Music and nature lovers who gather at the Keystone Centre grounds for the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival this weekend will notice some unpleasant changes to the scenery.
The summer storm that tore through Brandon a few weeks ago downed and severely damaged dozens of old trees that lined parts of 13th Street, many of which were removed in the lead-up to the folk festival, thanks to Keystone Centre administration.
This strip of land has been neglected for far too long, even as previous storms have ravaged the area before this year’s particularly nasty wind barrage. There have been no new tree plantings in that strip for many, many years. Nearly 30 were toppled this month alone, and the bulk of the trees that still stand today were planted more than a century ago by Henry Patmore, an immigrant from England who was called “the nursery man of the West.”
Patmore, who operated his nursery on Ninth Street and Queens Avenue, was also chairman of the grounds committee for the Provincial Exhibition and was responsible for the tree plantings at the fairgrounds. The current Patmore Nursery website says that Patmore believed it was his civic duty to plant elm and maple trees along city streets “because there was nothing but bald Prairie” beforehand.
Though it has lost some of its lustre, this region still has enormous potential as a central park of sorts for our community, and while the folk festival has used the area to host musicians and festival-goers for decades, it could be so much more.
But much needs to be done. We’ve sketched out the problems before, and they’ve only worsened since then:
The uneven gravel roads through the area need to be graded. Gopher holes — a trip hazard at night — need to be filled. The majestic old trees need to be pruned and some dead or dying ones removed. A few dozen new trees need to be planted now, as they will take half a generation to reach the size of the existing trees they will replace.
The area needs both improved and permanent fencing, not just for the part of the green space used by the folk festival, but also along 13th Street where sections of the existing fence wall and gates are becoming an eyesore.
But most of all, the site needs a new stage — for the folk festival and any other event that could use the site. The aging stage set-up that currently exists is simply embarrassing.
To be fair, the Keystone Centre management has not been sitting on its hands. A recent five-year capital plan for the facility and grounds was submitted to the province and the city, calling for $2 million each year for a period of five years to help with building infrastructure, and enhancements to the grounds.
“We’d like to keep the general esthetics that we have there now,” facility general manager Neil Thomson said in a recent interview with the Sun. “We’d like to keep it in that type of manner, while making enhancements to that facility so it could host some bigger events, or be a lot more ... musician friendly. You’d be able to hang lights properly and have a proper stage along with some space for the artists and electrical.”
There are also plans to develop a community garden close to the Fairview area for seniors to tend garden plots as well.
“That whole 13th area strip would be a green area that we would attempt to keep and utilize for the citizens of Brandon.”
But Thomson notes the five-year strategic plan was met with empty pockets from the city and the province, leaving the Keystone to find other means to source the necessary cash.
“Unfortunately the city and the province said thanks for that, but we can’t put that into our budget plan at this particular time,” Thomson said.
With a dearth of government funds available, the Keystone Centre is looking for partners in the community to help with the cause. Staff have already approached Manitoba Hydro, which sponsors a Forest Enhancement Program with the federal government.
Management is also exploring other options, such as working with corporate sponsors or through community foundations that may be able to help move the project forward.
The Keystone is also improving a portion of its sprawling site by building a campground in the northeast corner that will primarily be used by people in large RVs coming to big events at the Keystone, such as the Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show. Thomson says the Keystone already has an arrangement with the Green Spot, which is conducting contra work around the property, including planting new cedar trees around the new camping area and an outdoor horse ring.
Last week, Brandon city manager Scott Hildebrand expressed interest, during an interview with the Sun, in partnering with the Keystone to help rejuvenate the mini-forest on the grounds. We’re glad the will is there, but there needs to be more actual co-operation between governments and the Keystone Centre for this to work.
We suggest the city and the province begin taking a closer look at the green strip’s potential and work to improve the site so that future generations can enjoy Patmore’s vision for his city.
After enjoying his vision for a century, we have a collective duty to begin replacement of these aging trees.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 25, 2014