Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Rebuilding Icons
David Simmonds

That was quite the event at Town Hall last Thursday night.

You could divide the audience into four groups, of about equal size: those standing up at the front were associated with the project, those sitting down in the audience who got there early, those standing up in the audience who got there early, and those who got there on time but couldn’t make it past the door. Perhaps with hindsight they should have rented Highline Hall; but you know what political organizers say about packing small rooms to overflowing rather than leaving empty seats in large rooms.

Yes, there is obviously a high level of local interest in the new Drake/Devonshire hotel. Some people were no doubt there to make sure that the Drake people knew of their service or product. Some were there just to see the presenters eat some urban humble pie about the cost of their renovation, or to get some snickers out of their unfamiliarity with local names; and they were not disappointed on either count. Let's give credit to the audience and say that the majority were there out of genuine curiosity and a wish to see the Drake/Devonshire succeed.

What we received were assurances that the site is fully compliant with all planning and conservation criteria, and that the new Drake/Devonshire will open in "late summer." We saw plans that look both site-sensitive and consistent with local architecture. The dining room, with its cantilevered glass corner wall looking out over the creek and high, barn-like ceiling, seems particularly appealing. A Wellington landmark looks is about to be revived and rejuvenated. Let’s give credit to the Drake people, too, and welcome innkeeper Chris Loane and his family.

Meanwhile, across the street from Town Hall lies not just a local landmark, a focal point for our village. On Canada Day, we’ll celebrate our 150th anniversary there. What an unfortunate occurrence, then, when a tree chooses to fall down right on top of the gazebo in our municipal park - leaving us with a broken platform upon which to hold our celebration.

I spoke to Bob Stock of the Wellington Recreation Committee - which together with the Wellington and District Business Association, organizes our Canada Day events - who tells me they have been planning some special 150th anniversary events on top of our usual street dance, parade, pancake breakfast and so on, and that the tree fall will certainly crimp their style. I also spoke to Mayor Peter Mertens, who tells me that the gazebo falls under the County’s insurance policy and a pro forma claim filed. He also tells me that the policy has a $25,000 deductible and the County may not find it economic to come up with the deductible.

So right away, there a couple of big questions. First, will the County find the funds to rebuild the gazebo, if it has to find the first $25,000? Second, even if the gazebo rebuilds, will it be ready for 1 July? Our Canada Day organizers are highly doubtful on that latter score.

I think there is a more basic question. Should the rebuilding only replicate what was there already or can we do better? When you get right down to it, no one I know ever used the gazebo for sitting in the hot summer afternoons; and no event that I ever saw used it as a stage. It was more like a multi-sided backstage room, a place to dump your equipment or wait out your turn on a makeshift stage tacked on to the front of the gazebo. It was pretty to look at, but not very functional. That means we need to ask just how we want to use it.

In fact, although it has been here a long time, the gazebo wasn’t originally a gazebo at all. There was a band shell, in the park. There’s a picture of it, dating back to the early 19th Century, beside this column. I know this thanks to Paulette Greer.

Our Wellington Park is a magnificent asset. The fertile minds and careful hands of Wellington residents have already brought us the wonderful park playground and beach boardwalk, to name just two projects. To reconceive and rebuild Wellington’s focal point with fresh eyes and fresh hands, as a joint venture between the County and the people of Wellington, would be a wonderful 150th anniversary present to the town.

Whatever our gazebo becomes, the Drake/Devonshire has set the restoration bar pretty high for us. If so many people could turn out to learn renovations to a private property, think how many people would be lining up at the door to have their say, bursting with good ideas about a property that belongs to all us. They’d have to rent the Dukedome itself. Heads up, Dukes: you might have to reschedule that playoff game.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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