Opinion Editorial

Time for Aqua Theatre to take centre stage

This week, we learned the city has decided to restore the totem pole that has stood sentry for many years at Couchiching Beach Park. The funky totem pole is a unique part of the city's heritage and folklore.

The general consensus is the totem pole was brought here by members of the victorious Orillia lacrosse team that won the Mann Cup out west in 1935. Although that story may or may not be true, it's become a local legend, and the totem pole, whatever its providence, is an important part of our story.

So, its absence has been notable. Last year, the city opted to remove the deteriorating structure, which has been in storage, gathering dust, ever since. Recently, the city earmarked $6,000 to restore the pole. Sadly, due to the health of the wood, officials say the structure will need to be displayed inside from this point forward. Options include the "West Orillia Sports Complex, city hall and the recreation facility, but we haven't figured out what would be most appropriate," said John McMullen, the city's parks manager.

We would like to suggest another, more logical, more appropriate new home for the totem pole: the Orillia Waterfront Centre. It would make sense to keep the historical piece as close to its original home as possible and it would be a colourful, meaningful addition to the waterfront's new focal point.

While we're on the subject of waterfront focal points, we have another suggestion for our city leaders: Spruce up the Aqua Theatre. The local landmark has lost its lustre. The aqua-coloured paint is peeling, the Rotary club and City of Orillia crests are fading and the "Aqua Theatre" sign is in need of help. It would not require a lot of funds to restore this iconic waterfront structure. The real question is why it's been left to languish. The Aqua Theatre is one of the most popular and well-used components of our waterfront.

Each Sunday night, hundreds of people sit in the uncomfortable bleachers or enjoy a little more comfort in their own chairs as they crowd the hillside to listen to bands perform - it's a unique Sunday-night ritual for many. More recently, the Aqua Theatre has been used by the city as a makeshift drive-in where free movies in the park are shown several nights each summer. It's a great use of the facility.

When the Aqua Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008, efforts were made to ensure it was in tip-top condition. At an event to mark that milestone, city staff praised the facility. "(Bands that come here) absolutely love it. They think we have one of the best venues." Truer words were never spoken. To sit and listen to exquisite band music emanating from an acoustically excellent facility while sitting on the shore of Lake Couchiching as the water laps at the shore and the sun sets, it's idyllic in every sense.

Sadly, since that milestone was marked, little has been done to preserve or enhance the performance venue. And that is painfully evident. It's reminiscent of the bandstand that was neglected and unusable until the city, finally, decided to restore it to help mark the Orillia's 150th birthday this year.

It's time to make a similar investment in the Aqua Theatre. It is important to ensure the landmarks that help define Orillia are well maintained and properly reflect their important link to our past and their vital role in our future. It wouldn't take much money, but it would be money well spent.

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