Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Start planning concert hall expansion

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In 2017, Canada will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation and, in 2020, Manitoba will be celebrating its 150th anniversary as a province. Now is not too early to start work on creating a lasting memorial of these two occasions.

The Manitoba Centennial Centre and, in particular, the Centennial Concert Hall, was Manitoba's centennial project. In 1960, then-premier Duff Roblin commenced the centennial planning process that resulted, eight years later, in the Centennial Centre opening its doors to Manitobans in March 1968.

The Centennial Centre has served Manitobans well for the last 40 years. In particular, the vibrant performing arts community, led by its "four pillars" -- the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Manitoba Opera and the Manitoba Theatre Centre -- could not exist without the Concert Hall and the Manitoba Theatre Centre building.

However, while Winnipeg has grown and its performing arts community has matured, the bricks and mortar and concrete and Tyndall limestone of the Centennial Centre have not.

Just as Winnipeg's Centennial Library was transformed into Millennium Library, it would be more than appropriate to expand the Centennial Centre as a fitting commemoration of the upcoming sesquicentennials.

Manitoba's arts community would benefit enormously from a mid-sized performance hall, seating 900 to 1,200, that could serve as a new venue for chamber orchestra performances and allow the Manitoba Opera and the RWB to present opera and ballet on a more intimate scale, thus opening up an entirely new repertoire to Winnipeg and Manitoba audiences.

In building a smaller concert hall to complement the existing 2,300-seat venue, Manitoba would be joining the front ranks of Canadian cities building new facilities.

The Chan Shun Concert Hall in Vancouver opened in 1997, seating 1,185; Koerner Hall, seating 1,135, just opened in Toronto; and plans are under way for a new 925-seat concert hall in Ottawa.

If Winnipeg is to retain its position as a first-rank performing arts community, the performance spaces available to its artists must keep pace with the rest of the country and the rest of the world.

The ideal addition to the Manitoba Centennial Centre would also include more rehearsal space.

Both the RWB and the Manitoba Opera have to rehearse at other locations. The new concert-hall building ought to include rehearsal halls adequate for ballet and opera.

The final element of an expanded Centennial Centre ought to be more indoor parking. This, too, could be incorporated into the design of the new concert hall.

The parking lot to the north of the Manitoba Museum would seem to be the ideal site for a new structure incorporating all these elements and linked, either by a tunnel or a skywalk, to the existing Centennial Centre buildings.

Our parents' generation and our grandparents' generation dreamed of Manitoba's greatness and built monuments to their vision.

We owe them our gratitude for our beautiful Legislative Building, the Union Station, the current Centennial Centre, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and many more structures that grace Winnipeg. What do we want our children to remember their parents' generation for? Let us, as Manitobans, start work on a project to commemorate Canada's and Manitoba's 150th anniversaries, and in doing so, create a new monument worthy of being considered as the project that this generation wished to be remembered by -- an expanded Centennial Centre with its new Sesquicentennial Concert Hall.

Robert Vineberg is a senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation and a member of the board of trustees of the Manitoba Opera Association.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2010 A10

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