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Daily News(Halifax): Halifax could learn a lot from Montreal


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The Daily News

You know, as you travel through this wonderful country, you realize just how lucky we are to be Canadians. From the majestic Rocky Mountains to the restless Atlantic Ocean. And what diverse populations. Bringing the best from all of our homelands.

 

Leaving Toronto and heading East quickened my heart, as heading home always does. This is probably what is so compelling about travel. All we see and eat and do can be brought home to add a little diversity to our verdant region.

 

I stopped in Kingston, Ont., which was celebrating the last day of its Busker Festival. It's hard to say how big theirs is, as on the last day, everyone joins together in the main area to watch the best of the week. They had closed a large portion of the downtown and besides the theatrical antics, parking lots were 1/2lled with 3/4ea markets, antique sales, baking and general city groups adding to the fun.

 

After a Guinness, a bite and a leisurely chat with some locals, on I pushed to Montreal.

 

I used to live there about 30 years ago. After the referendum, big business left in droves. Many Anglos followed. Toronto surpassed Montreal as Canada's No. 1 city. I think they went a little over board on their French-only bent, isolating them even further. But a funny thing happened. Rents stayed low. Houses remained affordable. It was the perfect environment for artists and artist expression. Montreal became an incubator and gave birth to the largest comedy festival and one of the largest jazz festivals and, of course, the world's most famous circus troupe, Cirque du Soleil.

 

To some degree, this is all serendipity, the right place and the right time. But that isn't enough. You still need the people with the control and the money to pave the way or, at least, remove the road- blocks. And I chose this word for it's meaning. Obviously a city must function at many levels. Business must function, deliveries must be made, people must get to work and home again. But these days tourism is big business and as well talented people must be attracted to our fair cities. Besides just jobs, we have to address quality of life. Now this means many things. Besides a comfortable and safe place to live, we have to do things. We need theatre, 1/2lm, good food and entertainment. And entertainment can be so many things - from buskers to book fairs, car shows, huge 3/4ea markets, a literal day at the beach and sailing. If we have a happy population, it shows. The tourists 1/2nd out and they come to see why. And at the bottom of it all, you will 1/2nd a progressive administration.

 

As in Montreal, where the arts had the perfect place to be. Flowers won't grow without the proper conditions, they must be encouraged. Montreal gets it.

 

During the jazz festival, most of Montreal's streets are closed around the arts centre. During the Grand Prix the Main St. Laurent is closed and turned into a giant terrace; bars and restaurants spill out onto the street.

 

The comedy fest, for two weeks, shuts down the blocks from St. Laurent past St. Dennis, south of Sherbrooke. The area is the size of downtown Halifax. There were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. Roaming troupes of stilt walkers, parade 3/4oats, lights everywhere, sound and long lineups at all of the venues. It was a festival 20 years in the making.

 

About 20 years ago, in Halifax, Dale Thompson started the Buskers' Festival and Mardi Gras, a Halloween night to remember.

 

Buskers were a downtown-wide street show. They were everywhere. What could have grown into something approaching Montreal's festival was safely place in a sterile (read boring) package on the crowded waterfront.

 

Same with Mardi Gras. It got out of control. Instead of managing it, it was cancelled, or at least the cost of police and 1/2re control became prohibitive. There is something wrong with our attitude.

 

Mayor Peter Kelly and a few councillors should go on a paid junket to Montreal to 1/2nd out how it's done. There is no need to recreate the wheel. It's been done in Rio, New Orleans and in Montreal.

 

I saw very few police, just on the gates to the streets. A couple of 1/2remen leaning on their 1/2re truck were there just in case. And there were hundreds of thousands of people of all ages with smiles on their faces.

 

Heck, I'll even offer to go with them as translator, to translate into common sense.

 

The film festival in Halifax is in its 21st year and yet the city is still dithering over permits to use Parade Square and surrounding streets.

 

This festival has the potential to put us on the international 1/2lm map, but we need the nurturing and help of our city fathers.

 

And speaking of 1/2lms, I wish our 1/2lm development board would get off their chairs and try to stem the 3/4ow of production from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and the rest of the country.

 

This was a $200- million-a-year business. Now I know there are circumstances, but let's start with local production.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I hadn't seen many cops walking the beat late at night. Well just to prove me wrong, there they were Wednesday night, handing out parking tickets.

 

C'mon. What gives? We have a world hockey tournament or curling or the Greek Festival or whatever - and the parking commission has a 1/2eld day.

 

You know, if they are not blocking a hydrant or some emergency exit or driveway, do we have to be so fanatical? If it weren't about the revenue, you know you will be towed, if necessary. Let's give our visitors a break. But I guess we have to pay for the parking at Dartmouth Crossing somehow.

 

Well, I'm off to enjoy our jazz festival. It's good here, but it could be better. Have a good one.

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