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Market Squared: Trade it all in for what's in this box

Why Guelph and all its history nerds are refreshing
20170501 time capsule 6
This time capsule was placed in the cornerstone of the Victoria Road Recreation Centre when it was built in 1974. Recent renovations uncovered it. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

It takes something pretty controversial to get dozens of people to show up at a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting, and Monday was no exception because dozens of people were there not for agenda items like termites, budget variances, or motions on motions.

They were there for local history!

Sitting on the table in front of the horseshoe was a brass-coloured box with a question mark taped on it.

The box itself was discovered in the cornerstone of the Victoria Road Recreation Centre, left there in 1974 for the future to find, though all but the original Parks and Rec manager’s daughter had forgotten it was there.

As signified by the punctuation on the box, there was much curiosity about what was to be found inside.

CTV Kitchener were doubly curious because they sent two cameras to see the time capsule opened! The local TV station doesn’t have a sports department anymore, but they sent two cameras to see what trinkets that Guelphites buried in the 70s.

Priorities people!

Joking aside though, it’s always heartening to see Guelph embrace and celebrate its heritage, be it natural or historical.

It was just a few weeks ago that hundreds of people participated in Doors Open Guelph, lining up at places like the Albion, the Armoury, the Petrie Building and Ker Cavan to get a rare look inside all the familiar places we only ever see from the outside.

Guelph is a city of history nerds, which is constantly refreshing because I come from a place that pisses on its heritage.

Down the road in Georgetown, there’s currently some concern about a luxury condo and seniors residence development being built on the ground once occupied by the Memorial Arena.

The arena was built in 1922, and it was the place that launched the Little NHL in 1936, which is still around today.

But a couple of years ago, the land was sold and the arena torn down for reasons Google couldn’t give me.

It makes me sad. Not because I had any belief that I would ever go skating in the Memorial Arena again, but because from my outside observation the move seemed rather cavalier.

There’s a Memorial Arena Facebook page that is now itself a memorial filled with photos of people of all ages visiting the building one last time before it closed forever in 2013.

Wish I was there, but at the same time, that’s a location from a phase of my life that’s long gone.

So here’s a question: if I don’t care, why should you care?

Indeed, it’s a fine line.

At what point does relentlessly clinging to the past impede progress? At what point does the relentless march of progress cause us to lose aspects of our past that are truly important?

Can the past and the future live together in the present? Someone bring me my quantum mechanics textbook!

Actually textbooks aren’t necessary because Guelph seems to know what it’s doing concerning the preservation of our heritage.

The Loretto Convent was saved and converted into the new home of the Guelph Civic Museum, the creation of Heritage Hall rescued the British Methodist Episcopal Church on Essex Street, and of course there’s the aforementioned Petrie Building with three floors of a century’s worth of neglect now being reclaimed at a fairly significant expense. 

The key, it seems, is finding ways to fit these old buildings into our modern needs.

Obviously there’s not much use for a convent nowadays, and the old jail down on York Road isn’t likely to welcome any new convicts anytime soon, so why not Innovate with a capital I?

At this rate, someone with some kind of authority is bound to listen to Scotty Hertz’s suggestion to make the Tytler School the new main branch of the library some day.

And that’s why it was somewhat concerning that an “Update to Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties” is coming before council this Monday, and most of those updates are being updated off the register, if you know what I mean.

Now the register isn’t the set list of heritage designated sites in the city, but a list of “these could be significant” buildings.

Sadly, many of the updates are necessary because they’ve already been demolished be it accidentally by fire or purposefully to rebuild, but it makes you kind of sad to think that these buildings can’t be saved.

That they can’t be enjoyed anew in the decades to come.

But one of the things I was reminded of on the Doors Open tour was how buildings evolve and change with each owner, whose individual needs change the character of a structure in ways both subtle and gross.

Perhaps preserving our heritage is not about just making sure an old building stands for eternity, but by making sure we can find ways to adjust those buildings for our time and our needs.

That might seem selfish, but saving things because you might be able to think of a reason to save them later isn’t preservation, it’s hoarding.

Whether it’s by coincidence or design, this motion comes during Local and Community History Month, a chance to put front of mind not just our old time buildings, but the stories they tell.

The odd thing is that it’s the stories that seem to need the more protection.

I’m thinking of the great work by David J. Knight and P.S. Guelph to republish the works of Guelph founder John Galt because here we are, a town founded by a writer, and until a few years ago you’d be pained to find the published works of our founder in local bookstores or libraries.

As for that time capsule that started it all, inside were a great number of mementos from the past including newspapers, parks and rec pamphlets, and a letter from Mayor Norm Jary to the Year Question Mark.

The Carmel secret wasn’t in there, nor was there the location of Curly’s gold, but I think we all got our nostalgia fix just the same.

Collectively we remembered a time, whether we were alive for it or not, where things were simpler, as past times always are.

So would we trade our modern world in for what was in that box?

Probably not, and like all great ideas the box itself will now be transformed from a relic of the past to an ambassador to the future. Soon knick-knacks from 2017 will be place within it to wait for the Guelphites of 2042 to look back with fondness and nostalgia.

Maybe CTV will send three cameras.