a future

Imagine a community where almost the whole population works in the same industry or provides goods or services that rely on that industry. Now imagine if that industry collapsed in one fell swoop.

Source: TripAdvisor: Garrick Theatre: Photo taken by Marc Lafreniere, 2012

Source: TripAdvisor: Garrick Theatre: Photo taken by Marc Lafreniere, 2012

That community was Bonavista, Newfoundland. It was 1992 and the moratorium on the cod fishery had just been announced. The men who worked in the fishery and their wives who worked in the fish plants were all of a sudden unemployed. Numerous families boarded up their homes, some with the furniture still inside, and simply drove away.

For the community, it was complete devastation. The municipality was hit so hard that the Council, representing those who were left, was in such a financial bind they were discussing how many street lights they should turn off.

Today, it is one of the most thriving communities not just in Newfoundland, but also in the country.

The Theatre that galvanized Bonavista’s growth

Over the summer, the Co-operative Economic Council of New Brunswick sponsored Bonavista Mayor John Norman on a tour of several New Brunswick communities where he gave presentations to co-ops and municipal councils on how they did it.

The Garrick is often in the top 3 reasons for why people move here
— Mayor John Norman

One of the fundamental keys to the community’s return to vitality, according to the Mayor, was their decision to focus on reviving their community theatre. He says the Garrick Theatre was the heart of the community and a big part of the reason for its successful revival.

His words should resonate when we consider the importance of investing in keeping a live performance venue as a vibrant part of Fredericton’s downtown.

Take two minutes and watch this video of the Mayor of Bonavista explaining how saving their live theatre was a major key to the community’s survival. Then think for a minute; if it was important enough to save Bonavista, wouldn’t its importance be the same for the vitality of Fredericton? It’s a need, folks, not a want.

The City of Fredericton has stepped up financially, but we still need the province and federal governments to do the same - something you might want to ask your federal candidates about given the election, but it’s also a valid question for our area MLAs.

Now, here’s Mayor John Norman:

Duncan Matheson is a director of the board of Fredericton Playhouse Inc.

BlogDuncan MathesonBlog