I’m back!! — A New Journey

Travelling the world can be fun and a definite learning moment. In fact, I even love just going to airports and getting on planes. But oft-times there’s a world worth contemplating, if not fully exploring, right outside the door. I’ve been thinking about that a great deal this spring. Living in a town without a coherent vision will do that.

I live in Penticton BC — a wonderfully idyllic but very quixotic village. It is situated between two lakes and bounded on either side by mountains. The population is about the same as Charlottetown, the capital of our smallest province (PEI), but that’s about as far as that comparison goes. Our mayor (whom we all thought was going to bring new vision when we elected him in 2014) thinks we should be a “little Kelowna” (the next city up the Valley — a burgeoning metropolis). Well we aren’t that either. In fact, we aren’t even close to mirroring the Valley’s third city, Vernon, at the north end of the Valley (and it is very close to two lakes)!!

And why should you care that Penticton doesn’t have a real vision of what it is, let alone what it could be? Perhaps it’s like so much of Canadiana — given great gifts but having next to no idea how to benefit from them. The city council (most of whom we thought would be dynamic visionaries) thinks the crown jewel of a public lakeside park should be cut up and given over to a waterslide/mini-golf commercial group (which will fence 1/4 of the park from non-paying folk). Previously they had let a developer remove a planned walkway through a large development so he’d have more space to build what turned out to be three high-rises.

Might it, however be too easy to simply blame the council for being visionless? Why? Because this week a vision for a community theatre died. It wasn’t a big project and it wasn’t sponsored by city council. The vision, by a group of younger folk, was to convert an old movie theatre (The Penmar) into a series of small performing and visual arts halls and venues — a seemingly vital step towards building some momentum towards gaining a full-fledged Performing Arts Centre (like the ones Vernon & Kelowna already have). This group of young volunteers needed about $150,000 to complete the work they had started a couple of years ago — but after two crowd-funding attempts along with numerous other money-raising efforts they were still $100,000 short and the owners of the complex sold it to a winery.

In a place of 35,000 people, there was not enough interest. Perhaps I should mention that there is another group, of predominately older folk, who are trying to raise $35,000,000 in order to build the “full-deal” performing arts centre. They have possibly several hundred thousand dollars already in trust. Their project is still a long-short at best at this point in time — but they could have lent the money to this other group and kept the ball rolling. Unfortunately, too many of these supporters saw a junior version, catering to young families, college classes and entrepreneurs as dreaded competition, so didn’t even want the Penmar to succeed. Both now are likely dead for another generation.

Now it’s worth noting that the Okanagan Symphony, which plays in all three cities, also struggles in Penticton. Furthermore, city council wants to collapse the Art Gallery, Museum, Library and perhaps even City Hall itself into one warehouse type building (currently the Trade & Convention Centre), yet they’ve already given away a big chunk of the parking in that area for a casino, which in turn will prevent the Wine Centre from having any walk-up business in the future as it’s losing all its nearby parking!! How does “hodge-podge” classify as “vision”?

Now some critics will argue that at the present time the local hospital foundation is having to raise $20 million within the region as part of a $350 million much needed expansion. Health is important so perhaps the donor community is all tapped out. I think there is a deeper concern here. Live arts are potentially becoming a destination event. Possibly within the decade, unless a community is really alert, going to professional live drama, symphonic music, ballet, arts shows and even modest museums will require travelling to a big city. How would a StrAtford (ON) or Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL/ON) fair today? Even on PEI, “Anne & Gilbert” (the other big “Anne of Green Gables” play) moved from a big theatre in Summerside to a boutique venue in Charlottetown a few years ago.

We all know that churches have become diminished factors in our collective lives and with that has gone much of the subtle education of young people in music, public speaking, and opportunities to participate in plays and concerts. If we don’t expand our parks and increase our public theatre spaces while technology brings more entertainment to the couch, will our communities completely lost the ability to promote face-to-face interaction?

I like Penticton. For one thing, it’s close to a ski hill where I was able to ski over 50 days this winter (this, in spite of travels to Saint John NB, Washington DC, San Diego CA & Phoenix AZ). I can bike around the town (though not very easily through it) and up into the neighbouring mountains and along the lakes and rivers courtesy of trails left behind by an abandoned railway system. There are a number of golf courses — easier to get on now as memberships are declining. And the climate is superb. Yes, I like Penticton.

But how much am I learning? To what degree is my aging brain no longer culturally stimulated due to the lack of a vision like Stratford ON has had from the 50’s (when it lost it’s major employer, CN rail)? or, like the vision of NOTL from the 60’s (when Niagara lost its preeminence as a honeymoon destination)? or like PEI seemingly endless vision? And more important, what about the kids of my grandchildren’s age? If they don’t make it here in sports (especially hockey and soccer), will they make it at all?

The Penmar dream died this week! I wonder if this is a symptom of a virus that’s spreading and those who best could lead us forward, have already been stricken with this virus. Forget that we know that music alone stimulates both sides of the brain simultaneously and quiet green spaces help store psychological, physical, social and spiritual balance. That’s all “visionary stuff” and it’s just too “out there”. Maybe we’re just to chill and get more video games for the “young ‘uns” and spend our evenings with ever wider flat screens for ourselves. Has the virus become resistant to any cultural progression? In Penticton, it just may have…