By Tim Kalinowski T
hey say every city has a soul. A spirit. An identity which gives it gravity in the world, and keeps the generations returning. There is nothing sadder than a city in decline or a
Swift Current’s downtown
re-furbishing and re-vitalizing the century old Lyric Theatre. The Lyric’s re-emergence brought with it creative energy, live entertainment and cultural opportunities long missed in Swift Current.
downtown core abandoned to derelict buildings and decay.
It’s challenge for every city in western Canada as civic leaders have begun to realize what their cities have lost by the de-population of their cores— a sense of community and place. A loss of identity. It is something Susan Motkaluk, chief administrative officer for the City of Swift Current, thinks about all the time.
Her office chairs are overflowing with blue-prints, plans, old photos and artist conceptions of her city’s downtown core in its heyday, and perhaps, just maybe, what it can be again.
“The downtown is the heart of our city,” explains Motkaluk. “If the heart is healthy our city is healthy.”
Swift Current’s downtown had been experiencing a period of long decline as more businesses and citizens moved out to the peripheries. That began to change a few years ago as a new generation of young Swift Current residents, enticed back to Saskatchewan by the province’s ongoing economic boom, began to fill up the lower cost housing which was readily available downtown.
And with this return of youthful energy, businesses geared toward youth and young families began to spring up downtown again. Coffee shops, specialty goods stores, trendy boutiques and new entertainment venues have all brought a renewed sense of vibrancy to the community.
A group of local artists, historians and people looking for added cultural opportunities in the city made a decision which was to change everything— re-opening,
6 SOUTHWEST PROGRESS REPORT 2013
Rachel Wormsbecher organizes the annual Chautauqua Festival for the Lyric Theatre. Chautauqua regularly attracts top-draw international and Canadian professional theatre talent while still highlighting southwest Saskatchewan artists and musicians. Wormsbecher is one of the new generation of youthful downtown dwellers in Swift Current. She says the Lyric’s success has inspired many others in the community to start thinking about the downtown differently.
“It’s definitely drawn more people downtown on a nightly basis,” confirms Wormsbecher. “You can see fantastic concerts. You can see the great Open Stage night and Improv. There’s literary readings, a wonderful theatre festival— really any kind of fantastic live performance and arts entertainment you can think of— and it’s all downtown.”
Capitalizing on the success of the Lyric Theatre, an expanded downtown community college and a growing youth population, the City of Swift Current decided to make an all out push to bring more great activities downtown and attract more small businesses. By actively supporting a weekly downtown street market every Saturday, and a re- branding the community’s central square as Market Square, the City has moved ahead with an ambitious agenda to completely re-vitalize the downtown core over the next decade. Susan Motkaluk explains the affect the weekly market is beginning to have in advancing that agenda.
“We have our community spirit shining brightly,” says Motkaluk. “People are coming together. And our market, even in its first season in 2011, was quite
popular. But for our second season, we worked very hard through the winter to strengthen our partnerships. One of the turning points was partnering with the Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market brought so much more to our weekly downtown market.”
In 2012, thousands of patrons and visitors passed through the downtown market to enjoy live entertainment, fresh, home-grown produce, unique retail products, face to face time with community based organizations and creative special theme days. The market has now become a summer event in Swift Current and a strong tourism draw for the city.
Motkaluk does not see it stopping there. Her ambition is to create a market district where all of the downtown core is transformed every Saturday into a street party for all ages.
In order to do that Motkaluk says the City has long- term plans to expand out of the current market square to open a separate community hub further down toward Railway Street. The City hopes to acquire the old CP Rail Station buildings, restore them to their former glory and create new space inside for businesses and restaurants to open. Included in these plans, the concept is to surround the structures with a lush green space where families can enjoy an ice cream cone while walking amongst the Station’s beautiful gardens. By creating a separate hub and book-ending it to the already successful Market Square, Motkaluk envisions a very vital downtown where both locals and tourists alike will gather in ever greater numbers.
“We want Swift Current to really become that destination for a weekend. There’s so much going on here already between our Windscape Kite Festival, and Frontier Days, and with the cultural and arts community so vibrant. If we can build a year-round market downtown in conjunction with these activities and events, you can really start to see what is possible.”
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