For my Bachelor of Arts’ Degree I went to Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus starting in 2001. It was pretty small- took up one single building; an old Carnagie Library right off Victoria Park. Downtown Brantford was empty. It was full of abandoned storefronts, and had a lifeless atmosphere. I even remember the suggestion not to go out on our own at night because it was that unsafe.
I finished my degree in 2004. By that time they’d bought, and/ or renovated several more buildings, built a second residence, and had plans for a student union building. I left the city a year later, and didn’t look back. I never went to Homecoming, and I never made the trip for sightseeing reasons until last Sunday.
I’ve followed the development of that campus through the alumni magazines. It took over more space- the old Brantford Expositor building, space above a couple of storefronts for more residence apartments. It added programs- Schulich business programs through Nippissing, and established a Journalism program. In short it became a completely different place from when I first started at university.
There are two one-way streets running through downtown Brantford. Dalhousie running east-west, and Colborne running west -east. Along Colborne there were blocks of boarded-up wood-frame buildings including one that housed Purdy’s Pub (local watering hole for students when I was there). They’ve all been demolished to make way for a new “YMCA” and athletics centre for the campus.
I had a chance to talk with W.L.U. President Max Blouw a few months back and he told me about that. But seeing it was still a shock. We turned the corner and I thought “I shouldn’t be able to see Grand River Hall this quick.” And then I spotted this huge green space in between, and cranes.
It’s a bit of a contradiction. Because while it’s obviously a thriving, expanding, energetic place I was surprised at the amount of closed-down storefronts. I’d expected a few new shops in the area, a small market maybe. Laurier has changed, but downtown Brantford hasn’t.