A January marathon to remember


(My former colleague Phil Kall took this photo of Councillor Jane Fullarton, bundled up for a cold Memorial Centre hall, on Jan. 12, 2010.) 

As the different sides in Brockville’s OPP costing debate gird for a monumental January meeting at the Memorial Centre, let us remember a significant anniversary of another such winter gathering.

Thursday is the seventh anniversary of the marathon council meeting at which the Aquatarium, then known as the Maritime Discovery Centre of the Thousand Islands (MDC), nearly sank before it was built.

Well, Thursday and Friday, in fact, since the meeting ran over one day to the wee hours of the next.

I remember it well, because it was the only time in my career – so far – that I went through a “Dewey defeats Truman” moment.

After Mayor David Henderson announced the OPP’s big reveal will take place at the Memorial Centre hall in two weeks, Councillor Jane Fullarton suggested another site for the meeting, citing “some scarring memories” of that fateful January night in 2010.

The room was so cold, said Fullarton, that she was freezing throughout, even while wearing her thick winter coat.

Councillor Mike Kalivas replied, in true Kalivas fashion, that he could guarantee the OPP meeting will be a whole lot hotter.

Mayor David Henderson questioned that assumption, noting that, despite the deep freeze in the air, the January 2010 marathon over the MDC was a superheated affair.

And indeed it was.

It was the start of an election year; that municipal election would turn into something of a circus in which the MDC would prove the dominant issue.

Everyone in the room was aware of this even more than of the cold, as councillors prepared to vote on a partnership agreement between the city and developer Simon Fuller's company that would give the MDC the go-ahead.

As I reported at the time, the first two hours were taken up by no fewer than seven delegations related to the MDC – eight if one counts the brief rebuttal, after a 9 p.m. bathroom break, granted then MDC steering committee chairman Gino Giannandrea as the main proponent.

But the kicker was a plan to redesign Brockville’s harbour, a critical component of the overall MDC go-ahead.

Local boaters had their cannons loaded against the plan, which they considered an eviction from their Boardwalk slips, while MDC proponents argued the redesign was in the city’s best interests.

As the clock ticked to my deadline, two separate harbour options, the one included in the deal and another favoured by the boaters, fell to a 5-5 tie.

I headed back to the newsroom to finalize a story headlined: “Harbour plan quashed.”

Once done, I drove back to the Memorial Centre to find the meeting still on past midnight – and to discover my “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment.

It turned out that, during my deadline-prompted absence, council was told the deal was all-or-nothing: Either the initial harbour plan was part of it, or it wasn’t binding on Fuller and there may be no MDC.

Members passed a motion to reconsider, reintroduced the first harbour option and approved it.

By the time I got back to the hall, councillors were voting on the overall MDC agreement, and passing it.

I got there on time to hear Henderson, who had voted against that ultimate motion, end the meeting by stating that, since council approved it, the city was now firmly behind the MDC and had to focus on getting it built.

It was an early example, perhaps, of the migration of journalism from print to online, since the correct story was online even as the “Dewey Defeats Truman” story appeared in print with an all-important parenthesis telling readers to get the latest at www.recorder.ca.

A lot of other heat would be generated in the intervening years, until Henderson, last May, would stand at the steps of what is now the Aquatarium for its grand opening and utter the words: “Make it so.

(Darcy Cheek, The Recorder and Times)

Other things have changed, too, including renovations at the Memorial Centre hall to make it warmer, the rise of social media as an avenue for breaking news and the guarantee that, should this month’s OPP meeting generate as much drama as that fateful late-nighter in January, 2010, we’ll have the definitive version up on our website long before sunrise.

But then, just as this isn’t 2010, so, too, is the coming OPP meeting not the decisive MDC battle of seven Januaries ago.

It will be, in fact, only the start of the final battle.

For the kind of heat experienced seven years ago, we may have to wait until summer.