Mount Forest BIA reimagines downtown pedestrian laneway

MOUNT FOREST – Residents don’t have to look far to see the Mount Forest Business Improvement Association’s (BIA) efforts to spruce up the downtown core.

After an outpouring of positive feedback about the parkette installed last fall between the Century 21 and Bank of Montreal buildings, BIA member and local realtor Jessica McFarlane began wondering what volunteers could accomplish next.

“We just noticed how much it made a difference within the community, within the downtown core,” she said by phone recently.

McFarlane recalled the imaginative use of laneways from her time living in Australia, so she began looking around for inspiration here; finding a pedestrian laneway running between the Kindred Credit Union and Print One buildings.

Research done at the Mount Forest Museum and Archives, with the help of Kate Rowley, revealed a lot of history at the two buildings bordering the laneway. Print One used to be the Checker Inn; and the Kindred building used to be the Roxy Theatre, and before that, the Lauder Theatre.

McFarlane spoke to Allan and Cathy Sharpe about their time behind the scenes at the Roxy. “He had artists come, bands, he played movies,” she said of Allan.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show drew an audience that lined up outside the building with toast in hand for when Dr Frank N Furter, a character in the movie, proposes a toast in a scene and the audience throws toast into the air.

“There’s a lot of history there … it brought up a lot of memories for them,” McFarlane remarked.

The Roxy and the Checker Inn are seen frozen in black and white in two of five photos taken between 1936 and 1983 and hung on the wall of the Kindred building, lit from above.

Edison-style string lighting criss-crosses above the laneway, and soon metal brackets will frame the laneway overhead.

“Really when it came down to it, simple is better; just making sure it was clean and well-presented, and still eye-catching,”  McFarlane explained of the project.

Planning began in earnest last November; a three-member subcommittee was formed by McFarlane and BIA members Maggie Schram and Claire Prentice.

Around $20,000 has been spent on the project, according to McFarlane, who said she’s “extremely satisfied” with the result.

“It looks even better than I had imagined.”

McFarlane hopes residents will make a point of checking out the “reimagined laneway” — especially at night when the lights are on, bathing the walkway in a warm glow.

McFarlane has her eyes on another laneway, but said the cost would be much higher, and other projects may be prioritized.

“People seem to be more impressed with what the BIA has done in town, now that they’re actually seeing larger projects,” McFarlane said.

“We’re wanting to make a difference; the whole idea to spruce up our downtown core.”