After 45 years, Windsor's peace fountain marks its last year. But a new fountain is already in the works
After 45 years, the Charles Brooks Memorial Peace Fountain is marking its last year in the water before it gets replaced. But unfortunately, it's not going out with much of a splash: the fountain isn't currently operational after an electrical failure a few weeks ago.
But, officials say, this fountain may still yet be up and running again this year.
The Charles Brooks Memorial Peace Fountain — also known as the Charlie Brooks fountain, or the peace fountain — is a beloved fixture of Reaume Park, said Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac.
"Whether it's a 50th anniversary or a wedding, all kinds of people are looking to the fountain to have pictures taken and just to go and sit and enjoy it," Gignac said.
Last year, council approved replacing the aging fountain with a new one in a very similar design. The current fountain was brought into the water in May 2023 for a last season, but a few weeks ago electrical issues ground it to a halt, the city said.
"The calls have been coming. They come to 311, they come to my office, they go to the mayor's office, very concerned, wondering what happened to the fountain," Gignac said.
The fountain was first installed in 1978 with an expected lifespan of about 20 years. Gignac said council has invested "significantly" over the years to keep the fountain running, but a few years ago decided it was time for a new fountain, as parts were becoming harder to source.
"But then the parts started disappearing … we knew that the parts were becoming harder and harder to access and literally we were trying to make our own parts in some cases," Gignac said. "So it was time for a new fountain."
After a public consultation process, council voted in May 2022 to go with a like-for-like modern remake of the fountain. The plan was for the current fountain to have a last season in 2023, followed by a year without a fountain in 2024 while land work is done to prepare for a new one to be installed in 2025.
The fountain is named for Charles Brooks, the first president of what's now Unifor Local 444. He served for 21 years, until he was shot by a worker in 1977.
Fundraising and design for a new fountain had started the year before, and after his death the fountain was dedicated to him for its opening in 1978. At the time, it was the only floating fountain in the world.
CBC News could not reach George Brooks, Charles' son, for comment. But in 2022, he told council he supported renaming the fountain the Charles Brooks International Peace Fountain.
"We are besieged with war and chaos in fronts all over the world," Brooks said. "And it presents, as far as I'm concerned, a very unique opportunity for the city of Windsor."
James Chacko, the city's executive director of parks and facilities, said ease of maintenance has been taken into consideration with the design of the modern fountain.
Currently, many of the parts for the fountain are not standardized and are shipped from Europe, leading to long downtime. In the new design, standardized and North American parts will be a priority.
"A lot of these components as opposed to being in the fountain on water that if something goes wrong can make it difficult to work on, being housed on land," Chacko said.
"Basically what you see out in the water will just sort of be the final end stage product of just nozzles and lights, not... mechanical features on water."
The fountain will also include a component that harnesses the energy of the Detroit River currents to help generate some of the energy needed to operate the fountain.
Chacko said the pre-qualification (essentially reviewing qualified contractors) went out earlier in August and is expected to close soon. They're also working with a consultant on the design before the project is tendered to the list of pre-qualified contractors and work begins.
Unfortunately, it means there will be no fountain in the water for 2024, Gignac said and Chacko confirmed, as work takes place to get the area ready for the installation of a new fountain.
Rick LaBonte is chair of Unifor Local 444's environment committee. The fountain is a "jewel" in the community, he said, noting they've met with city officials about the new fountain project.
LaBonte said they're hoping to see the fountain made in Canada or North America — and as chair of the environment committee, he's happy the fountain will use green energy.
Locals who live near the park said they noticed when the fountain stopped working.
"Most of us walk down and back, we always see it and look forward to seeing it, it's part of the enjoyment of the walk. We do miss it," said Ellen Mossny, who lives in a nearby building and can see the fountain from her building.
Alphonse Laier also lives nearby, and worked at local automakers for years before his retirement. Now 91, he worked with Brooks at the former Chrysler plant.
"I walked along there and saw this plaque and thought oh I knew that guy, I worked with him," Laier said.
"I thought it was a pretty nice remembrance of him, I liked it. It's nice. It's time we had something like that here."
Laier said he noticed city crews trying to work on the fountain at times this year. And he's excited to see a new fountain back in the park.
"I'm never against improving. Look how nice the whole park is. I like it and I like to see nice things and I'm so happy the council got together to shape up something we can be proud of."
As for whether the fountain will be back in the water this year, Chacko said they're working on it but interim fixes haven't worked for long. They've worked with city staff, contractors and the electrical experts to devise a fix — but they're hopeful they can properly send out the fountain's last season in the water.
"The peace fountain is a much-beloved park amenity," Chacko said. "Certainly we're just at this point very hopeful that we're going to be able to come up with a resolution that's going to be able to get the fountain back up and running in some capacity for the remainder of this season."
"I can tell you the parks and facilities team, they love this fountain. It's been a labour of love and a lot of hard work over the last number of years to keep this aging structure going."
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