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Brockville has lessons to teach Oshawa

Bill FoxBy Bill Fox/Columnist

My first visit to Brockville was as a result of a funeral for my wife’s 95-year-old Aunt Mona Latham, a long-time nurse in the community.  There are so many things about Brockville that impressed me, I felt compelled to write a column hoping Oshawa can take note and make some improvements.

You may know that Brockville is in the Thousand Island region. More than 120 million consumers are within a one-day drive. The city is centrally located 210 km west of Montreal, 110 km southwest of Ottawa, 340 km east of Toronto, and 22 km by highway to northern New York state.

I am not so naïve as to not realize that with a population roughly 1/10 of Oshawa, there are some things Brockville could learn from Oshawa as well.  Let me start with the things that impressed me most about Brockville on my first ever visit.

The distance from the church to the cemetery was about 8 kms.  On the route, every single car in the opposite direction seeing the hearse and the following cars with flashing blinkers, pulled over to the shoulder. Two police officers on their bikes going in the opposite direction dismounted and stood at attention.  A mail carrier stopped walking and people about to use a crosswalk, retreated back from the sidewalk.  I can recall when my father-in-law in Toronto had his procession along Yonge Street for about a similar distance, even buses just kept on moving.  The contrast had my wife and I in near shock, as we waved to try to show our appreciation to those showing their respects.

0After the service, we retreated back to one of Mona’s son’s home backing onto the St. Lawrence Seaway. As I walked down to their dock, I could not believe how clear the water was!  This was the St. Lawrence Seaway where freighters such as those docking in Oshawa, pass by two or three time a day!  I could clearly see 12 feet down to the bottom!  Standing on the Oshawa pier I can hardly see five feet down, as the water always seems so murky. As the Eastern Gateway to the 1000 Islands, Brockville is known as one of the best locations for fresh water scuba diving in the world.

Parks were abounding downtown and most were adjacent to the water.  In the centre of the town there had to be at least 300 businesses with varied, wide ranging unique shops, and exceptional dining.

The Brockville Railway Tunnel is Canada’s first railway tunnel. The tunnel runs in a north/south direction from Water Street, for a distance of 527 m (1,730 ft.).  It was not opened for rail traffic until December 31, 1860.   The tunnel was designed to provide a rail link from the timber trade of the Ottawa Valley to the Brockville port facilities on the St. Lawrence River ship route.  The CPR absorbed it in 1881.

The rail line through the tunnel was used by diesel trains into the mid-1970s.  In 1982, the Canadian Pacific Railway turned the tunnel over to the city.  In 2016-17, the Railway Tunnel rehabilitation made it possible for citizens and visitors to travel safely on foot through the inside, from the south portal to the north portal, The railway tunnel has been receiving thousands of visitors since it opened completely on August 12th, 2017. The tunnel now features a modern LED coloured light system, which is programmed in various ways, along with a recorded music track playing while one walks through.

My hope for Oshawa is that we all show our respect for funeral processions. With places like the Genosha Hotel standing dormant for many years now, our downtown is in shambles compared to Brockville.  I don’t care if it is a heritage site, I would tear it down tomorrow if there were any more delays to revitalize it.

For tourists, I think we need to have more to attract them to Oshawa.  Lakeview Park, etc. is fine, as is the car museum, Parkwood and the airport, but wouldn’t a really modernistic train station look good in Oshawa?  In my mind we are just filling in spaces without any real vision or outlook for the future of what could be a city as beautiful as Brockville.