Ste. Catherine St. was the main shopping street of Montreal for most of the twentieth century. It was the street of the great department stores, the popular restaurants, the clubs, boutiques and, way at the end of all the shops and clubs stood The Forum, the legendary home of the Montreal Canadiens.
The Forum was packed for every game, and packed again for concerts, boxing, wrestling, and for all us kids, 17,000 at a time, when the circus came to town. It seemed to be always in use.
Funny thing, though. The restaurants, clubs and boutiques petered out blocks before The Forum. Its end of St. Catherine St., with a couple of seedy bars, and a second-hand store was always the dead end.
I stood across the street from The Forum one summer day to watch the parade from it to the news arena. Dickie Moore and Jean Beliveau, waving from a convertible, led the parade with loudspeakers blaring the decades of cheers recorded for Bill Durnan, Toe Blake, and The Rocket.
A few years later, I strolled by the new arena. I noticed that the only new business that had opened was a tiny, sandwich shop, mostly doing a lunch hour business for office workers.
So what's all this Times and Transcript pitch to spend hundreds of millions for a hockey arena/convention centre to revive Moncton's Main Street? Main St. started to die sixty years ago. Main streets have died all over North America. They were killed by the automobile and the shopping mall. Nor is there any evidence of hockey rinks and convention centres magically reviving them - not anywhere. They didn't do it before the auto and the mall. They aren't going to do it now.
Why are the Moncton City Council and the Times and Transcript pushing so hard for a scheme that will be ruinously expensive for ratepayers? Because it will make Moncton Main St. the hub of the hub of the smart set in the Maritimes? Come off it. If you put the whole Maritimes together, you stil have nothing like the population of Montreal - and there ain't no convenient subway to get here from Halifax - or even from Dieppe. And, at best, you will get a very tiny sandwich shop out of it, a sandwich shop that is going to have to slice a lot bread and ham to pay off $200,000,000.
The rink/convention centre would be a stunningly wasteful use of money. Worse, the very idea of reviving main street is a plan to restore the past - rather like spending a couple of hundred million to intall hitching posts and water troughs along the curbs with a livery stable on each block.
What Moncton needs is a design for the future. (Indeed, while Moncton has been planning for the past, the reality is that the future is already here; and we're going to suffer unless we make some big changes very, very soon.)
So, tomorrow, let's take a look at what the future requires.
Then we'll take a look at why The Moncton TandT and Moncton City Council, don't really give a damn about the future or about the people of Moncton..