Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not to worry. No jobs are in danger.

Are the multitude of factory closings across the width and breath of North America really a necessary part of a healthy capitalist system? Or has something gone wrong? Has our system jumped the rails?

It snowed last night, as it has done in the past and will do again in the future. A Champion grader cleared the snow as it has done in the past, but its days are numbered.

The Champion plant in Goderich, Ontario, a beautiful little town just over an hour north of London, was acquired by the Volvo Construction Equipment Group in 1997. Volvo CE closed the plant this past June.

According to the Champion Antique Grader Club:
"For nearly 125 years, Champion graders built and maintained roads around the world. In 1875 Champion built the first horse-drawn grader. Since then, the innovations have been revolutionary within the grader industry.

The first self-propelled grader and, later, the first all-hydraulic grader, was a Champion . . . Champion motor graders were shipped to 97 countries."
As Champion Road Machinery Ltd. the company lasted 122 years. Under Volvo the plant was boarded up, closed, in a dozen. Why?

It was 1997 when then President and Chief Executive Officer, Art Church, announced the sale of Champion. He said, the sale would allow the company to tap into an international network of sales, distribution, advanced technology, research and development.

The new owner, Volvo CE, would continue to manufacture road-building equipment under the Champion name in the community of Goderich.  But, not to worry. No jobs are in danger, he assured the workers.

Some of the manufacturing of its road-building equipment was soon moved to Brazil.

In 2004 Volvo CE sold the compact motor grader business to Champion LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, a company organized by Gary Abernathy. Abernathy had been manager of the Goderich business under its previous owner and had continued in that position after the sale. The Charlotte, NC, company acquired the compact motor grader product line and after July 1, 2004, they were to carry the Champion name. (Abernathy kindly posted some pictures of the old plant. Follow the link.)

Today Gary Abernathy is President of Champion LLC in Charlotte and Bryan Abernathy is executive vice president. If you go to their site you will read their story: "Champion built the first horse-drawn grader in 1875 and later the first motor-driven grader." They like to say, "Today, Champion Motor Graders has returned to its roots as a family-owned business . . . " Read Bryan Abernathy's comment below to understand why an NC company makes this claim and backs it up.

I am a blogger and not a paid journalist. I do this for pleasure and not profit. (But, please don't let this stop you from clicking on an interesting ad. I do get a penny or two.)

I received this comment and I think it is important to slide it into my post and not to simply bury it as a comment that may go unread. I may be blogging now and not working at a paper, but I do strive for accuracy and fairness.
Bryan Abernathy said... 
“Quite an interesting piece and a good chunk of Goderich history … I would like to clarify one aspect of the Champion history in Charlotte NC. The compact grader line was originally founded in Charlotte by the Lee/Abernathy family in 1980. Gary Abernathy actually designed and hand built the first unit. The brand from 1980 to 1993 was "Lee". (not to be confused with LeeBoy) Champion, in Goderich, purchased the Abernathy business to expand the Champion product line, with Gary Abernathy continuing to manage the compact grader operations. The original Champion ceased being a family business when it was sold by the Sully family in 1988. When Volvo took over Champion in 1997, it acquired the compact graders business as part of the package. Eventually, Volvo decided to divest the compact line and sold it back the Abernathys. By then, Volvo had dropped the Champion name, but Gary and his people were very proud of their connection to the Champion legacy and the town of Goderich. They bought back the Champion name from Volvo as part of the deal. So, as the new Champion website states, the Charlotte grader factory actually did return to its “roots” as the Abernathy family business, operating again under the Champion banner since 2004.”

Despite the loss of the Champion name, the Goderich workers were assured by Volvo product and communications manager Brian Lowe that the sale would not affect the Goderich employees in any way. Not to worry. "No jobs are in danger," he reportedly promised.

And for awhile it looked as if the promises were true. In 2006 the Goderich plant produced the new G900 series motor grader. Volvo Motor Graders Ltd. President and CEO, Patrick Olney, believed the company had completed the most significant product development in the history of the plant.

Construction Equipment Magazine recognized the G900 series as one of its Top 100 New Products of the Year. This was the second time for the Goderich plant to be so honoured; In 2002 they were honoured for the G700B Series Grader.

The political leaders in Goderich at the time thought Volvo CE, "commendable." I wonder what they think today?

Fast forward to December 2009. According to the Goderich Signal-Star:
"With little fanfare and December lake-effect flurries whipping across the parking lot, two Volvo G960 motor graders were loaded onto TTK Transport Inc. flatbeds and rolled out of town Tuesday, Dec. 15 . . .
Sadly, it represented the last time that road graders would be seen leaving the town limits of Goderich. The final two graders were on their way to Egypt.
With many of the industrial park buildings now vacated, or sold, the company is winding down its operation in Goderich and General Manager Alan Ball said, 'We are going into the final phase of our existence here and the bulk of the materials and equipment from the plants is gone.'
Last week the company announced it will close its Asheville, North Carolina facility, a move that will affect 228 employees. The production from Asheville will be moved to other existing Volvo CE locations.
The cab production from Asheville will move to Shippensburg, while production of wheel loaders will move to Arvika, Sweden and excavators will be produced in South Korea."
Patrick Olney, Executive VP, Global Operations, said after the sacrificing of hundreds of Asheville jobs on the alter of profitability, “Although the decision was necessary from a business standpoint, we fully understand that the affected employees – who in the current downturn are already going through challenging times – will face additional difficulties.”

The workers in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, are being assured that this decision will have no impact on the ongoing significant investments in Shippensburg. Not to worry. No jobs are in danger.


Although a downturn in the construction equipment market resulted in 94 Shippensburg workers being laid off shortly before the original story was posted, for workers in Pennsylvania this story has a happy ending.

As of mid 2012 a $100 million U.S. expansion of the Penn plant is underway. The customer-demonstration center in North Carolina was being closed and moved to Shippensburg. If all goes according to plan, Volvo’s Americas operations will be consolidated in Shippensburg.

As for Goderich, Ontario, there is no happy ending there. Jobs were lost and those jobs will never return.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I've Got A Girl Name Of Rama Lama Lama Lama Ding Dong

Sometimes the best gifts don't arrive at Christmas. Fiona arrived almost four months but I'm sure she made her mom and dad's Christmas the best ever. Make no mistake, a healthy, happy baby clearing every developmental hurdle right on cue is an absolutely priceless gift.

Fiona now holds her head up, smiles when seated at the table and laughs with enthusiasm. She imitates sounds; grandma taught her how to roll her r's. I think she is quite the bright little girl, even if she has shown a fondness for '50s and '60s doo-wop.

My wife can get some very nice smiles with a soft rendition of Who Put The Bop In The Bop Shoo Bop Shoo Bop by the Platters and I do nicely with I've Got A Girl Name Of Rama Lama Ding Dong.

But, before you damn me for my taste in music and for the irreparable damage I'm inflicting on this child, I am also sharing my art collection with her, as simple as my collection may be. The kid's got good taste and has learned to seek solace in viewing beautiful works of art and letting the beauty push life's irritations aside.

I do hope doo-wop isn't one of her life's irritations.

Update: At seven-months the little baby can really dance. She is quite partial to the sax in the middle of the Del Vikings song Come Go With Me.

It is usually night when my wife and I babysit. If we have her during the day, I'll try and shoot a video of her groovin' to doo-wop. Oh well, for now please enjoy the Del Vikings.


TMZ has a hoax and not a scoop

TMZ reported it had an aging black and white photo, old, cracked and faded, in its possession that some believed showed JFK relaxing on a yacht with four sun-loving women. Well that some didn't include the Smoking Gun which with a little hunting discovered the image is from a '60s Playboy pictorial. Oops!

Supposedly the photo was locked away for many years and was only discovered after the death of the collector. A good story but not true. It is not John F. Kennedy and TMZ has been punk'd.

Thank goodness that I didn't get all preachy about the picture. When I looked at it, I saw a man relaxing in the sun, with two women on a deck above and two others off to the side enjoying the water.

I thought all that this picture proved, if it should be shown to be legitimate, was that JFK was not prudish. Sun bathing and swimming sans suits was O.K on his yacht. (It would have been O.K. on my yacht, too, if I'd ever had the chance to give my approval.) Oh well, the hired male model in the picture is still a gentleman; No sideways, leering glances from this fellow.

Years ago I was editing some negatives at a newspaper where I worked when the daughter of a highly placed executive stopped in to to see what was happening in photo. It was an election night and she liked to wander about editorial keeping tabs on the unfolding stories.

As I worked, she asked me about my boat, a C&C 27. I mentioned that I liked to sail the North Channel and anchor in forgotten little coves. She said that she, too, liked dropping the hook in quiet little harbours. When boating in the Caribbean, she said, she and her friends liked to swim together in the altogether off the stern of the boat.

I never found out who "her friends" were. I was too prudish to ask. Maybe that is why no one swam nude off my stern; I was too much of a prude.

But, as I type this, I am beginning to recall lots of nude swimming stories. Yachts, quiet coves, and inviting waters seem to encourage nude recreation, even if I don't. And I can't think of anything salacious in a one of the stories.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

This year's favourite gift...

The tag on the neck of the bottle read: " A pessimist sees a glass of water as being half empty; an optimist see the same glass as half full. But a giving person sees the water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty."

The attached card showed a boy, in an obvious desert landscape, pumping water from a well while a robed, hijab wearing woman watches.

Inside the card was a note telling me, "884 million people lack access to safe water supplies. More than three-and-a-half million people die each year from water-related diseases. 98 percent of water-related deaths occur in the developing world."

The note reminded me that I was very lucky. I was born in a land where clean water was available at a turn of a tap. Or, for about a dollar a bottle, clean water is also available at the corner store.

For the price of about 50 bottles of  water, my daughter is helping to give a family of five access to a new water system providing a safe, reliable supply of fresh water to the family year-round.

She did this in my name, wishing me a Merry Christmas.

. . . and it was.

After completing her research, my daughter decided to use Plan Canada for her ethical giving. Food, water, shelter and eduction can all be found on the Plan Canada gift shelf. The plan is a global movement for change, mobilizing millions of people around the earth.

(A mango tree can be planted in a school yard for just $12 and a young girl can be given a scholarship for a donation of $300.)

Plan Canada likes to say, "Join us and plan to change the world."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Rockin' On: the Blog wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

In 2010 I may not be blogging daily as I have tried to do this past year. One blog a week, but with a little more depth, may be the approach.

If you know of any good blogs of which I should be aware, please drop me a line. Or if you have a suggestion for a post, love to hear from you.

There are things that I have done, and things I will do in the future, inspired by other blogs and by links supplied by readers. Thank you!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The London Free Press sets the tone, Paul

Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of The London Free Press, addressed the troublesome tone of some of the comments appearing on lfpress.com.

Dan Brown, the senior online editor at the paper, singled out those with the "worst spelling, grammar. . ." as being among the worst offenders.

Berton is right. I have seen some comments on The London Free Press/Sun Media site that I have found appalling. I thought the following warranted being pulled:

"So the key (to having a positive attitude) is for me to start smoking, pull my pants down and impregnate a teen girl?"

I e-mailed the paper suggesting this comment should be taken down. I did not get a reply, and the comment is still to be found proudly archived for posterity by the LFP. (Scroll down to: 2009-09-18 11:09:38)

I assume this means the paper did not find this comment distasteful; If it had been considered distasteful, Berton implies in his Saturday column, it would have been removed.

Maybe Paul will see this blog and reconsider. Maybe he can have Dan Brown, the senior online editor, remove it. This would be fitting as the comment is Dan Brown's.

. . . well, so much for the worst spelling, worst grammar theory.

 A few months ago lfpress.com, like all Sun Media websites, began allowing unmoderated comments on all local stories and many national ones. Comments are posted immediately without first being vetted by a Free Press employee.

The Free Press expects its readers to do the vetting, flagging inappropriate or offensive comments. Many of the questionable comments are racist, sexist and down on minorities, according to Berton.

Many contain, "a tone and language that would make a construction worker cringe." (Why pick on construction workers? I can name a few editors who, when given some truly bad copy right on deadline used to, shall we say, turn the newsroom air blue." Berton tells us that it's discouraging and depressing, and I agree.

To think The Free Press, a large paper in its own right and owned by the giant Sun Media / Quebecor group cannot afford to hire the staff necessary to vet comments. Instead they choose to give these verbal graffiti vandals a platform. Rather than hiring staff the media would prefer to risk being "sued for libel" or turning "off too many readers. . ." These are Paul's words.

Brilliant? No. But it is cheap. Please do not insult us by telling us that it is a way to "democratize the news."

During the day readers police lfpress.com for free; Then in the evenings and overnight the ability to comment is simply turned off. It is hard to believe, but come evening there are not enough bodies at the paper to remove the few flagged comments.

Do the math on the number of flagged London Transit strike comments as reported in Berton's column and you may be as surprised as I was:

950 comments related to the strike last week with from five to 10 percent of them flagged. (950 * 7.5% = 71 flagged comments last week.) As last week does not include Saturday, the column is in the Saturday paper, the average was about 12 flagged comments a day. How many of those would occur during the evening? One? Two? Three? And because of those numbers the mighty Free Press must turn off the comment mode.

Yes, it is all so discouraging and depressing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keeping and respecting the past

I love the States, but I worry about those 48 states to the south of me. When I was young I travelled throughout the U.S. First, by motorcycle and later by Volvo and finally by Morgan. I loved that country. And I loved the people - for the most part.

One difference between Canada, at least the Canada with which I was familiar, and the States was the look of their small towns. Their small towns had ego; They had pride.

Their small towns had downtown's lined with buildings that still looked pretty much as they looked when built. I used to stay in small, family run hotels for $1.50 and at night I would wander the halls and investigate the lobbies; I'd talk to the night clerk to learn the hotel's history.

I stayed in a hotel once in which Abraham Lincoln had stayed. In fact, the desk clerk claimed the bed in which he slept was still in use. I believe the story could have been true from the look of the iron and brass beds in the rooms furnished with old, old stuff. In more upscale hotels such furnishings would be called antiques.

Americans seemed to be happy with their old buildings in a way that southwestern Ontario folk weren't. I recall a beautiful corner drugstore in Windsor, Ontario, which was built in solid, red clay brick. It was a classy 1920s structure.

It was a corner store but the building itself did not have a sharp corner; the corner was cut at a diagonal, and I don't mean it had been removed. It always had a diagonal treatment with a beautiful square canopy hanging from two large chains over the impressive wooden entry door. The bottom edge of the canopy was completely trimmed with leaded, beveled glass.

Above the drugstore there were two apartments. A girl with whom I went to public school lived in one. It was small but beautiful, much nicer than my home. It had lots of original, varnished wood trim, wooden doors and original tiling in the bathroom. It looked old, but stately and elegant, too. I loved it.

When the drugstore went out of business, driven out by the arrival of the chains, the simple, painted sign came down and a cheesy, large, white illuminated plastic box went up. Giant, garish letters screamed the store's new name. You couldn't miss the sign as it wrapped right around the building. The fancy canopy was removed to make way for the sign.

The windows and the doors were all replaced with clean, modern aluminum stuff. And the apartments were gutted and rebuilt as four bachelor units. No children would be living above the store in the future. And the elegant brick? Large aluminum panels now covered the bottom half of the building and the top was painted to match the colour of the aluminum. 

I like to think that old buildings are a lot like old people. Leave them wearing their original duds and don't tart them up. It just draws attention to their age, makes them look even older and more decrepit. It makes them look ashamed of their age.

I've seen this sad story repeated over and over again in Southwestern Ontario.

But in the States I used to find old neighbourhoods that had been allowed to age gracefully. Oh, they looked a little worse for wear but it is not a crime to look old - especially if you are. These buildings had painted signs when built in the 1920s, or earlier, and now decades later, at the worst, they had simple neon ones. There were no plastic illuminated boxes to be seen - and no aluminum cladding or cheesy vinyl siding.

Now, these observations were made some decades ago. Things aren't as positive in the States as they once were. The Yanks are still are not as big on heaping indignities on their old buildings as we are here in Canada; Fewer buildings in the States must endure the painful humiliation inflicted by aluminum and plastic instruments of architectural torture. Americans prefer to put old buildings out of their misery quickly. One day they are old and a bit derelict and the next they are gone. Poof!

The advantage of this approach, compared to the one I noticed in Southwestern Ontario, is that if the building should be appreciated again, breathing life back into the old bones is not all that difficult. Often all the old stuff is still in place and with a little spit and polish the old building takes on the look of a proud old building.

Take the little town of Clayton, New Mexico, on the historic Santa Fe Trail. Clayton has gone through some rough times, like so many little western towns.

First, few folk live there. Ten years ago it only had a total population of about 2500. This can make things tough right from the get-go. The per capita income was under $14,000 with the median household income only $25,600. The town was once a livestock shipping center for herds from the Pecos River and the Texas Panhandle but that too is in the past.

Yet, I talked to some residents and they liked living in Clayton. The little town holds a parade each Independence Day and hosts two museums. And one, The Herzstein Memorial Museum, run by the Union County Historical Society, is open without charge Tuesdays through Saturdays, according to Wikipedia.

Today Clayton is marketing its look; Its age. Its community pride. Some of the businesses, like the old Eklund Hotel, pre-date 1900 but many others are much younger. Visiting Clayton is like visiting the States that I knew in the '60s and the '70s. The States that I loved in my youth.

I think of Carbondale, Colorado, and sitting on a stool at the long soda fountain counter in the town drugstore and sipping iced Green River soda. I recall watching My Fair Lady in the old movie theatre in Glenwood Springs and later enjoying a 3.2 beer with my date.

I'm going to revisit Clayton, N.M., this summer. Spend a few days there if I can arrange it. My Morgan will be quite comfortable there. And maybe I'll be able to buy Judy, my wife, a Green River soda.

You can still see a film at the Luna Theatre when you visit Clayton. Opened in 1916 as the Mission Theatre, with just under 400 seats, it once had a grand ballroom in the basement, later a roller rink, now also long-gone. The Luna won the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Award in 2001. Credit: Rockinon, May 2005

The little English roadsters shown in these pictures are all Morgans on the Morgans Over America 2005 tour. Morgans are still being made, making Morgan the oldest automobile manufacturer in the world. The little company is now in its second century of operation.

Sure glad GM didn't buy them like they did Saab. --- Cheers, Rockinon .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Judy's Olive Bread

Some years ago, my wife and I spent a week in Venice. I'm cheap so it wasn't a lavish vacation. It was a cheap week in the off-season. For lunch one day we stopped at a small bakery and bought some fresh olive bread.

Wow! Eureka! This stuff was good! No, it was great!

The Venetian olive bread was a very small loaf which released oodles of green olive flavour when one took a bite. You see, the loaf had an inside cavity lined with mozzarella and filled with juicy, green olives.

A bottle of Prosecco, a popular white in Venice, a loaf of freshly baked olive bread and a Venetian piazza - ah, what more could one ask for? I found that the olive bread and wine made Venice glow even in the off-season. Well, maybe it was not the bread.

It is said that Prosecco is the "perfect compliment to the small sandwiches and finger foods that compose the Venetian lunch."

Judy has tried to make Venetian olive bread, and at one point came close, but she lost the recipe. The following is her second attempt. It's good but I think she has some work ahead of her if she wants to duplicate our Venetian experience.

If you'd like to try Judy's olive bread, make some bread dough - a bread making machine makes this easy - and make the dough for a two pound loaf. This is the perfect amount. When the dough is done, remove it from the machine and punch it down; Let it rest for ten minutes. Then divide it in half and flatten each half into a rectangle.

This post adds to an older one, improving upon the original recipe.

Cover half of one rectangle (lengthwise) with mozzarella cheese. Use good quality deli mozzarella. Spread drained olives on top of the cheese. Cover with more mozzarella and fold the bread over, sealing by dampening the dough with a little water.

Now, make the second loaf using the remaining dough and preparing it as above. Let both loaves rest for 45 minutes, giving the yeast time to work and the loaves time to rise.

Slash both loaves three times on top to allow the release of steam and place the loaves on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Enjoy. And oh, remember to uncork some wine; A crisp, flinty Chardonnay is a good choice. The wine is important, very important.

Dreadnought Effect May Doom Newspaper Chains like Quebecor

As she slid down the slipway on February 10, 1906, few realized the role the British battleship HMS Dreadnought was to play in the shaping the position of Great Britain on the world stage.

The Dreadnought was designed to make all existing battleships obsolete overnight. And she did. She could outfight and outrun every other ship afloat – including those in her own navy, whose previous large numerical advantage she wiped out with one stroke, or launch.

Of course, if Great Britain had not launched the Dreadnought some other world power would have. Both the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States were also building all-big-gun battleships. Naval technology was changing. Great Britain's massive navy was sunk no matter what Great Britain did.

In the end, rapidly evolving technology doomed the dreadnought class of battleships itself. The oldest remaining dreadnought, the USS Texas, launched in 1912 is now a floating museum.

The Dreadnought has given its name to a technological event of such game changing magnitude that the development levels the playing field, rendering all competitors equal. This is the Dreadnought effect.

Today newspapers are locked in a Dreadnought effect technological problem, but unlike the original Brits they have taken a different approach; the news organizations are stripping their companies of their big guns – jettisoning some of their heaviest artillery – reporters, photographers and editors.

You need look no further than Dave Chidley, one of the best photographers in the business, who was given his layoff papers about four years ago during a Sun Media-wide slashing of jobs. If Chidley should ever be picked up by a competing online news outfit and the Chidley talents are aimed against his former employer, smart money would bet on Chidley.

Paul Berton, the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press wrote:
"It is not too wild a guess (and this is really just that) that newsprint could be dead in five years, or perhaps less."
Wow! Five years and print could be gone. And what is Quebecor doing in its wisdom to ensure that it remains a major player in the news game in Canada? The amazing answer: Quebecor under the leadership of Pierre Karl Peladeau is locking out staff.

Credit: Benoit, Rue Frontenac Facebook photo

Nearly a year ago, Quebecor media locked out 253 employees. The response, according to this Magazine, "Le Journal de Montreal's journalists and other employees banded together to form the online news site Rue Frontenac.

The site’s name, cannon logo and tag line, "Par la bouche de nos crayons!" are a play on Governor Frontenac’s retort, memorialized in a Historic Minute,  that he would respond from the mouth of his cannons. A healthy union strike fund is estimated to be enough to pay employees 76 per cent of their salary for two full years—at which point Rue Frontenac may have enough advertisers to  stand on its own feet.

As Paul Berton has correctly pointed out:
"The ability to set up a website (the modern electronic equivalent of the printing press) and populate it with entries, photographs and links does not automatically make one an authority . . . "
Very true, Mr. Berton. If a news organization locks out its editorial staff what authority does it retain?

Credit: Benoit, Rue Frontenac Facebook photo

According to the National Post: Rue Frontenac "competes with the Journal now for revenue and attention. It is attracting advertisers, like TD Canada Trust and Telus. It's delivering scoops quoted by other media."

But Rue Frontenac cannot take all the credit for its successful online operation. They really should give some credit to PKP himself. PKP locked-out his staff in Quebec City and the experience gained in that labour battle is serving the fighting workers in Montreal very well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Attention news folk;This is for you.

Since I broke the story about the layoffs at The London Free Press, I have taken hundreds and hundreds of hits. I have fun blogging but there is no promise that I will tackle stuff of interest to those working in the news industry. Here is a link to a man whom I am sure you will find interesting and thought provoking.

Reflections of a Newsosaur

This blog is now in its 6th year. An accomplishment in itself. Here is a little about the author of Newsosaur straight from his blog.

Alan D. Mutter is perhaps the only CEO in Silicon Valley who knows how to set type one letter at a time, just like his hero, Benjamin Franklin. Mutter began his career as a newspaper columnist and editor in Chicago, starting at the Chicago Daily News and later rising to City Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became the No. 2 editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He left the newspaper business in 1988 to join InterMedia Partners, a start-up company that became one of the largest cable-TV companies in the U.S. Mutter was the COO of InterMedia when he moved to Silicon Valley in 1996 to lead the first of the three start-up companies he led as CEO . . . He also is on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California- Berkeley, where he teaches a class entitled "Journalism in an Age of Disruption."

This is another good link, Fading to Black.


London lost its theatre district to the 'burbs

The destruction of the Capitol Theatre in London, Ontario, has taken me deep into the realm of "Welcome to the Third World". There are just so many better ways to use an essentially abandoned movie theatre than demolishing it for a parking lot.

When I moved to London there were three downtown movie theatres. Today there are actually more when you count all the screens at the Rainbow Cinema on the second floor of the Citi Plaza. Yet, I feel, and I think accurately that as a community we are poorer for the loss of those three Dundas Street movie palaces.

But, and this is the frightening idea, maybe we are not poorer. Maybe the reason they are gone is that we, as a community, are poor, and getting poorer with every passing year.

Maybe we lost them because we could not afford to keep them. Maybe we need to stem the economic bleeding in our community, return Londoners to a firm financial footing and then maybe we can then consider building a new and gorgeous performing arts centre.

If saving the Bowles facade taught us anything, it is that beautiful buildings are just that, beautiful buildings. We built 'em, we tear 'em down, and we can build 'em again if we want. We just have to have the bucks and the will.

This is the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore. It has a bit of the feel of London Ontario's Grand Theatre, yes? This is but one of many old movie theatres across North America truly saved from the wrecker's ball.

So many places have saved their theatres. It is time to stop taking such deep bows for saving a facade, and not even all of that.

More brick-a-brac from readers

Attention: Rockinon

Was reading your "Irreplaceable Buildings. Can't be made today" blog. Actually the title should be "Irreplaceable FACADES" and in the case of the Bowles facade maybe not so irreplaceable since not much of the skin seems to have been saved.


Toshtensen send this comment and I added the art:

In Indianapolis the Indiana Theatre was remodelled into multiple stages for the Indianapolis Repertory Theater and the Circle Theater is being use as a concert hall for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

On non-performance dates Circle Theatre is available for meetings, seminars, receptions, concerts, or other functions.

Photo credit (left): Jason Young

What happened in Lansing is unfortunate, because the office building destroyed the theater portion of the building and the arcade of shops that was inside the entrance.

The State Theater in Ann Arbor was made into a clothing store, while the Michigan Theater is still operating.

(My add: The Michigan Theatre has a good Internet site complete with a photo tour of the theatre today. It is interesting to note that the Michigan has only a few hundred more seats than London's now demolished Capitol Theatre.

The State Theatre in Ann Arbor was designed by the same architect who designed the Capitol Theatre in London, Ontario, of which only the facade minus the marquee canopy remains.

In 1979 the State was chopped into four separate screening room with two on the main floor and another two sharing the balcony space. Not ten years later, Urban Outfitters took over the main floor of the theatre and gutted it for a clothing store.

According to Wikipedia, the two balcony theatres are still in use. Remnants of the original architecture are still visible throughout the building.

Thoughts from a reader on the saving of historic theatres

To: Rockinon

I am sending you some examples of theaters in Chicago that have been restored (exterior and interiors!). Chicago utilized sponsors to help with the funding to restore the historic character of the theaters. The corporations add their names to the theatre's. This is probably not as viable a funding tactic in today's financial climate.

These are images of the Oriental Theatre, both inside and out..

This is another theatre interior.


My question: Would the City of London been wiser to have spent more time on the Performing Arts Centre proposal, putting their support there rather that in the simple, but effective, save-the-look approach? Remember, it's the city behind the facade. Without the city as a 20-year tenant, the facade restoration would most likely never have been done.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Irreplaceable Buildings. Can't be made today.

 It's a heartwarming story.
"The Capitol Theatre and Bowles building, once thought to be too derelict to restore, have made majestic comebacks on London's Dundas Street, breathing new life into a block of core buildings between Clarence and Richmond streets that badly need a new draw." - The London Free Press
The story is made all the more powerful when one recalls the words of developer Shmuel Farhi: "We purchased the building (Capitol Theatre) solely to provide parking . . . "

Actually, he got his parking. After acquiring the property, Farhi razed the theatre. The auditorium is gone.

Oh well, no loss. What use could a city find for a 1400 seat auditorium? There are some who think it would have made a fine performing arts centre. A 1400 seat PAC needs parking, and the closer the better. Well, PAC got its parking, lots of it, and it couldn't be closer. PAC got the parking it needed, but lost the auditorium. You can't win 'em all.
"Two side-by-side downtown London historic gems that came close to a date with the wrecker's ball have returned to their former glory." - The London Free Press
To be completely honest, the remaining Capitol Building, mostly an ornate foyer, was the victim of "demolition light." The shell was left intact but the interior detailing was removed and donated to renovation projects at the Palace Theatre and the Aeolian Hall.

O.K., we lost the theatre and we lost the foyer but at least we kept the two facades.
" . . . these buildings were originally written off, considered too expensive to restore." - Paul Berton, The London Free Press
Well, the naysayers were proven wrong, right? Well, not completely.
"The Bowles used to have a terracotta front, but 80% of the 400 tiles were damaged. The decision was made to change all of it to stone that was meticulously carved. " - The London Free Press
O.K. The naysayers were right. It was too expensive to restore; they rebuilt it. It is now brand new. It was cheaper.

We lost the theatre, the foyer, and the Bowles Building facade is essentially new. It is a new facing in limestone and not antique terracotta. It could be erected anywhere - downtown, uptown, White Oaks Mall.
As The London Free Press tells us, there is "potential in heritage buildings, not simply because they're old (in fact, in spite of it) but because they are unique and interesting . . . "
And they just don't make buildings like the Capitol and the Bowles anymore. Right? No craftsmen left, dying art, lost skills, and all that... Right? You just have to love these old, unique, irreplaceable buildings. Hey, when they're gone they're gone. Impossible to replace.

Now, about that Capitol Theatre front and the missing marquee . . .
Obviously, the truth is if you want the look of your downtown back, go for it. The skills needed to build old-looking stuff, especially facades, are still around; It is just expensive. Shmuel Farhi will tell you that.

Let's stop all the silly irreplaceable jewels stuff. I've heard of art deco, and art nouveau, and Victorian but I have never heard of jewel. You want it? Design it and build it. Have a style, an approach, and adhere to it.

All the fawning talk over heritage buildings that are often the newest construction on the block is silly. You know, if there is one word I would never use for Shmuel Farhi it is fawning. He's pragmatic. And oddly enough, parking lots and all, the city may be better off because of it.

The Palace and the Aeolian Hall owners may agree as they benefited from his pragmatism.

Layoff Rumours

Yesterday I had my greatest number of hits. (Just goes to show if you've got some news, you've got gold. My Rockinon blogs themselves racked up hundred and hundreds of hits from all over Canada and my other endeavours went easily into the three digits, too.) For a few names and a goodbye to those talented people leaving the paper go to this link.

I assume that many of the Rockinon hits were from people who work for Sun Media / Quebecor and were either facing or fearing layoffs.

I am hearing stuff but few want to be specific. This morning I got this e-mail:

"I've heard you can add at least Simcoe and Brantford to the list too. Sad."

If you can add anything to this story, please drop me an e-mail. I'm not a paper but a blogger. I love anonymous.

And if you see errors, please let me know. I love editors and with the Internet everyone is a potential editor, catching errors and omissions. Someone caught a big one for me yesterday and I thank them. There were, and are, good reasons why newspapers once had so many editors.

If you haven't done so already, read my post "Vulgarians" and hit the link to the interview with Harold Evans that ran in The Globe and Mail.


p.s. Someday I'll talk about retirement and living on less than half the income that I once enjoyed. And I'll even give a few kudos to The London Free Press and to even Sun Media and Quebecor.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

London, Ontario, blogger posts Chicago fire picture while blaze still going

The Internet has made the flow of information mind-boggling fast. A report on a high-rise fire Sunday afternoon in Chicago was being filed, complete with art, by a blogger in London, Ontario, shortly after the firefighters had the blaze under control. The blogger's contact in Chicago kept the Londoner up-to-date as the story unfolded.

The story is posted on the Digital Journal.


I was reading the Toronto Sun Family blog and discovered this link to a Harold Evans interview by John Barber of The Globe and Mail.

Evans was the brilliant editor of The Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981. What does he think of the present cutbacks throughout the newspaper industry? Let me quote a few lines from the interview:
. . . Mr. Evans is scathing about contemporary papers that “lose their nerve” in response to tough times, especially by cutting editorial content, “the most stupid thing you can do.”
That strategy helped to lead the once-mighty Tribune Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, into bankruptcy last year, part of a wave that has also immersed The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, The Orange County Register in California, the Chicago Sun-Times and The Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Piecemeal cutting destroys integrity as surely as political interference, according to Mr. Evans. “There's no advertising to support the sports page,” he notes. “You won't dream of dropping the sports section, but they drop the book section. Why? Because they're vulgarians. Seriously. It's so shortsighted.”
Shortsighted? They're downright myopic in their lack of foresight.

And please note that "anonymous sub-editors (called copy editors in North America) merit long passages of lavish praise" in Evans' new book, My Paper Chase. These positions are some of the first to be slashed by today's newspaper owners.

Loss of jobs and lost way of life

“Anybody who reads history has to approach these things with some humility because you can’t know. Nobody knows what the last chapter ever looks like.” - United States Secretary of Defence Robert Gates

It's good advice, with lots of applications. As I write this I'm going to try and keep Gates' words in mind.

The layoff at the local paper hurts and it hurts more than just the affected workers; It hurts the community.

Layoffs are not about the disappearance of jobs but the moving. They may go to China, India, Mexico or, in the case of Sun Media and Quebecor, Barrie, Ottawa or Woodstock. Whether the jobs are moved half a world away or just half a province, the community still suffers.

Both Barrie and Woodstock are the locations of Sun Media Centres of Excellence. Ottawa is home to a Sun Media call centre. I'm not sure if it's another centre but from my contact with the Ottawa service, it isn't a centre of excellence in my book.

If I worked in any of those place, I would not be confident that I would have my job in ten years. Sun Media and Quebecor have shown a willingness to disrupt the lives of the workers in order to save money. The Third World beckons and I would not be surprised to see these companies respond to the sirens' call - a call heard around the country, "Cheap workers. Think China, India, Mexico . . . Barrie."

I call it, "Welcome to the Third World." You may have a good education: a degree in English. You may have a mortgage, a car, a child or two in college. You may have a job at a company bragging about increased profits. And you may be asked to take a paycut if you want to keep you job. If you refuse, thanks to the Internet, many jobs can be located just about anywhere.

Are we in a race to the bottom? Is this the beginning of, "Welcome to the Third World."

Allow me to quote Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, from her recent article in The Huffington Post:

"Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed.

The crisis facing the middle class started more than a generation ago. Even as productivity rose, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s.

But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago -- for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance."
Yes, I know that Warren is talking about the States but a lot of what she says applies to varying degrees to Canada.

When Warren writes: "America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety." I believe you can replace America with Canada and the sentence still makes  sense.

As my mother used to say, "Something is rotten in Denmark." And the rot runs deep.

When the experts running the CPP can lose 17 percent of our retirement money and then pay themselves bonuses of a million plus for their good work, something is wildly out of alignment in our economic engine.

One does not have to look far to find examples of grossly overpaid executive royalty. The United States has the finest kingdoms but the fiefdoms in Canada are quite amazing.

Quebecor was once the biggest printer on the world stage. But partially under the guidance of Pierre Karl Peladeau the printing giant became a stuggling, severely financially-crippled concern. Maybe PKP should outsource his own job. I have some of my retirement money in China, some in Singapore, and all those stocks did much better than Quebecor's former printing division. 

[Since last writing about Quebecor World, Chicago-based printer RR Donnelley tendered an unsolicited bid to purchase Quebecor World, the insolvent (Sun Media's term) printer. This bid was rebuffed, but in June of this year (2009) Mark Angelson, a former RR Donnelley CEO was named chairman of the printer reorganized to "satisfy" bankruptcy code requirements. Quebecor World and Quebecor, the owner of Sun Media, are now totally separate companies with a shared past but unlinked future. I thank an alert reader for this clarification.]

I am not going to try and tell the future; As Robert Gates pointed out, this is a fool's game. But I do have doubts about PKP's abilities and the manner in which he runs his companies. It is only a personal opinion, but I don't think PKP's approach is good for London or for Canada. I don't think it is even good for Barrie, Ottawa and Woodstock.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The London Free Press has December 2009 layoffs

I tried to Google the recent layoffs at The London Free Press in London, Ontario. No luck. I checked both The London Free Press site and the Canoe site; Nothing.

As I understand it, and this is just gossip, five in advertising have been pink slipped and as many as six may be leaving from editorial. The editorial staff members willing to accept a voluntary buyout have now submitted their names and the lucky winners of the buyout lottery will be announced early next week.

At one point it was thought that about twenty jobs in editorial would be lost. Word was that Sun Media / Quebecor wanted to gut the newsroom and move the work to the Barrie, Ontario, Centre of Excellence. Editor-in-chief Paul Berton, managing editor Joe Ruscitti and publisher Susan Muzak are credited by some staff for successfully lobbying against the suggested move.

As it is, I understand six pagination workers are being hired to assemble pages but without the editing responsibilities of the present staff. This will result in London losing some well-paid jobs and gaining a few poorly paid one -- it is rumored, the new jobs will pay possibly half of what the old positions paid. If these new workers get bumped up temporarily into a more traditional editing role, they would earn an acting pay premium of about $1.60 an hour. Sun Media / Quebecor gets a bargain both ways.

I understand that the Woodstock and St. Thomas papers are also being hit. How many other papers in the Sun Media chain are affected is still an open question. Maybe the Freeps will see fit to do an article on this latest round of layoffs by Canada's media giant, Sun Media / Quebecor.

This is worth a large, in-depth post. Someone should get the word out and possibly make the Freeps discuss openly their ongoing staffing cutbacks. I personally see more cutbacks in The Free Press future but that's just my guess.

I now have four names of editorial staff expected to leave. I also have four names from advertising. These changes at the London paper are no longer a rumour.

No signal detected!

Am I crazy or yesterday did I catch a glimpse into why newspapers are struggling? The answer, I believe, is yes I am crazy (and I like it) and yes I caught a frightening insight into the thinking, or none thinking, that is dragging newspapers down.

The speaker at the SMarts London Social Media Un-Conference was the online editor at The London Free Press. He started his presentation with a giant blue square image with the message, "No signal detected." The chap just assumed that his notebook would talk to the projection set-up at the art gallery. The two systems wouldn't talk and the audience wasn't seeing his show.

I used to run seminars at the local university and I, like the editor, am not a technical wizard. It is cable-out-to-cable-in and if there is no resulting signal out, I'm snookered. For that reason, I always went to the lecture theatre before the event and conducted a complete run-through of the system. At the end, I wasn't all that much smarter technically but I knew I could run the equipment that I would be up against during the conference.

After failing to get his presentation to run on the large screen, our speaker went on to tell us that he wasn't "into technical stuff." All of us had gathered that already.

One young woman who recently lost her job asked how one makes money blogging as it was billed as a talk on blogging basics and social media etiquette. "I can't tell you how to make money from blogging," was the response from newspaper's online editor. (One quick, easy answer is this: if you are blogging on Blogspot, owned by Google, you can easily set-up an Adsense account, also run by Google, and this can result in some income. It sounds great but be warned that one should not quit their day job to blog. And you will not see a cheque until you have earned at least $100.)

Also, there are sites that will share the income with the posters. It is, after all, the posts that attract folks to the site. He could have finished his answer by warning her not to share with The London Free Press. The paper and its owner Sun Media insist that you grant "Sun Media and its affiliated companies, a worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast and publish that Material for any purposes, on any material form and in perpetuity."

I know of Internet sites handling images that will not touch a picture once the photographer has entered into such an agreement. Sun Media not only does not pay you money for your work but agreeing to their terms will cut your chances of making money with your image in the future. Got a once-in-a-lifetime image and you want to get it into print, get a lawyer. But it had better be a truly important and totally unique image or you will not sell your picture and you will be out the legal fees.

If you were curious about the tools used in blogging, our speaker was as lucid on this as he had been on everything else. His answer was simple and to the point: "I don't know about the blogging tools."
So, how well is The London Free Press blogger doing? He has about 60,000 pageviews a year with from 40 to 60 comments a day. A hundred comments would be a "really good day." (I just checked the latest Google Analytics for this blog and this blog has 1.99 pageviews per visit with the average visit lasting just under four minutes.

Some have argued that the speaker is not truly a blogger because his platform is The London Free Press. I think, from his numbers, one can see that he is not taking advantage of his position with the paper. This blog, the one you are reading, recently tracked 152 hits. The other four associated Rockinon blogs also had their own separate hits, and of course Rockinon is on other sites as a participant. Using the last two weeks of October (my absolutely best two weeks), this blogger is running at annual rate of 174,000 pageviews a year.

One interesting thing about Brown's blog and his small but loyal group of followers is that most visit his site to "breakup the boredom at work." Because of this, he told us, Fridays are his slowest days. Apparently on Fridays his followers rush to finish all they put-off doing during the week.

So, what is his goal with his blogging: "There is no goal." And if you were wondering, his blogging "is not journalism."

As one person remarked after his talk, "You know what his presentation said to me? It said he doesn't like what he's doing. Am I right?"

I don't think so. I worked with this fellow and I really think he likes his job. It is just that, as he told us, "I'm out of ideas" by Friday. He gave his talk on Saturday. By Saturday, there's "no signal detected."
If the above talk disappointed, the keynote speaker carried on with the theme - disappointment. The speaker was Brad Frenette, the online features editors for The National Post, and he brought along a show and tell video which The Post had uploaded to YouTube.

I looked at the woman sitting beside me and she looked back and we shook out heads. The video, posted a year ago, had had only 2,154 views. Sad.
The other videos from The National Post looked to have had 1302 hits and 3041 hits. Unbelievable. (If these videos are posted in more than one place under more than one name, the editor should have made this clear. As it is, it looks bad for The Post.


But all is not lost at newspapers. Those who caught Steve Groves, director of Internet media at The London Free Press, were in for a treat. In fact, his opening was so dramatic — the man knows how to quickly grab a crowd's attention — that he got more applause right from the get-go than those other speakers received at their finishes.

Groves based the first part of his talk on the book groundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li.

Groves said one result of the social media revolution is that today people are beginning to get information from other people rather than from organizations. And advertisers would be wise to understand that "people don't listen to marketers, they listen to the market." (I believe, I got that right but my writing hand was showing signs of fatigue by the time Groves hit the podium. Plus he was so interesting, one just wanted to listen.)

Groves gave the audience some insights into how the paper is taking advantage of social media tools such as Twitter. He talked very positively of reporter Kate Dubinski's use of Twitter to keep London Free Press followers up-to-date during the recent biker murder trial held in London.

He made it clear that the paper was not at all sloppy when it came to setting up their Twitter approach to covering the news. Almost everyone involved was consulted, including the presiding judge. The judge said O.K. And they learned from the experience and will include even more people in the loop the next time they pull the Twitter tool from the new media tool box.

When Groves was done, one young man was heard to exclaim, "Steve Groves rocks!" Actually, he said it with more enthusiasm and with stronger, more colourful, youthful language, but I have given it my best crack at an accurate translation. Other young people and older attendees were equally as positive if not as colourful with their praise.

Our online editor/journalist at the paper may have hung up his journalistic spikes when he started playing on the Net but I got the feeling that Steve Groves is just suiting up. With Groves on the Free Press news team, and a fine team it is, there may be hope yet for my hometown paper.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another Take on Reusing Old Theatres

Recently London saved the exterior of two buildings in the downtown core. One was originally a theatre designed by the famous movie theatre architect Charles Howard Crane. The London developer razed the theatre auditorium and put in a parking lot.

I wondered what other communities have done with their old theatres as so many, if not most, have now been abandoned.

I found this: the Atrium Office Center in Lansing Michigan. It's in the former Strand Theatre. The interior was completely remodelled into first-class commercial office and retail space. It was done as part of the City of Lansing revitalization project.

The interior features a central atrium, a domed foyer with restored plaster detailing and decorative painting. New limestone detailed to match the original terracotta replaces damaged material. The grand central staircase was preserved and is now the focal point of the office centre.

Check out what was done in London. The frame-grab is from The London Free Press video.

Media Disinformation

I was sent this link by a regular reader. I'm posting it today as I think some of you might find it interesting.

Can Science Fight Media Disinformation, by Lawrence M. Krauss in Scientific American.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theatre gone; Facade saved! Sad...

The facades of two, fine downtown buildings — the former Capitol Theatre and the former Bowles Lunch building — have been spared. Well, at least that of the Capitol. Well, at least part of it.

Whatever, The London Free Press sees this as a win-win event for the city and the developer involved. According to the paper ". . . these buildings were originally written off, considered too expensive to restore."

As I recall, the naysayers said the cost to restore the Capitol Theatre auditorium would have been prohibitive. Well, the auditorium was not saved. Perhaps the naysayers were more right than wrong and perhaps that is the reason these two buildings seen more demolition than restoration.

The Free Press congratulates the developer and the City of London for saving "a key part of our history" and doing it in a truly imaginative manner. And what was this imaginative manner? It was the demolition of the key part of the heritage theatre — the auditorium, the theatre itself. Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of the Free Press, admits ". . . the back end of the Capitol theatre is gone" and then quickly adds "at least the facade is safe."

Today the paper often refers to the Capitol Theatre as just the Capitol. The theatre part, the part with the 1400 seats at its opening in 1920, is now a parking lot.

The loss of the Capitol Theatre is a huge blow to London, and not just the downtown. Originally called the Allen Theatre, it was designed by the renown theatre architect C. Howard Crane. Crane was responsible for the design of some 250 theatres across North America. When you think of the Fox Theatre in Detroit, think of Crane. And the United Artist Theatres in Detroit or Los Angeles, take your pick, think of Crane again. (Architect Charles Howard Crane shown)

The Fox has been described as Hindu-Siamese-Byzantine or Far Eastern-Indian-Egyptian in design. The lavish theatre cost about $12 million to build in 1928. It underwent an $8.1 million restoration in 1988. Detroit can be proud. London? I'm not so sure.

In 1988 $8.1 million U.S. was about $10 million Canadian. Using the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator, I learned that $10 million in 1988 would be $15.9 million in today's dollars. So, Detroit restored the entire Fox Theatre for just four times what it cost London to sort of save just two facades. (The restored Fox Theatre in Detroit is shown.)

According to The London Free Press, "the Bowles Lunch used to have a terracotta front, but 80% of the 400 tiles were damaged. The decision was made to demolish the original facade and rebuild it in carved stone.

Some descriptions of the Capitol Theatre mention its terracotta front and how the Bowles Lunch was made to match its neighbour. It is more accurate to say the Bowles Lunch facade was replaced — not restored.

The screen-grab is from The London Free Press story claiming "two side-by-side downtown London historic gems that came close to a date with the wrecker's ball have returned to their former glory." Oh? Look at the screen-grab. This is not the Fox Theatre restoration.

Berton tells us we are beginning to realize the potential in heritage buildings . . . "because they are unique and interesting . . ." Berton seems to have forgotten we are talking about facades here. There is nothing unique or interesting about the commercial space being swept by the construction worker.

Berton tells us that Londoners owe a debt of gratitude to the developer for showing his faith in these two structures. Faith in these two structures or a concern for the facades? The developer himself wrote in a letter to the city that some of the interior detailing in the old theatre was donated to the Park Theatre and some to the Aeolian Hall for use in renovation projects. (For that generosity we owe the developer a thank you.) Unfortunately this was done in preparation of the theatre's demolition, clearing the way for a long-planned parking lot.

According to the city, the developer's company acquired the Bowles Lunch building in August 2006 for $250,000 and the Capitol Theatre in June of 2006 for $890,000. From the city records posted online one learns an inquiry was made by the developer "with respect to possible demolition of the Capitol Theatre building" in late 2005. This was before the theatre had even been purchased. The developer ripped down the theatre three months after he gained control of the property.

Berton tells us, "If London is to thrive, these are the kinds of projects that will lead us into the future." I don't think so. Berton may not think much of "gargantuan movie theatres" but the old ones once found in downtown London did have some cool features — like screens and seats.
You will notice that the developer's name has not been used in this post. The developer is not a bad person; the developer is a developer. He runs a profitable business and not a charity. And make no mistake, the facades were worth saving with the finished appearance actually quite good.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Just an old silver star...

It's just an old silver star, one point is broken and it has a couple of nasty holes from pins used to attach it to the top of the Christmas tree in years past.

It was a Christmas gift to me from a woman who worked at the Bartlet, MacDonald and Gow Department Store in Windsor, Ontario. I was only months old when she gave it to me and it would be years before I appreciated it.

But when I was old enough to notice the handmade silver star, I was quite taken with it. It was so well made. Very nicely crafted with no top, no bottom, and finished on both sides, it had no front or back.

Holding it in my hands was like holding the answer to a riddle: What is silver, has no front and no back but five tops? The Christmas star. When you're four it's an entertaining riddle.

Today Bartlet, MacDonald and Gow is gone. I believe one owner took his own life. My mother related the incident with far more detail but I was young and really didn't want to listen. The details are gone.

I no longer know the name of the woman who made the star and gave it to the little child of a man with whom she worked. Bartlet, MacDonald and Gow closed and the staff dispersed.

My mother, of course, would recall the lady's name if my mother were alive, but she isn't. My father passed on decades ago.

But, the life of the little star goes on. It sits at the top of my Christmas tree, an elastic band holding it tightly to an angel bought by my wife. It doesn't mind sharing the glory. In fact, it lets the angel take centre stage while it plays back-up.

Someday I'll fade away like the Bartlet, MacDonald and Gow owner but I hope without the dramatic flourish; I'll fade away more in the manner of my father, of my mother, and of the lady who made the little silver star.

But I'm going to show Fiona the little star. I'm going to show her how it spins and how it reflects the Christmas tree lights that now adorn our tree; Our tree because it is not just mine but it is also Fiona's and the family's.

Maybe the little star will create memories for Fiona, maybe she will breathe new life into Christmas memories so familiar to me and maybe, just maybe, my little Christmas star will sparkle brightly for years to come, and refuse to fade away.