Brandon has a interesting history — often hidden in plain sight. I was reminded of that again this summer when I hosted a bicycle tour of historic Brandon parks.
The tour was part of Doors Open Brandon, sponsored by the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee. The bicycle tour complemented the open houses of heritage buildings and a bus tour that same weekend.
We bicycled to three historic parks: Rideau, Princess, and Stanley. Imagine how citizens have enjoyed these greenspaces for more than a century! And will continue to enjoy them — far into the future.
We started at Rideau Park. The land for this park was purchased by the city in 1908. Rideau in the east end complemented Stanley Park in what was then the city’s west end. Both parks were busy places, with bandstands, lawn bowling, children’s play areas, and places to walk and relax among flowers and trees.
We next cycled to Princess Park. This was originally the grounds of the City Hall and Opera House, built in 1892 and torn down in 1971. The fountain in the park was made from pieces of limestone from the old building.
Stanley Park was our last stop. In 1894, the Canadian Pacific Railway sold this block to the city for $1, on condition that a park be created. First called West End Park, the name was later changed to Stanley Park. This honoured Stanley McInnis, Brandon dentist and member of the provincial legislature who died in 1907.
I was inspired after learning about the life and death of the charismatic McInnis. Popular affection for him was evident by choosing to call the park by his first name.
But here is a question for today: why are there no plaques at these parks identifying them and describing their interesting histories?
My guess is that there are a couple of assumptions among many Brandonites. The first assumption is that “everybody already knows” about such seemingly obvious and mundane places. The second? That tourists don’t visit Brandon.
I disagree. Brandon has plenty of residents (or their families) who were not here in 1971 to remember the City Hall and Opera House. Never mind those who were not here in the early 1900s to remember Stanley McInnis.
And Brandon does get tourists. A couple from Ottawa joined us for the bicycle tour. They pack their bikes as they travel the country.
There was one location on our tour that does celebrate our heritage: the Kristopher Campbell Memorial Skateboard Plaza. It was built in 2010 on the site of the old Prince Edward Hotel and train station (1912-80).
The skateboard plaza is an homage to the past. The columns around the perimeter reflect the design of the hotel. An overhead trellis casts shadows where the train tracks were. The original places — like the hotel lobby, the dining room, and the train platform — are marked. A project well done!
Bicycling was an interesting twist from the walking tours of previous years. We could cover more ground by cycling (four kilometres instead of just one) within a convenient one-hour tour.
We biked along the Downtown Greenway on Lorne and Louise avenues. This bicycle corridor sports the Share the Road signs cautioning motorists driving on these roads. The original signs west of First Street are a handsome design in purple and green. The new signs are ugly and yellow. Unfortunately, the ugly yellow ones are much more noticeable!
Great to see the recent discussion in the community about these signs and how to facilitate more bicycling in the central areas of the city. Cyclists and walkers would use dedicated pathways, as we can see in other parts of the city.
Being the host of a bicycle tour required me to get prepared. I have to admit that I had not hauled my bike out of the shed for a couple of years. Anticipating the actual tour weekend, I was feeling a bit rusty.
But I loosened up in the weeks beforehand as I practised cycling around the route. And I have been cycling more ever since.
I find I feel better when I think of myself as an active kind of person who enjoys walking or bicycling, pausing to appreciate the heritage all around us.
I think the same could be said for a city.
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns at davidmcconkey.com.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 23, 2013