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Collingwood Coming of Age (Posted On: Thursday, January 27, 2011)

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My first thinking along the lines of “Collingwood is coming of age” came when my wife Nancy and I strolled the pier alongside The Shipyards project late last summer. The award-winning project, which is still being developed and gathering occupants, offers public access and those who wander the shoreline of the harbour are treated to some splendid views of the Blue Mountains and Nottawasaga Bay.

It’s healthy to go for a walk, or a bicycle ride, and thanks to such visionaries as Peter Dunbar, recently-retired recreation director for the Town of Collingwood, and the likes of volunteers such as the indefatigable George Christie, local residents and visitors alike have many pathways to travel.

Yes, Collingwood has come of age with an arboretum, magnificent waterfront parks and a trail system which likely ranks in the top ten of such joys in Ontario and is likely the envy of many other municipal gurus who didn’t have the foresight (or the funds) to develop same.

Today, Collingwood’s bounty of bicycling-walking trails links to the 32-kilometre Georgian Trail which takes users westward to Thornbury and Meaford. Forward-thinkers such as the late Carman Morrison, the late Anne Bennett and Blue Mountain’s Bev Philp -- just to name a few of those responsible – worked relentlessly to turn an abandoned railway bed into a local attraction.

Today, Heritage Drive, opposite the Collingwood Museum, leads north past the Collingwood Terminals landmark to Millennium Park. Once again, those who travel this part of Collingwood’s waterfront are treated to daily-changing views of Nottawasaga Bay and Blue Mountains.

The town maintains two concrete boat-launching ramps just south of the government dock. Town employees Paul Reid and his assistant Ryan do an excellent job of helping boaters and offering advice to visitors. Today, a village of ice-fishing huts sprawls atop the ice of Collingwood harbour.

Near the government dock, the historic Watts Boathouse has become home to the Collingwood Dragonboat and Canoe Club. Also nearby, is the sailing school operated by Brian Bailey. With so many choices, there’s really no excuse not to get out and get involved.

It’s all yet another healthy part of Collingwood’s coming of age. Mayors such as Ron Emo, the late Ray Barker, Doug Garbutt, Terry Geddes and Chris Carrier and their respective councils could see the benefit of developing the waterfront, but progress was slow as competition for municipal-development funds was powerful.

But they did transform Harbourview Park -- that area behind McDonald’s restaurant and west of the northern tip of Birch Street – from a wasteland into a waterfront jewel. In the summer, we go bicycling there as others picnic, stroll, or play soccer, nearby. In the winter, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing there, can put you in touch with a different (and colder) type of  natural beauty.

Once, back when I came to Collingwood in the mid-1970s, I was among those who drove along the spit of land on the east side of the Collingwood Shipyards property to marvel at the progress being made on the construction of another lake freighter; or to see the swans, or to go fishing. Back then, behind the Collingwood Terminals, there was a rough dirt road flanked by pond-like areas where fill would eventually transform them into the manicured, park-like lawns of today.

Now, year-round, on any given day, there is a constant trickle of traffic taking people along a well-paved and well-maintained road to Millennium Park to see whatever there is to see. It could be the commercial fishing boat disappearing into a wall of fog, or a flock of seagulls panhandling for left-overs.

In our Georgian Triangle vacation area, four-seasons attractions and amenities abound.

Blue Mountains Resorts has evolved into a destination-area gem attracting people from near and far. If Blue Mountain Resorts wasn’t there, developed to the professional recreational and accommodation standards that exist there, Collingwood would not enjoy the benefits that it does from tourism business spin-offs.

Thanks to the late Jozo Weider, who was one of our community’s original visionaries, Collingwood has come of age with much to offer, as well as jobs.

Some local attractions are three-way promotions attesting to the co-operation among local business operators who want to ensure that locals and visitors alike have every opportunity to enjoy themselves.

Enter “Ski3”, your passport to cross-country skiing in the Georgian Triangle.

Scenic Caves Nature Adventures has blossomed with enjoyment opportunities which beckon to the young and the not-so-young. Scenic Caves is one of the partners in “Ski3”. The others are Highlands Nordic of Duntroon and Wasaga Nordic (instantly think of the Blueberry Trails!) at Wasaga Beach. The latter is operated by Ontario Parks.

Collingwood’s music scene has come of age, as well, with what seem to me to be more musicians and more special musical events than in my time here.
In Clarksburg, just before Christmas, the Marsh Street Centre was the scene for an action-packed, musical evening featuring 11 local musicians under the event name “Harvest Ramble”. The place was packed and rocking. Great fun.

Back to Collingwood, where the town’s coming of age came to my mind again during Mayor Sandra Cooper’s levee at which fabulous community volunteers were honoured with the Order of Collingwood. The levee, held at Georgian Manor and Resort, drew an overflow crowd and was the biggest levee gathering I have seen in my time here.

Still in Collingwood, which super-talents such as Japanese concert pianist Keiko Yoden-Kuepfer, now call home. Some of the talents are home-grown, new and beginning their careers. For example, vocal music teacher Melissa McInnes held a concert at All Saints’ Anglican Church last November and released her first CD.

Musician Ann Sneyd, a recent Order of Collingwood winner, can attest to the coming of age of the music scene in Collingwood and the Georgian Triangle area. I’m hoping that Beaver Valley musician Doug Nadler continues with his Collingwood Music Festival which brings incredible talent to the local stage for remarkably-affordable prices.

Certain to be a bargain when it comes to affordable entertainment will be a musical celebration of The Band (remember “Up on Cripple Creek”?) scheduled for Saturday evening February 19th at the historic Gayety Theatre on Hurontario St.

Titled “King Harvest”, this tribute to The Band will feature local musicians Aaron Garner, Rick Garner, Jason Redman, Drew McIvor and John Hall.

I remember when we used to go to the Gayety Theatre for movies, buying tickets from Sam Russ. Today, the Gayety Theatre is multi-tasking with events, including Theatre Collingwood’s shows spearheaded by Irene and Steve Thomas. Some of the shows have been written by local playwright, Dan Needles, whose comic delights are finding fans in centres such as Toronto.

The evolution of coming of age in Collingwood includes John Nichols, stalwart radio announcer and morning man at The Peak, 95.1FM who will celebrate his 40th anniversary as the voice of the Georgian Triangle with a special broadcast from 6 a.m., to noon on Friday, February 18, 2011. That broadcast will be from the Olde Red Hen Restaurant, where you can shake the hand of owner Jim Meridis.

“The Peak”, which we once called CKCB, used to be in Downtown Collingwood years ago with its studios located in the former (now vacant) bingo parlor. Today, The Peak is downtown located in the Sheffer Building where the Collingwood Sports Medicine Clinic used to be. “The Peak’s” former home is a building on Highway 26 East and is for sale.

On February 18th, The Peak, Bill Brown Building Supplies and the Olde Red Hen, invite everybody to join John Nichols as he does his 40th anniversary breakfast show. I plan to be there, enjoy the banter and take in some calories. Should be fun!

Looking ahead, we should all plan to support John Nichols when he does his next Christmas Draw at The Peak to support Collingwood General and Marine Hospital. Annually, John has put his heart into being the pivotable point for this major fundraiser. He, assisted by many donors and volunteers, has raised thousands of dollars to help the hospital. Our hospital. Thanks John!

But the biggest and tastiest proof of Collingwood’s coming of age is in the plethora of restaurants that have established themselves here and in the Georgian Triangle.

I thought I had died and gone to Heaven when Café Chartreuse opened across the intersection from the Bank of Montreal. Once again, professionals from other places chose to bring their talents and excellent menu to Collingwood. Culinary success followed and people’s palates, mine included, found pleasure after pleasure.

Enter Rick and Anke Lex. They’re the couple behind the restoration of the Tremont building.

Flashback! I remember having a beer (or two!) at the Tremont years ago. There was a time when the building sat empty that I thought it was an eyesore and should be torn down. That qualifies me as the least-imaginative person on the block. As I said, enter Rick and Anke Lex.

I should have known what could be possible, having stayed at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto after that historic building was renovated, redeveloped and re-marketed into the icon that it is today. The Gladstone Hotel even had an icon of its own, the late Hank Young, known as the “Gladstone Cowboy”, whom Nancy and I met and enjoyed his company and anecdotes. Later we enjoyed the Gladstone’s fine restaurant.

Fastforward! Now, Collingwood has one more icon. The newly-renovated, redeveloped and re-marketed Tremont. It has been renovated to proud-building status that turns architectural-lovers’ heads at that corner. It has been redeveloped into a form of businesses-within-a-business. It has been re-marketed into an eye-catching centre which now houses The Bay School of Art, the Tremont Café and studios for a number of artists.

The Bay School of Art is about a lot more than art. Yes, they have drawing and painting programs for adults and children. The Bay School of Art’s room was also used for one of the popular workshop sessions at the first Wordstock event in Collingwood last year. Wordstock, thanks to Marg Scheben-Edey and her associates, is yet another sign of Collingwood’s coming of age.

Earlier this month, The Bay School of Art sponsored two musicians, Matt Andersen and Colin Linden, in an evening extravaganza which I’m told was sold out. That’s a good sign when a community is coming of age it’s important that artists and musicians find the support of full-house audiences.

“Oh, that’s yummy,” my wife Nancy said as she tasted the butternut squash soup I enjoyed recently at the Tremont Café. Supported by the flavour of lime and ginger, the soup was just one of the menu items we enjoyed. We also enjoyed the ambiance and the view from our sidewalk-facing table, while waitresses Michelle and Romney provided the best of service to customers, some of whom were in the library area.

Tremont Café is offering lunches and dinners and broadening the base of culinary offerings in Collingwood, which has more great restaurants per-capita than in any other similar-sized community. Yes, we’re fortunate to have so many choices.

Outside the Tremont Cafe, another Collinwood icon, the new library-municipal office building offers its services floor by modern floor.

Across the street, The Enterprise-Bulletin building brings back memories of when I had a hand in designing it and watching it being built into the most-modern newspaper plant in the community.

I hope the Tremont Café’s owners, Christophe and Wispy Boivin find Collingwood as good to them as it has been to me.

Look to the northeast and you’ll see another icon in Collingwood, The Station building in which the town’s Welcome Centre and Collingwood Museum are located. Well worth the visit if you haven’t been there and want to know more about Collingwood’s roots.

As with the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, The Tremont building has one floor occupied by artists making it very easy for you to find a unique gift, or something for your home, or for you.

Unique would aptly describe each of the artists and I’ll only mention three here and let you find out more about them and the others when you visit the Tremont.

Kevin MacLean beams in his studio from behind what is described as “metal oddment sculpture”. Kevin’s imagination ranges from Simcoe Street to somewhere beyond the stars. It covers a lot of ground.

“Mother Earth” is a large, rectangular painting which caught my eye in Kaz Jones’ studio. Kaz hails from Wasaga Beach, by way of British Columbia, and does felting and knitting in addition to painting. There’s a Ukrainian influence to Mother Earth.

Down the hall, artist Bonnie Dorgelo smiles surrounded by shiney things. She makes ear-rings and necklaces and other jewellery, while other artworks adorn the walls in her studio.

Bonnie describes today’s Tremont as a “destination building”. It’s a building which people want to make their destination, she said.

I get it. A destination building in a destination community. Brilliant!
Make it your destination soon as Collingwood continues to come of age.

Article by George Czerny, Photos by Julie Card

Editor’s note: Author and photographer George Czerny was the publisher of The Enterprise-Bulletin from 1977 to 1991. Now retired, he occasionally puts fingers to keyboard from “Georgian Blue” in Craigleith, Blue Mountains.



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